Though convenience stores have presented a rising threat of competition to quick serves over the last couple of years, new data on customer perceptions shows that the threat might not be so serious after all—at least, not yet. 

A new report from Mintel shows that 33 percent of people who have never purchased food at a c-store say it’s because they perceive such foodservice offerings to be low quality.

Further, of non-c-store shoppers, 64 percent say they rarely or never consider buying food at a c-store; 32 percent say the food is not appealing to them; and 35 percent say there are better food options nearby.

Despite numbers that suggest c-stores have a huge hill to climb, Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel, says the c-store segment is not being overrated as a threat to quick service.

“Usage is probably a little bit lower than what people would have wanted at this point,” Giandelone says, but he adds that Mintel is still projecting c-store sales to grow 4.1 percent in 2011.

“There is an opportunity for c-stores to overcome these [negative] perceptions, and that is [by doing] things that companies like Sheetz or Wawa—some of the ones that are doing a really good job on foodservice—do,” he says, adding that breakfast programs, premium coffee beverages, and made-to-order sandwiches are foodservice offerings that can attract new customers.

Giandelone says c-stores also should focus more attention on marketing, especially through social media, in order to convince shoppers of their potential.

“The main reason people don’t go to c-stores or have never gone to c-stores for foodservice is because they just don’t consider it,” he says. “It doesn’t even register as an option. Obviously there needs to be some promotion, and some building of awareness of what the offerings are.”

Still, c-stores may never have some qualities of quick-service restaurants that make those restaurants so popular.

“An advantage that fast food has that is a little bit hard for c-stores to accept is they’re actually more convenient than convenience stores,” he says. “They have a lot more locations [and] you can go through the drive thru; you don’t even have to get out of your car.”

By Sam Oches

Consumer Trends, Growth, Menu Innovations, News, Sheetz, Wawa