More than seven in 10 convenience-store foodservice operators plan to enhance their menus in 2024 via better, more branded and fresher ingredients, increasing global flavors and more, according to a new report.
This statistic comes from Supermarket News sister research firm Technomic and its principal, Donna Hood Crecca, who last week presented a webinar on the Translating Menu Trends report. The Technomic report analyzes the fastest-growing dishes, flavors and ingredients at quick-service chains that can be applied to menus in the convenience channel.
In addition to the enhancements above, the report said, other ways operators intend to boost menus include adding:
- Items/ingredients that align with consumer dietary restrictions
- More seasonal toppings/flavors
- More sustainable foodservice practices
“Foodservice remains a really key category within the four walls of the c-store in this post-pandemic environment,” Crecca said. “It’s a draw to the location and it’s a frequently purchased category with almost two-thirds of patrons buying freshly prepared or grab-and-go foods and dispensed or made-to-order beverages once a month or more often.”
The inflationary environment is taking its toll, however, she said, adding, “It’s prompting some of these consumers to turn more often to their own kitchens or to pull back on restaurant patronage, particularly at fast-food restaurants, and also to hunt for deals.”
“Quick-service restaurants are seeing growth in two items that are also strong players in the c-store environment.”
Due to this, more are visiting c-stores for foodservice throughout the day, she said.
For example, Technomic data shows that from Q3 2022 to Q3 2023, visits are up in every daypart category, including snacking, and there are notable increases in the afternoon, evening and late-night snacking dayparts as well as dinner.
“This is a really strong indication that today’s consumers increasingly see c-stores as a viable option for any meal or snack occasion at any day part,” she said, noting:
- Afternoon snacking is up to 51% from 46%
- Dinner is up to 19% from 16%
- Evening snacking is up to 25% from 20%
- Late-night snacking is up 15% from 11%
Rise in LTOs
In addition to enhancing their menus, c-stores also are boosting the number of limited-time offers, according to the report. Over the last five years, the number of LTOs have been:
- 2018: 1,453
- 2019: 1,438
- 2020: 1,720
- 2021: 2,241
- 2022: 3,209
“The instance of LTOs doubled between 2018 and 2022 as operators are increasingly tapping into seasonal flavors and highlighting unique, new items and new riffs on traditional favorites so that they can drive consumer interest and engagement,” Crecca said. “We do expect to see strategic use of LTOs to continue in 2024 in this channel.
However, this push is not without its challenges, she said, noting rising foodservice item/ingredient costs, staffing/labor and supply-chain issues among the top concerns for c-store operators.
Finally, the report highlighted the fastest-growing items at quick-service restaurants. These are innovation opportunities for c-stores, she said.
“Quick-service restaurants are seeing growth in two items that are also strong players in the c-store environment,” Crecca said, noting taco/taquitos and energy drinks are both are seeing significant year-over-year growth: 64.3% for the former and 62.5% for the latter from Q2 2022 to Q2 2023.
More value meals
Crecca also noted that the top 10 list includes value meals. “Probably no surprise,” she said, “as there is that imperative to promote offerings that provide high perceived value right now.”
Taco/taquito value meals make sense for c-stores because they are a value item that appeals to price-conscious consumers, can drive incremental sales of add-ons and sides, don’t require large menu updates, and are suitable for LTOs and seasonal items, the report said. Crecca called out Lake Forest, California-based Del Taco’s $7 Triple Chicken Taco Pack, which comes with a beverage.
“The instance of LTOs doubled between 2018 and 2022.”
This is a lower-cost, high-value offer that can give the consumer permission to purchase not only this but other items, Crecca said. “And it’s also efficient for the operator to bundle tacos and taquitos with the drinks or the sides to create something new for the consumer without adding operational complexity,” she said, “and it gives that opportunity to strengthen the LTO portfolio with a trending menu item that’s easy to eat on the go.”
However, Technomic isn’t seeing “notable c-store activity on this front,” Crecca said. “There are always those roller-grill promotions that are happening, but we’re not seeing a lot around taquitos or tacos specifically, so this is an opportunity for those operators who are active with that menu item.”