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Advancing Convenience & Fuel Retailing

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Inside the Store

The U.S. convenience stores experienced record in-store sales of $233.0 billion in 2016, led by consumer desires to satisfy an immediate need for food and refreshment. In fact, 83% of the in-store merchandise that convenience stores sell is consumed within one hour of purchase, and 65% is immediately consumed, per NACS Convenience Tracking Program data. 

The U.S. convenience stores experienced record in-store sales of $233.0 billion in 2016, led by consumer desires to satisfy an immediate need for food and refreshment. The top 10 in-store categories ranked by sales dollars represent about 80% of all in-store sales. In 2016, eight of the 10 top in-store categories saw positive sales, including cigarettes, and nine had positive gross profit dollar growth.

Here is an overview of in-store revenues from products sold in stores. This does not include the sale of fuels and various services that can generate fees (car wash, lottery, ATM, etc.):

  • ​Tobacco (cigarettes and OTP): 36% of in-store sales
  • Foodservice (prepared and commissary food; hot, cold and dispensed beverages): 21.7%
  • Packaged beverages (carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, water, juices and teas): 15%
  • Center of the store (salty, candy, packaged sweet snacks and alternative snacks): 9.8%
  • Beer: 6.7% (12.2% for stores selling beer)
  • Other: 10.8%

While tobacco products, including cigarettes, were 36% of in-store sales dollars, they accounted for only 18.2% of gross profit dollars. 

Foodservice, a broad category that includes prepared and commissary foods, hot dispensed beverages (coffee) and cold (fountain) and frozen dispensed (slushee) drinks, was the top category for gross profit dollars. Foodservice accounted for 21.7% of in-store sales in 2016 but 35.2% of gross profit dollars.

Convenience stores provide quick access to hydrating beverages for on-the-go consumers, and that also is reflected in sales numbers. Packaged beverages (excluding beer) accounted for 15.0% of revenue dollars and 18.5% of gross profit dollars. Nationwide, convenience stores sell 46% of all single-serve bottled water. Within the category, enhanced water (12.3% increase in sales), sports drinks (4.5%) and bottled water (3.9%) led sales growth from the cooler in 2016, signaling a move by consumers toward healthier and/or functional beverage options.

Among all in-store merchandise, candy is the No. 1 impulse item purchased within a convenience store. In 2016, growth within the bagged and peg candy subcategory proved significant, indicating that consumers love the flexibility of snacking and portion control with stand-up bags and sealable packaging. In fact, bagged and peg candy overtook chocolate bars as the No. 1 candy subcategory in terms of sales contribution during 2015. Candy is also seeing a push from consumers for clean labeling and the use of more natural ingredients.

Salty snacks are essential for convenience retailers and customers alike, led by potato chips, tortilla corn chips, puffed cheese products and pretzels. Younger shoppers are looking for excitement in snacking options, and the unconventional flavor combinations and unusual spices that salty snacks offer are meeting the needs of this generation. However, younger consumers also prefer to snack on healthier options, which is leading to innovation in the salty category by balancing healthy and indulgent products.

In 2016, alternative snacks, a category driven by protein- and energy-rich items, reached the top 10 in-store merchandise categories for the second consecutive year, which signals a desire by consumers for immediate/healthier snacking options. Over the past several years, the category has exploded in popularity, largely driven by meat snacks.

Beer is a core convenience store offer, and is the third highest gross profit dollar generator among the merchandise categories. Beer shoppers are loyalty to stores that carry the brands they prefer, and these customers help generate additional sales thanks to the larger basket rings they provide by bundling beer with other in-store merchandise.

Packaged sweet snacks (snack cakes, pastries, muffins, cookies, donuts, other packaged desserts) continue to satisfy consumer cravings for an indulgent snack. However, more CPGs are increasingly introducing healthier options to their portfolios. Single packs and other smaller packaging sizes within the category also promote convenience and snacking on the go.

Complete industry metrics are available in the NACS State of the Industry Report of 2016 Data​.​​