Convenience Stores Aren’t Health Food Stores

But what c-stores sell, and how they sell it, continues to evolve as people expect to get fresh, healthy items on the go.

January 28, 2016

The following opinion piece was written by Henry Armour, president and CEO of NACS, and Larry Soler, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA).

Whether it’s working out more, eating better or procrastinating less, each year millions of Americans try to hold onto their New Year’s resolutions. Last year, several convenience stores resolved to be healthier, too—and joined an elite 8% of Americans who actually keep their resolutions.

At the start of 2015, convenience stores resolved to blend health and convenience, making the healthy choice the convenient choice for the more than 160 million Americans who visit a convenience store on any given day. Today, more than 1,000 convenience-store locations across the country have committed to offering an expanded selection of fresher, healthier choices, helping jumpstart the industry’s efforts as they begin to focus on increasing access to more nutritional options.

The intersection of convenience and health is of particular importance to Millennials, which is the largest generation of consumers ever, at more than 80 million deep. These consumers are much more likely to snack than any other group—but are also more likely to desire healthier products. And a whopping 75% of them say that convenience stores are responding to their demand with healthier, more nutritious products and serving sizes.

From Sheetz on the East Coast to Kwik Trip in the Midwest to Loop stores in California, convenience stores across the nation have taken note of this demand and are rising to the challenge of changing the long-held notion that you won’t find fresh items where you also buy gas. Recognized as innovators in the food service industry, these stores and others, including U-Gas and Twice Daily, have teamed up with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to offer healthier options like fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, nonfat and low-fat dairy products and whole grain items; and they’re promoting those healthier products through marketing efforts in the store and at the pump.

What makes this even better is that it’s working. After making a commitment to PHA, Kwik Trip’s bulk produce sales grew 5.5% in 2015. They’re not alone: 64% of convenience stores reported increased sales of better-for-you items in 2015.

Change is coming fast in the convenience store industry, and this is just the beginning. Only a few years ago it was unusual to see fresh fruit in a store. Today, Kwik Trip sells 400 pounds of bananas per store per day. The company is also working with PHA to grow water sales with the Drink Up program—an effort to encourage water as the beverage of choice. While we are optimistic about the progress being made, in the coming years we still have a great deal of work to do as we strive to increase access to healthier options across the nation.

Make no mistake: convenience stores are not health food stores, and they don’t aspire to be. They sell speed of service to busy consumers who want to get in and out quickly. But what they sell—and how they sell it—continues to evolve as people expect to get fresh, healthy items on the go. Stores don’t need to look to eliminate less healthy choices, but rather continue to increase the healthier options to meet shifting demands. And now, a whole new generation of convenience stores is arriving—one that might even make it a little bit easier to keep those resolutions.