ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The pandemic has many consumers trying to eat healthier foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooking at home—and that’s an opportunity for convenience stores to help customers stock up in one quick trip, Produce Blueprints reports.
Consumers have been filling their pantries during the pandemic, and that has carried cover to fresh produce, too. Fifty-seven percent of supermarket shoppers surveyed by the Retail Feedback Group said they keep one week of produce on hand, and 39% of shoppers are stashing away enough to last two to four weeks, compared with 25% before the pandemic, the survey found.
“It is likely that similar purchasing behavior translates over to convenience stores as it relates to fresh produce,” said Brian Numainville, principal at Retail Feedback Group, a Lake Success, N.Y.-based retail consulting group. “With smaller footprints, especially in the age of COVID-19, convenience stores have fewer shoppers congregating, which is appealing to shoppers trying to social distance,” he said.
“While some convenience stores have relatively small displays and few items, others are expanding into broader, fresher selection,” Numainville told the magazine.
Grocery and big box retailers account for $61 billion in produce sales. Before COVID-19 struck, fresh produce sales in convenience stores totaled about $242 million a year, Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives, told the magazine.
“That’s a pretty significant number compared to where the convenience store market was about a decade ago, when it was zero,” Lenard said.
York, Pa.-based Rutter’s is one example of a U.S. convenience store focusing on fresh produce. Chad White, foodservice category manager, Rutter’s, shared that there’s room to grow sales as consumers look to c-stores for healthier fare. “I think it’s a piece that falls right in line with overall health trends,” White told the magazine. “I also think consumers are looking for local and fresh and want to work with local businesses.”
Rutter’s new stores include expanded refrigerated cases for fresh and processed produce in to-go packages. White said it will take customers time to change habits to pick up fruits and vegetables at a convenience store instead of a grocery store but expects stores to carry larger selections.
McKinsey & Company estimates that by 2026, $200 billion to $700 billion in grocery sales could migrate to nontraditional shopping channels such as convenience stores.
Distributors can ease the way for increased produce offerings in c-stores by supplying smaller amounts tailored to c-store needs rather than the larger offerings sold to grocers, said Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association. “Traditional retailers purchase full-case inventory while convenience stores generally use smaller quantities. They need access to half cases or even quarter cases,” Watson told Produce Blueprints.
A few years ago, NACS partnered with the United Fresh Produce Association to create a blueprint that increased fresh produce sales at c-stores, giving owners tips and suggestions for how to integrate the food. NACS also has partnered with the Partnership for a Healthier America, the Produce Marketing Association and Sesame Workshop on marketing produce sales in c-stores through the “eat brighter!” campaign. More information on the program, including a downloadable marketing toolkit, is available at www.convenience.org/eatbrighter.