C-Store Channel Sees Slow, Steady Improvement

Cigarettes, non-alcoholic packaged beverages show the biggest gains, PDI/NACS Insights show. 

June 09, 2020

By Kim Stewart

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The U.S. convenience store industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has been measured during the past few weeks, with no big swings in performance. For the week ended May 31, dollar sales growth contracted from the prior week, and trips remained about the same, according to the latest weekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.

C-stores are still waiting for in-store trips to fully recover, and improvement appeared to stall in the week ended May 31. Except for the morning daypart, trips remain at roughly 90% of the year-ago week total. Trips in the key 7 a.m. to 9:59 a.m. rush stand at just over 80% of prior year trips as many Americans continue to work from home and are limiting travel, which means fewer visits to gas stations to fill up their tanks and inside visits to c-stores to grab their favorite morning beverage and breakfast.

Counter to most other categories this week, cigarettes and non-alcoholic packaged beverages strengthened, marking the greatest gains in dollars per transaction compared with the year-ago week of all categories, up 4.2% and 4.7%, respectively.

Growth year over year in the candy and alcohol categories slowed compared with prior weeks, while snacks and foodservice remained relatively unchanged. Dollars per transaction for candy were up 9.1% for the week ended May 31, compared with a 10.2% increase for the prior week, while beer gained 20.3% vs. 22.5% for the prior week.

The general merchandise category continues to perform well as people turn to c-stores for fill-in shopping. Total dollar sales in the category were up 22.1% over the year-ago week. Likewise, packaged ice cream/novelties, dairy products and alternative snacks all continue to be bright spots. In comparison, foodservice, food prepared on-site, packaged sweet snacks, commissary and cold/hot/frozen dispensed beverages remain in negative territory in terms of dollar sales, transactions and trips.

Here are some additional insights for the week ended May 31, 2020: 

  • Dollar sales growth declined from the prior week (+3.6% vs. +6% for the week ended May 24).
  • A key driver of the decline was slowing basket spend. Improvement year over year fell from the prior week (+19.7% vs. +22.6% for the week ended May 24),
  • Amid the continued decline in high-spend store services like money orders, which peak at the beginning of each month, store services were up just 3.7% year over year, compared with a 22.5% increase for the week ended May 24.
  • Trips remained about the same as the prior week (-13.4% vs. -13.5% for the week ended May 24).

Powered by PDI Insights Cloud, the report provides consumer trip and basket-level data and analysis that will enable essential businesses around the United States to deliver what their customers want and need right now. The report combines consumer buying data from 5,500 mid- to large-size convenience retail sites across all key geographic locations.

Click here to read the free two-page summary, and click here to get the full report from PDI, including category sales analysis.

Kim Stewart is editorial director of NACS and editor-in-chief of NACS Magazine.