By Pat Pape
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Convenience-store foodservice sales took a big hit during the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020, but the unprecedented situation also gave the industry an opportunity.
“We were an essential business, and if you needed anything, you could come to us, fuel up and grab a bite,” said Matt High, senior category sales manager for made to order, Sheetz. “We’ve had a wonderful opportunity to have people who’ve never eaten at a convenience store to come through our doors.”
Fortunately, monthly sales of prepared c-store foods rebounded to above pre-pandemic levels in 2021, according to Jayme Gough, research manager, NACS. “This is a function of workers going back into the office, waning concerns around COVID-19 and an increasingly ‘back to normal’ way of life for many people,” she said.
In 2021, prepared food accounted for 13.78% of in-store sales, which was 1.43 points higher than 2020, and brought in $302,346 in average sales per store, up 21.3% from 2020, according to the NACS State of the Industry Report of 2021 Data (slated for release in June). Prepared food contributed 69.5% of foodservice category sales in 2021.
Everyone was forced to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic. Last year, many c-store operators pared down their foodservice selections to make menus more manageable. But recently, they are beefing up options once again.
“We made significant cuts to focus on our core menu and execution,” said Ben Hoffmeyer, vice president, marketing and merchandising, TXB Stores. “This year, we’ve returned to our limited time offer schedule. We’ve introduced several new items, including Chicken Poppers—original or spicy. We use our current chicken tenders and cut them to create a snacking option that leverages our new packaging. It’s a great way of taking an existing item, re-imagining it and still retain operational execution.”
The Texas-based chain also uses chicken tenders in its enchiladas, available hot or as a take-and-heat option. “Not only does the customer get a great tasting product, but TXB can lower waste and increase profitability,” Hoffmeyer said. “And the enchilada plates in the cold case are SNAP EBT eligible, which allows us to hit another customer segment.”
Early this year, Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s rolled out the Toastwich, a hand-held sandwich of made-from-scratch pizza dough and traditional breakfast fixings, such as eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese. “It’s highly craveable, it’s highly portable, it’s value priced and it’s something unique that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Darren Rebelez, president and CEO, Casey’s. Along with the Loaded Breakfast Bowl and Loaded Breakfast Burrito, which the chain added last year, the Toastwich has revived interest in Casey’s morning menu. In March, Casey’s announced that breakfast daypart same-store sales were up 17% from the same period a year ago.
As more guests return to their daily commutes and outside-the-home activities, traffic for convenience stores will only grow,” said Richard Guidry, director, food and beverage, Casey’s. “We’re on the doorstep of the strong, summer season. Curbside and third-party delivery offerings only add to the convenient options for our guests to get Casey’s delicious food.”
Read the full Category Close-Up article in the May issue of NACS Magazine.
Pat Pape worked in the convenience store industry for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time writer. See more of her articles at patpape.wordpress.com.