Consumers are Increasingly Eating at C-Stores, Study Finds

C-stores' visit share of dining categories has increased 3% over the past five years.

March 29, 2024

Consumers are continuing to choose c-stores over other dining options, according to a white paper from about consumer behavior.

Between 2019 and 2023, c-stores' visit share relative to the other discretionary dining categories—which includes breakfast, coffee, bakeries and dessert shops; restaurants; and fast food and QSRs—jumped from 24.2% to 27.1%. The visit share of breakfast, coffee, bakeries and dessert shops also grew slightly during the period.

Meanwhile, restaurants’ relative visit share dropped from 13.8% to 11.7% and Fast Food & QSR’s dipped from 51.8% to 50.6%.

“The continued growth of c-stores between 2021 and 2022, and again between 2022 and 2023, indicates that many diners are now embracing c-store food out of choice and just due to necessity. The rise of the breakfast, coffee, bakeries and dessert shops category alongside c-stores in the past five years may also highlight the current appetite for affordable grab-and-go food options,” wrote the study. “And with c-store operators embracing the shifts brought on by the pandemic and actively expanding their food options, diners are increasingly likely to consider c-stores for their portable meals and packaged snacks.”

Restaurants closing during the pandemic while c-stores remained open also may have contributed to the industry’s rise in visits, as consumers “took the opportunity to get acquainted with c-stores’ food-away-from-home options.”

The study also analyzed the food preferences of demographic customer bases in the trade areas of seven major retailers. For example, Plaid Pantry visitors were 55% more likely than the nationwide average to fall into the “Asian Food Enthusiasts” segment in 2023, while residents of the trade areas of QuikTrip and Buc-ee’s rank highest for "Fried Chicken Lovers."

For more insight into foodservice, check out our March foodservice issue of NACS Magazine, including how to navigate food recalls, foodservice data, food packaging and how to boost profit with sweet treat offerings.