Inside the Store

The U.S. convenience stores experienced record in-store sales of $237.0 billion in 2017, led by consumer desires to satisfy an immediate need for food and refreshment. In fact, 83% of the in-store merchandise that convenience stores sell is consumed within one hour of purchase, and 65% is immediately consumed, per NACS Convenience Tracking Program data. 

The top 10 in-store categories ranked by sales dollars represent about 80% of all in-store sales. In 2017, all of the 10 top in-store categories saw positive sales, including cigarettes.

Here is an overview of in-store revenues from products sold in stores. This does not include the sale of fuels and various services that can generate fees (car wash, lottery, ATM, etc.):

  • Tobacco (cigarettes and OTP): 34.1% of in-store sales
  • Foodservice (prepared and commissary food; hot, cold and dispensed beverages): 22.5%
  • Packaged beverages (carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, water, juices and teas): 15.8%
  • Center of the store (salty, candy, packaged sweet snacks and alternative snacks): 9.9%
  • Beer: 8.5% (12.4% for stores selling beer)
  • Other: 9.2%

While tobacco products, including cigarettes, cumulatively were 34.1% of in-store sales dollars, they accounted for only 17.1% of gross profit dollars. Cigarette sales accounted for 28.6% of in-store sales dollars, a sharp decline from 36.9% in 2011. Meanwhile, the category other tobacco products (OTP) had an 11.2% increase in sales dollars and an 9.2% increase in gross profit dollars. 

Foodservice, a broad category that mostly includes prepared food (69% of both category sales and profits) but also commissary foods and hot, cold and frozen dispensed beverages, continues to be a key focus for growth in the convenience store channel. Foodservice contributed 22.5% of in-store sales in 2017 and accounted for 33.9% of gross profit dollars.

Convenience stores sell 23.8% of packaged beverages in the United States according to Nielsen and saw a slight 0.4% sales increase in 2017. Packaged beverages (non-alcohol) accounted for 15.8% of revenue dollars and 20.1% of gross profit dollars. Within the category, enhanced water saw the strongest sales increase (9.1%); ready-to-drink iced teas (3.5%), alternative beverages (3.5%) and bottled water (0.6%) also posted sales increases, continuing the trend of consumers seeking more healthier and/or functional beverage options at convenience stores. 

Among all in-store merchandise, candy is the No. 1 impulse item purchased within a convenience store. In 2017, growth within the bagged and peg candy subcategory proved significant, indicating that consumers love the flexibility of snacking and portion control with stand-up bags and sealable packaging. Candy is also seeing a push from consumers for clean labeling and the use of more natural ingredients.

Salty snacks are essential for convenience retailers and customers alike, led by potato chips, tortilla corn chips, puffed cheese products and pretzels. Younger shoppers are looking for excitement in snacking options, and the unconventional flavor combinations and unusual spices that salty snacks offer are meeting the needs of this generation. However, younger consumers also prefer to snack on healthier options, which is leading to innovation in the salty category by balancing healthy and indulgent products.

In 2017, alternative snacks, a category driven by protein- and energy-rich items, reached the top 10 in-store merchandise categories for the third consecutive year, which signals a desire by consumers for immediate/healthier snacking options. Over the past several years, the category has exploded in popularity, largely driven by meat snacks.

Beer is a core convenience store offer, and is the third highest gross profit dollar generator among the merchandise categories. Beer shoppers are loyalty to stores that carry the brands they prefer, and these customers help generate additional sales thanks to the larger basket rings they provide by bundling beer with other in-store merchandise.

Snacking categories all had sales growth, as salty snacks (up 5.6%), candy (up 2.6%), and alternative snacks (up 2.0%) all had strong growth as some consumers, especially millennials, moved toward snacking and away from traditional meals.

Complete industry metrics are available in the NACS State of the Industry Report of 2017 Data.