How Convenience Stores Are Evolving (Updated for 2022!)

Posted in Innovation Written by Chris Schotsman

Ever since 1927 — when an employee of a Dallas ice company saw an opportunity to increase revenue by offering milk, eggs and bread to people who stopped by to pick up a block of ice for their refrigerators — convenience stores have been evolving to satisfy their customer’s demands.

A number of years ago I wrote a post on the evolution of convenience stores (c-stores), outlining the various ways they have been upping their game, shifting away from the traditional fare of soft drinks, snack food and cigarettes toward healthier options, like fresh produce and ready-made meal options. This post shares how convenience stores continue to evolve.

The effect of the pandemic on c-stores

The pandemic created a lot of challenges for businesses… but also opportunities.

Before the pandemic, few people would have thought to go to the gas station or corner store to pick up breakfast, let alone dinner. The public had the perception that all they would find there was a sad-looking ham and cheese sandwich wrapped in cellophane or a Hostess Ho Ho.

And they had a reputation for being dirty — gas station stores in particular. Not a place to shop for a family.

Today, things are different. C-stores and gas station shops continue to grow in size and customer base. This is partly due to c-stores being deemed an “essential business” during the shutdown and their ability to quickly adapt to change.

  • During the shutdown people had nowhere to go, so gas sales plummeted, making it essential for c-stores to offer a wider variety of products to stay profitable. Now, with more people working from home and the high price of fuel, people are still driving less.
  • C-stores had to pay more attention to the cleanliness of their stores, making them more attractive to customers and enhancing their experience.
  • More people began to rely on them for more than just candy bars or lottery tickets, accelerating the trend toward healthier offerings, from fresh produce to ready-made meals.
  • Gas stations are preparing for more electric vehicles by adding charging stations. Since charging takes longer than a gas fill-up (at least for now) c-stores can use that as an opportunity to attract customers into the store for an extended shopping trip — offering different solutions, including food service.

C-stores are becoming mini-supermarkets

A 2019 report from the National Association of Convenience Stores’ State of the Industry report found that 23% of c-store sales came from food service, and in all likelihood, this number will continue to grow.

This increase in demand for food services has turned some c-stores into mini-supermarkets — like the Hasty Market franchise, for example.

Cayuga Displays recently did a job for one of their stores in Hamilton, Ontario to help implement the new concept they have for their stores. It includes the traditional items usually found in a convenience store along with expanded fresh food options, take-out and home meal replacements. We provided:

  • 12-foot, full-service hot food bar
  • 8-foot sandwich prep case with a grab-and-go section on the front
  • 12-foot, self-serve dairy case along one of the walls
  • Flexible produce island
  • Work stations
  • Cold food bar
  • Floral steps

By expanding their offerings, c-stores are also starting to compete with fast food chains, offering customers the opportunity to do some basic grocery shopping while grabbing dinner for the family — why go to Taco Bell if you can visit 7-Eleven’s taqueria and pick up a few groceries at the same time?

Cashing in on the coffee culture

One way to entice shoppers to your c-store is by offering great coffee and home-baked goods — if you brew it, they will come!

Some c-stores, like Twice Daily in Tennessee, have even upped the game by offering a real cafe experience with hardwood paneled floors, high-top seats and plenty of natural light. Their brand’s own coffee, White Bison rivals anything offered by traditional coffee shops like Starbucks.

Takeout and delivery

Out of necessity, the pandemic created a surge in curb-side pickup and delivery, and consumers have grown to like the added convenience of ordering takeout from their easy chair. C-stores are partnering with Instacart, DoorDash, Uber Eats and other delivery services to meet the demand for delivery of everyday basics.

Some are even providing delivery service in-house, which makes sense given 93% of people live within 10 minutes of a c-store.

And as restaurant and fast food prices continue to rise, so does the demand for grab-and-go quick meal solutions. Independent c-stores have a real opportunity here — they can easily differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering unique menu offerings, like fresh baked goods made by local artisans, sandwich bars and ethnic foods.

C-stores have a few distinct advantages over supermarkets and fast food chains, with the most significant one being their ability to pivot quickly and adapt when necessary. They are also smaller than a supermarket, offering a more convenient in-and-out shopping experience. It’s the perfect option for people who are busy or those who want to limit the time they spend in stores due to health concerns.

Here at Cayuga Displays, we've worked with many specialty and independent food retailers across North America. The modular display cases we developed to help small footprint stores make the most of their floorspace can be equally effective for c-stores who want to take advantage of current trends.

Our plug-in, self-contained units, for example, are perfect for tight spaces. They can be easily moved around, giving c-stores flexibility in merchandising while helping keep food offerings at critical temperatures.

Interested in ideas for your c-store displays?

Cayuga’s unique line of specialty cases are designed to be configured for any store layout. They come in dozens of finishes and colors, making it easy for you to customize them to reflect your unique brand.

If you’re considering adding a unit or two to your store, or you need some more information, you can get in touch with our team here.

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