C-Store Blog

C-Stores: More than Smokes & Cokes

A bell rings. The thin layer of dust on the tile floor lets you slide gracefully toward the snack section like a cross-country skier. A man in a checkered button-up asks if he can help you with anything.

Mention c-stores and a place similar to the one above would probably pop into most people’s minds. But in reality, the segment is in the midst of a golden age – the country has seen an increase in locations every year since 2011.

So what’s behind the c-store renaissance?

For starters, a seismic shift in strategy. Since the recession, c-stores have begun to adjust their offerings, including more of what consumers might be used to seeing at limited service restaurants (LSRs). A rapid increase in demand for prepared foods, snacks and beverages have made c-stores the go-to for on-the-go Americans – 57% of consumers with a child under 18 and 85% of millennials say they visit one on a daily or weekly basis.

Average C-Store Food Ticket
This pivot has pitted c-stores directly against LSRs, and so far, chains like Speedway and QuikTrip are holding their own: Surveys have shown that customers rate LSRs and c-stores nearly equally when it comes to motivating factors like speed of visit and coffee/beverage quality. All this data provides proof that in the general population’s mind, the difference between the two categories is getting smaller all the time. Here’s the kicker: The average ticket for prepared foods and snacks at c-stores is $3.67, a full $2 less than at a traditional quick-service restaurant.

But a variety of offerings and high value aren’t the only things keeping c-stores in competition with traditional restaurant chains. C-stores are also beginning to offer loyalty programs, and guess what? It’s working. The vast majority (71%) of daily c-store shoppers choose the same store each time.

It’s clear that the industry is dramatically changing for c-stores and limited/quick service restaurants alike. The question is: what can each do to get the leg up?

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