According to Convenience Store News’ January 2021 Forecast Study, declining foot traffic has had a significant impact (ranked #2, just behind Covid) on sales and profitability.
AAA reported a 19% decrease in miles driven since the pandemic took hold, as employees worked from home, schools adopted remote learning models, and individual trips to and from the mall, sporting events, and entertainment venues were drastically curtailed or eliminated.
With these headwinds in place, how can convenience store operators evolve from simply a stop between Point A and Point B (home to work, work to home, home to the mall, etc.) to become a destination?
Some background: Beth Brickel of Ensemble IQ presented data at the 2019 Convenience Store Foodservice Exchange from her survey of 1500 grocery, convenience store, and QSR “heads of household” shoppers. She reported that only 2% of those consumers would consider bringing home convenience store meal options to their families.
The good news is that many large c-store chains interviewed for this CSN study see that the pandemic has increased adoption of take-home meals, food delivery, and drive-thrus. Several retailers have implemented “order at the pump for delivery to car.” Indeed, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens offered that “ if you are going to be a c-store, it’s not just residing within your four walls”
So, what to do about the stigma associated with Convenience Store foodservice? Pop culture has derided food quality time and time again. Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold) in the movie “Vacation” states, laced with sarcasm, that he is so hungry, he could “eat a sandwich from a gas station.” The Simpsons mock the roller grill at the Kwik-E-Mart with its gray-colored hot dogs purportedly made from squirrel, rabbit, and raccoon meat.
So how does one change these perceptions? By implementing accountability and committing to a culture of sanitation and food safety - in a clean and welcoming environment (and hopefully, with the smells of freshly prepared meal and snack options).
Over 70% of retail shoppers polled by Winsight have indicated that they expect to see store employees actively engaged in cleaning and sanitation tasks, especially around food service areas.
If employees responsible for food preparation are still using Redbook or other manual logbooks to record food temperatures, how can one be assured that temperatures are being recorded accurately and on-time? How many times does one think that employees might simply fill out the form at the end of their shift with made-up data, if at all?
If store managers require that staff perform routine sanitation tasks throughout the day, how can they know if those tasks were completed correctly and on a timely basis if they still use paper-based checklists? (We call this pencil-whipping.)
By implementing a culture of food and store safety, c-stores can drive foodservice sales and capture market share, while breaking the stigma that hampers the industry.
Jolt offers a robust, yet simple-to-use suite of technology tools to help c-store operators embrace digital solutions to improve performance, instill accountability, and ensure food safety with results that can’t be faked.
In closing, as Technomic stated in their most recent Covid-19 foodservice research study, restaurant closures are a c-store opportunity. But can the convenience industry seize the moment?