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Industry Innovation

Healthy Food in Convenience Stores

Can You Really Find Healthy Food Choices in Convenience Stores?

healthy foods in c-stores

onvenience stores often provide a limited selection of food items with all-in-one service including grocery, snack food, soft drinks, confectionery and much more.   People visit convenience stores for grab-and-go food while traveling or as the only alternative when food options like grocery stores are limited or hard to reach.  But is it possible to find healthy options there?  Per current nutritionist thinking it certainly is and the outlook is improving all the time.  But it takes little extra time and energy to choose healthy food option.

The retail industry is making continuous efforts to stock its shelves with food lower in calories, sodium, and fat.   Consumers are buying healthy food in all retail channels including convenience stores.  They are interested in fresh, natural products, sparkling water, protein snacks, infused teas, and more.  Initiatives are required to deploy fresh and healthier food options that include financial incentives, marketing, investment, and produce supply chain development.

“Whether we are traveling or find ourselves at the convenience store getting gas or grabbing food on our way to work, lots of meals are occurring outside the home, and we have to be careful and vigilant of how we are eating,” said Dr. Karen Aspry, director of the Lipid Clinic and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program at Lifespan health system in Rhode Island. “The bottom line is that as Americans and consumers, we should recognize that poor diets are believed to be one of the top causes of premature death in the population”.

History of Healthy Food in Convenience Stores

In 1927, 7-Eleven, the world's largest franchisor of convenience stores started its operation as the Southland Ice Company in Dallas.  They started offering staple items, including bread, milk, and eggs to boost sales.

Meeting the needs of shoppers is critical to their continued market expansion and, in fact, the only way for convenience chains to remain relevant – and become an even greater force to be reckoned with within the food and beverage retail landscape

Since then, many retail organizations including Sheetz and Wawa are planning to provide more healthful options to their customers.  Their constant efforts to meet customers' needs have dominated the modern convenience store.   In 2012, due to changing health attitudes, the first sugar-free version of the Slurpee was introduced for consumers with dieting, diabetes, or other medical concerns.   According to 2016 industry data by NACS, 50% of all single-serve water bottles and 45% of all single-serve sports drinks are sold in convenience stores.

In 1952, Bob Sheetz purchased one of his father’s five dairy stores, located in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Currently operating in 628 locations in the USA, the store started offering custom food, beverages, and convenience items.  

On June 9, 2014, 7-Eleven introduced fresh-brewed iced tea to celebrate National Iced Tea Day.  “Iced tea is the second-most consumed beverage in U.S. restaurants,” Smith said. “7‑Eleven already carried ready-to-drink bottled teas, but as we continue to expand both our fresh and hot food menus, we wanted to add a fresh-brewed, over-ice option to our guests’ beverage choices.”

Current Direction

Meeting the needs of shoppers is critical to their continued market expansion and, in fact, the only way for convenience chains to remain relevant – and become an even greater force to be reckoned with within the food and beverage retail landscape.

Convenience stores are adapting to the changing eating habits of Americans and improved nutritional intake.  

According to market research from Technomic, Inc., 53% of consumers indicated they would visit convenience stores more frequently if healthier food selections were available.  

fresh fruits in a c-store

However, due to their on-the-go foodservice, these types of stores have a major impact the food choices of millions of Americans. According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), one hundred and sixty million (one-half of the US population), visit a convenience store to purchase gas or food for immediate consumption in a single day.  86% of Americans believe that eating fruits and vegetables is crucial to stay healthy.

Del Monte is a food service that supplies farm-fresh fruits and vegetables for c-stores and K-12 school cafeterias to create healthy generation.

"As a long-time believer in the mission of providing satisfying and nutritious products, Del Monte Foods has made it a priority to educate people on healthy eating habits," said Bibie Wu, Chief Marketing Officer, Del Monte Foods. "We've been innovating products that are delicious and provide the necessary nutrients to live a healthy lifestyle, providing more options to create future generations of healthy eaters."

Convenience stores have attracted people in urban and rural communities – simply by offering increased access to healthy foods.  Their shelves contain more and more fresh fruits and vegetables.  Products are clean, properly showcased in attractive baskets that catch the eye.  They are using well maintained on monitored cooling units to keep food perishable and fresh.  With the improved food options and dietary choices, the public is not only demanding, but finding it convenient to purchase healthy food in “Grab-and-Go” fashion from C-Stores.

C-stores Initiatives for Healthier Food

According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), more than 1 in 3 adults are considered to have obesity. The suggested strategy to prevent obesity is to establishing financial incentives for convenience stores to increase the availability and variety of healthy foods and beverages.

Moreover, healthy food initiatives like store owner training, promotions, product grouping, marketing, and placement can improve sales of healthier food.  

A pilot study in Baltimore suggests that the diversity and availability of products may be a feasible model if urban farms are paired with retail stores; it can increase sales in urban areas with lower incomes if community support can be harnessed.  Other initiatives involve increasing shelf space for healthy food options.  

Following the trend, convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven are hiring Registered Dietitians (RDs).  These dietitians help shoppers and c-stores to engage in health and wellness food consumption.  They are endeavoring to cut calories, sodium, and saturated fat while adding healthy grains.

Sheetz Inc. has teamed with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to deliver healthier options at its 475 convenience stores.  Sheetz has decided to collaborate with PHA for the next two years to expand its healthy food options with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, healthy packaged foods, and made-to-order foods that attract healthy eaters.

Who is the C-store leader in healthy foods?  

The nation's largest convenience store providing more healthy food options is 7-Eleven.  In May 2019, 7-Eleven started the initiative of nearly 100 healthy products from 31 up-and-coming brands.  The healthy food offered by 7-Eleven includes plant-based, natural, gluten-free, keto, paleo, vegan, and low calories items.

“Even the leaders in convenience stores, like Sheetz and Wawa, are diversifying their offerings to satisfy their consumers who want healthy options," said Crecca, Technomic senior director.

Family Express, best known for its healthy lunch options, has secured number two position in the top five list C-Store healthy food leaders.  65% of shoppers who recently visited Express Family claim that this food chain is making continuous efforts to provide healthy food to its customers.  The chain has even started to give away free fruit to children under 12!  

Fast Mart is a food brand best known for its fresh (never-frozen) fried chicken.  In 2013, Fast Mart had expanded its foodservice program by including healthier options that include salads, sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, and made-to-order panini.  Women have lead the charge in giving Fast Mart a good rating for its healthy food choices and helped Fast Mart to get the position on the top five list.

August 15, 2021