Incredible Breakfast Trends

A Convenient Breakfast

Share of stomach. That’s the rather indelicate term guiding today’s foodservice competition. Quick service restaurants (QSRs) not only compete with other QSRs, but are vying for the same dollar that could go to a sandwich shop, a fast-casual or pizza restaurant, or even a deli. Until recently QSRs had not taken the convenience store (c-store) foodservice market share seriously but it’s time to take a closer look at its potential impact.

According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) the U.S. was home to 152,794 c-stores in December, 2014. Many of these locations began as gas stations with tobacco being the major moneymaker, but with more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer people smoking, foodservice sales are increasingly becoming c-stores’ most profitable category. On top of the best margins, NACS says c-store foodservice revenue has grown to $41 billion, or 19.4 percent of the industry’s 2014 sales. That’s a revenue stream worth nurturing.

The c-store segment is understandably serious about growing its foodservice revenues. According to The NPD Group’s Harry Balzer, they’ve already made significant strides in that direction. “The fast-food market is being squeezed from the top and the bottom,” Balzer has said, pointing out that c-stores gained 3 percentage share points in the overall $1.5 trillion food market since 2006.

Economics have evolved convenience stores from gas stations that happen to sell food, to food retailers that happen to sell gas. One strategy for increasing foodservice sales is improving the quality and appeal of fresh morning options. C-store operators have been capitalizing on breakfast’s popularity to transform people stopping for gas on the way to work into breakfast patrons. It seems to be having an effect. Mintel’s 2015 report, Convenience Store Foodservice, found 32 percent of those surveyed had purchased a made-to-order breakfast sandwich at a convenience store in the last three months.

Grab-and-go is still a required part of the c-store equation, with several brands supplying promotional signage and fixtures for premade sandwiches to capture customer attention. But made-to-order has become important in building relationships with new customers. Connections are made when a customized egg biscuit with jalapenos and avocado is handed to a patron by the person who just made it. Managers’ job requirements now often include foodservice experience.

Discussions at the 2015 Convenience Store News Foodservice Summit examined foodservice as an important part of the industry’s future, and a recurring subject was the importance of Millennials and how to attract them. The focus on customization is one answer to that question.

C-stores are beginning to have a significant impact on QSR breakfast sales. Besides offering scrambled egg bowls and regional favorites along with breakfast sandwiches, wraps and burritos, many operations encourage diners to customize items. That’s a strong Millennial-attracting concept that QSRs are watching and working on themselves.

USA Today recently reported that for foodservice, c-stores are almost twice as important to Millennials as fast-casual restaurants. NACS has identified Millennials as more likely to buy foodservice items at convenience stores than any other age group. Confirming Millennials’ importance, NACS spokesman Jeff Lenard has said, “That’s why the future of convenience stores is food – not gas.”

Convenience chains offer broad opportunities for customizing everything from egg and cheese breakfast croissants to pizza slices. Included in the list are:

  • Wawa’s touch screens for complete customization of its 60+ breakfast sandwiches, burritos and bowls
  • Stripes’ add-ins and condiment bar to rev up items like its Potato, Egg, Bean, Cheese and Bacon Q-taco
  • Sheetz’s made-to-order breakfast sandwiches and the dizzying array of sauces and toppings to customize them

Some chains also make entire menus available throughout their business hours. 7-Eleven offers its whole menu throughout the day and night, and Sheetz’s made-to-order breakfast sandwiches are available 24/7/365.

Technomic says 48 percent of consumers enjoy breakfast foods at nontraditional times. It follows then, that no matter the type of operation – c-store, QSR or fast-casual – coupling breakfast items throughout the day with customizability can maximize sales opportunities.

“Fresh food sales in convenience stores is essentially a 30-year overnight success,” says NACS’ Lenard. “It happened sometime between today and 1983 when Chevy Chase’s character in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” said, ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a sandwich from a gas station.’”

That was funny in 1983 because it was likely true. But today those sandwiches have transformed into real competition.


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