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Category pressures across tobacco, gas could be driving c-stores toward healthier food options

CHICAGO — Are macro category pressures across tobacco and gas driving convenience stores toward healthier food options? That's a question raised by a recently published white paper from Nielsen.

Tobacco and gas are two of the categories that have traditionally fueled the rapid store growth across the convenience channel. More than 8,100 such stores have opened since 2005, bringing the total number of U.S. c-stores to 148,764, Nielsen said. What's more, year-over-year sales across the convenience channel in the United States grew 4.9% in the 52-week period ended Aug. 4, compared with 3.7% dollar growth for the marketplace overall.

But now, c-store operators are looking to fresher and healthier food to spark growth across its stores, according to the white paper, especially as increased fuel efficiencies associated with new cars translates into fewer trips to the pump, and more healthcare providers incentivize smoking-cessation programs. Both trendlines suggest impeded growth across two major drivers behind c-store sales.

And the competitive landscape is changing, too, the report noted. Other smaller-box formats, such as dollar and drug, establish new stores at a faster rate.

"C-stores are increasingly emerging as a viable choice for quick and/or healthy on-the-go meals," Nielsen noted. "Within the past year, common grocery items like yogurt and fresh produce have increased sales in C-stores by 57% and 38%, respectively. [Convenience] stores make it easy for consumers to eat fresh, buy less and shop more often. The trend is gaining traction across the U.S. and could attract higher-income shoppers." C-store drive-thrus are also gaining in popularity with Americans, the report added, making most store items — including such grocery staples as bread, eggs and cereal — available without having to leave the car.

For more insights about convenience store trends, Nielsen's white paper “Growing Appetite for C-Stores” is available for download here.

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