Re-envisioning the c-store

Aimee Harvey, Managing Editor, Technomic


Convenience stores are working hard to shrug off their image as a grungy gas station stop during a road trip. Here are four ways next-generation retailers—including two colleges—are stepping up their visual appeal to match up with an updated food story around freshness, customizability and quality.

1. Convenience that comes to the diner


How can updated convenience models meld with noncommercial to make dining programs unique and memorable? At Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a takeout program called BYU Food to Go is making the “shopping experience as convenient and frictionless as possible,” says Cordell Briggs, director of finance for the school's dining services. The department converted a drive-thru bank building on property recently bought by BYU into a pickup point; customers who place their orders in advance (large-order catering customers frequent the format) go to the drive-thru lanes and call for assistance.

“Our attendants immediately deliver the order to the customer’s car and collect payment with a remote POS device, and our guest is ready to go, usually without even getting out of the car,” Briggs says. BYU Food to Go offers a wide range of offerings, with a full range of beverages, baked goods, breakfast, deli fare and hot foods, including barbecue, chicken entrees, pasta dishes and vegetarian options.

2. Bring it home

meal kit prep

If new mini markets, kiosks and c-stores in unconventional spaces are happening now, forward-looking formats such as home delivery of meal solutions and preparation kits could be next. In fact, such a program is already making its way into circulation at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Ken Toong,  executive director of auxiliary enterprises at UMass Amherst, says that while the home-meal program was largely geared toward faculty and off-campus customers, the biggest surprise was how swiftly the delivery idea took off among students. It’s yet another example of how multifaceted the convenience narrative has become, even among an emerging customer base that previously may not have expected campus dining services to provide high-quality retail meals this way.

“We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘how do we continue to tell our story?’ [Home delivery is] an audacious idea,” Toong says. “But our guests expect the best.”

3. Prep on display


Open-kitchen designs and preparation areas that are in full view of the customer are growing in popularity. Utah-based Maverik convenience stores are prepping for a systemwide rollout of assembly line-style prep models for street tacos, burritos and Neapolitan pizzas.

4. Techy touches


Front-facing tech that allows guests to customize flavors and ingredients is typified by Pennsylvania-based Sheetz with its signature MTO platform, which offers kiosks for touchscreen made-to-order foodservice.

5. Enhanced visuals


Digital signage is being used to make menu listings and nutritional information more visually appealing. At Pennsylvania-based Wawa, digital menu boards list menu offerings and advertise current limited-time items and special promotions.

6. Food front and center

grab and go

Grab-and-go displays are moving to more prominent positions. Rutter’s Farm Stores, a Pennsylvania-based c-store chain, recently expanded its grab-and-go selection and invested in proprietary to-go packaging to more extensively promote items in its hot-hold section.

7. Labor upsides


The upside of micromarkets versus conventional vending machines is in the reduced labor hours and larger profit margin, say operators. “We have since opened two additional markets that replace existing vending banks,” Moravec says. “The first location replaced three existing machines, and the sales with the market are about 300% higher than with vending machines. The second replaced four machines and the sales are about 175% higher than with vending machines.” 

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