After buying a soda, milk, apple juice, a loaf of bread, paper plates, dishwashing detergent and a bagel, the typical c-store customer might—and that’s a big might—purchase a bottle of aspirin.
Make no mistake about it: Health and beauty care in c-stores is akin to an unruly stepchild when it comes to in-store categories. Up against HBC dominators like drug stores and supermarkets, the c-store industry has in many ways struggled to position HBC products, if only for lack of volume or incomparable price points.
The long and the short of it: HBC sales accounted for 1 to 2% of in-store sales this past year, according to a number of industry studies.
In its most recent "C-store Close-up" study, New York-based Meyers Research found that HBC purchases were indeed at the bottom of the list for c-store consumers looking for household items to buy while they stopped for fuel.
But nothing has sounded the death knell for HBC in the c-store channel, and the category could actually see some growth in the coming years, provided it’s properly targeted and tailored to the ever-coming wave of elderly Americans and aging baby boomers. The country’s elderly population is expected to increase 70% from 2000 to 2020, according to Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights at Nielsen.
This growth will inevitably boost the demand for HBC products across all channels, and convenience stores have no reason to assume they’ll be an exception.
Hale said retailers are channeling their focus on seniors’ needs, namely in the health and beauty care aisle, while the senior demographic could also prompt retailers to scale down the store sizes.
Recent economic trends could shift HBC sales to favor c-stores, which even in their rawest form still have an advantage over leading HBC channels on at least one front: they sell fuel.
With higher energy and food prices, consumers are not only cutting down on expenses, they’re also bundling errands to make less stops in their daily drive. Fuel being a necessity, c-stores can capitalize on their grab-and-go format by beefing up the HBC category to meet the needs of female and elderly consumers.
It will no doubt be a prolonged challenge for the industry, as leaders in other channels that have commanded dominance in the HBC category continue to expand their reach. In the past six years, according to Nielsen, CVS went from 4,298 stores to 6,306, while Rite Aid jumped from 3,602 to 5,097. And despite adding more than 2,000 stores in the same period, Walgreens is still looking to open another 550 stores this year, which would boost its overall store count to about 7,000.