Whether it’s sandwiches, wraps or salads, chicken’s flexibility allows for a variety of healthy menu options.
By John Lofstock, Editor.
Convenience stores are going fresh and healthy, but not quickly enough for consumers, a new research report suggests. Convenience stores have been a growing outlet for produce, but consumers want more.
More than half (52%), of consumers polled for foodservice research and consulting company Technomic Inc.’s “Convenience Store Foodservice Consumer Trend Report” said they would like to see more healthy food items in the stores. Only 28% said they were satisfied with the healthy options.
The focus on freshness is driven by increased competition between c-stores and restaurants, particularly in fast food. In order to capitalize, c-stores need to convince consumers that they are a viable foodservice option by offering freshly prepared foods and made-to-order options that consumers associate with restaurants.
NPD, a research firm based in Chicago, predicted an expansion of foodservice programs and an upgrade of foodservice programs for c-stores over the next two years. They point out that convenience stores have strong sales in the morning and in the afternoon snack dayparts, which will lead to growing competition for a number of quick-service operators in 2011.
Plus, customers citing the need to get “in-and-out quickly” for food and beverage purchases both in the morning and the afternoon helped drive increases in convenience store traffic, sales and average visits during the second quarter of 2010, according to NPD. This plays right into the c-store industry’s stronghold and could give operators the edge they need over fast-food and fast-casual restaurant chains.
Consumer confidence may be down, but discretionary spending is up, according to a new American Express Business Insights report. Spending has increased in several discretionary spending categories, including dining. For example, affluent consumers increased spending in quick service restaurants by 24% and increased spending by 12% in fine dining.
Diners are increasingly drawn to the chicken thigh with its flavorful, dark meat. Chefs are responding by making the most of this high-flavor, economic cut. Restaurant trends typically trickle down to c-stores.
U.S. consumer spending on lunch served in restaurants is also forecast to rebound 2% in 2011 to reach $114 billion, following two years of recession-related declines, according to “Lunch Trends in the U.S. Foodservice Market” by research publisher Packaged Facts.
After rising to $119 billion in 2008, lunch daypart sales declined 4% in 2009, and sales are estimated to fall another 3% in 2010 to $112 billion when the final numbers are tallied.
Analysts are warning foodservice operators to prepare for higher food costs. As the economy shows signs of improvement and restaurant traffic begins to rebound, operators may face higher food costs in 2011 and will need to mitigate those increased expenses without hurting customer visits, industry analysts said. Driving guest traffic will be imperative to off-setting increased costs.
Aggressive foodservice pricing has also impacted the industry. The research showed that interest in lunchtime meals priced over $5 and under $10 is stable across household income brackets, suggesting price sensitivity among a large segment of diners regardless of their personal wages.
Ingredients are almost as important as price for many consumers when dining out, and the research confirms guests’ growing interest in better-for-you choices. Customers seek foods offering positive health benefits.
What to Expect on Fall Menus
While local, seasonal ingredients will continue to anchor menus this fall, chefs and restaurateurs are focusing on innovations that allow guests to customize their visits and to eat and drink at unconventional times and places.
Chicken is also making its way onto the breakfast menu in ways that go beyond the familiar fried chicken and waffles, according to Plate magazine, a trade publication aimed at chefs.
Chefs seeking lighter options than bacon, ham and sausage are experimenting with replacing those breakfast meats with chicken. Some of the brunch and breakfast items featuring chicken include:
• Fried chicken and gravy over biscuits
• Breakfast links, such as chicken apple sausage
• Crepes filled with chicken and mushrooms
Research presented by the National Chicken Council showed that chicken continues to be a staple in the diets of American consumers. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed have purchased chicken in the past 60 days, and 53% eat it more than four times per week (47% say they eat chicken 1-2 times per week).
The kind of chicken consumers purchase varies from fresh chicken from the meat department to cooked rotisserie, frozen, fried, salad or deli items containing chicken, as well as pre-prepared appetizers or entrées containing chicken. Fresh chicken remains the most popular with 86% of respondents reporting they buy this variety.
The ethnicity of food appears to be less important to most American consumers than where they buy whatever they choose—period.
While c-stores are making tremendous strides to offer healthier foods and a solid foodservice offering altogether, the stigma about food prepared in places that sell gasoline remains.
“While c-stores position themselves as the ultimate destination for convenience, 33% of consumers who have never purchased food at a convenience store haven’t done so because they believe the food is of low quality,” Mintel’s convenience store foodservice report claimed.
“When consumers think of convenience stores, food quality isn’t the first thing that comes to mind,” said Eric Giandelone, director of foodservice research at Mintel. “Improved quality—not just for products but for service, location and marketing communications—is still needed to bring in or bring back consumers for whom c-stores aren’t top-of-mind choices.”