Consumers used to depend on convenience stores as a place to grab a snack and a bottled beverage while they filled up their car’s tank. If they were feeling lucky, they might even buy a lottery ticket or two. While those options are still core to the c-store value proposition, retailers now need to add quality food and beverage offerings to what consumers expect when they walk through the doors of a store.

During a recent webinar hosted for IFMA members, Kinetic12 Consulting shared that 96% of surveyed c-store retailers say foodservice is very important to their company’s long-term success. IFMA Scope™ estimates that consumers will spend $43.8MM on pre-prepared food and beverages in c-stores in 2024.

At Wawa, a consumer can choose between items such as a Honey Hot Chicken Sandwich on ciabatta bread and a Crispy Jalapeno Seasoned Shredded Beef Burrito. And at Sheetz, for breakfast, a consumer can pair a Kickin’ Chicken Sausage Sandwich with a Caramel Brownie Cocoa Cupo’ccino. While Wawa and Sheetz have been offering robust foodservice programs for years, other brands are following suit and investing in a more varied, fresh and tasty food and beverage offering.

Menu innovation like this, however, does not come without its challenges. Kitchen space in c-stores is either tiny or non-existent. Labor is often limited to a single cashier that cannot be managing the food operation. Whenever fresh, unwrapped food is served, there’s the potential for food safety concerns that can damage a brand’s reputation and cost them millions in fines. A c-store must contend with all these challenges while meeting the expectation of a consumer that is in a hurry to get in and out. During a recent survey IFMA hosted as part of its Consumer Planning Program, more than 4,800 consumers were asked what makes food items “grab-and-go”-worthy. Top answers included being handheld but not messy and requiring no preparation.

To address these challenges, convenience store brands are turning to a variety of solutions. First, operators are expecting their suppliers to bring them serving and merchandising solutions that require little to no prep before serving. This might include a new piece of equipment that requires no training to operate but delivers a quality product with a halo of freshness and attractive merchandising. Second, mobile or kiosk ordering can be implemented to remove the burden of order taking from the store’s staff. Finally, having all food prepped and packaged at an offsite commissary and then delivered daily opens the possibility for a wide variety of foods to be available with no need for in-store prep or stocking.

Convenience store retailers are expected to amplify more than just their food and beverage options, too. Kinetic12, during its C-store Emergence Workshop earlier this year, identified what a store might look like in five to 10 years. Among a long list, five adjustments stood out:

  • Automated operations with human touch
  • Rapid delivery and seamless transactions
  • Immersive dining experiences
  • Drive-thru options

Food-away-from-home in the convenience store channel continues to grow and provides operators and all members of the ecosystem ample opportunities. IFMA plans to address these opportunities at its upcoming Marketing & Sales Conference and through additional resources throughout the remainder of the year. For more information on how to join the conversation and take advantage of these resources, visit