Riding the Crave Wave

The lines are officially blurred.

What was once a "convenience store" could just as easily be called a quick-service restaurant (QSR) today. Plus, c-store foodservice patrons don't always know the difference. Responses to Technomic's latest Consumer Brand Metrics survey of c-store guests reveal that many consumers rate c-store foodservice better than the QSR competition for taste, flavor, quality and craveability. Retailers are beating restaurants at their own game.

Among the 27 c-store brands in the survey, the desire to have a satisfying meal at a convenience store surpassed the need for convenience. In fact, 36% of c-store guests said they valued the food experience, which includes satisfaction, novelty and a personal connection. Compare that to convenience atributes (affordability and speed), which had an average rating of 34%.

Convenience stores are officially stepping on QSR turf, and now there are numbers to prove it.

In its upcoming newsletters, Convenience Store Products will look at the six most craveable foodservice c-store programs in the study: Family Express, Ricker's, Wawa, Rutter's, QuikTrip and Sheetz. Today, click through to see how these chains scored in overall food taste and flavor, and how each fared against the overall c-store and QSR averages.

Rutter's Farm Stores

Rutter's Farm Stores

With 97.1% of Rutter's customers approving of the overall food taste and flavor, this generations-old c-store chain boasts some of the best c-store foodservice. Beginning a very long time ago as a family farm turned dairy, the chain is now known for its made-to-order food (ordered via touchscreen) and large, inviting stores. Rutter's, York, Pa., uses fresh ingredients, baking its own bread, cookies and muffins every day. Its extensive menu, offering everything from barbecue short ribs to nachos to stir-fries, is completely customizable.

Ricker's

Ricker's

Of the customers that visited Ricker's from Q2 2016 through Q1 2017 that participated in the study, 96.7% rated the chain's overall food taste and flavor highly. In 2013, Anderson, Ind.-based Ricker's AhhBurritos food trucks hit the street. The 56-store chain soon began to build its in-store foodservice identity with its first test of the program inside its retail locations in 2014. At that time, the menu primarily focused on the retailer's brand of fast and fresh Mexican cuisine that included burritos, tacos, quesadillas and salads. Ricker's expanded its food offering to include a variety of fresh, made-to-order breakfast, lunch and dinner options, including pizza, breadsticks, deli sandwiches, salads and more.

Family Express

Family Express

With 96.6% of Family Express foodservice customers strongly approving of its overall taste and flavor, its foodservice clientele is extremely loyal, especially when it comes to the coffee and square donuts. Family Express began on Christmas Day in 1975. That's when president and CEO Gus Olympidis opened his first store, Time Low, in Valparaiso, Ind., which remains the chain's headquarters city. Since then, the company has increasingly focused on foodservice, opening a commissary facility and developing several proprietary foodservice offerings. Late last year, the retailer synchronized the launch of its Cravin's Kitchen made-to-order program with the rebranding of Family Express store interiors, which are designed to focus on foodservice.

QuikTrip

QuikTrip

Of the customers that participated in the Technomic study, 95.8% of Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip's foodservice clientele approved of the offerings' overall food taste and flavor. A longtime master of the roller grill and fountain, QuikTrip recently has been expanding its QT Kitchens full-service counters to more locations. QT Kitchens pour made-to-order specialty coffee drinks alongside a wide array of food items, including breakfast bowls and burritos. Grab-and-go nonetheless remains crucial to QuikTrip, known for its extensive roller-grill toppings bar. The chain has also been testing a drive-thru concept and launched a foodservice-focused location without fuel in Atlanta.

Sheetz

Sheetz

When someone visits the Sheetz home page, the first thing they see is a prompt to order food online. And according to the Technomic data, 93.9% of them are pleased with the overall taste and flavor. To many of its customers, Sheetz is a QSR that happens to have gas pumps outside and packaged goods in between. The chain has embraced its QSR sensibilities, so much so that many locations are outfitted with drive-thru windows. Living foodservice 24/7, Sheetz offers its menu items all day, every day of the year.

Wawa

Wawa

At Wawa, 92.8% of customers enjoy the overall taste and flavor of its foodservice product offerings. And if a customer wants it? It's likely Wawa has it. If a customer can dream it, they can probably order it via the retailer's touchscreen ordering system. Whether it's a frozen beverage or dessert, a breakfast sandwich or a Cheesesteak Shorti, all items are made fresh and delivered quickly. A healthy halo also permeates the chain's menu in items such as the kale and quinoa salad and the turkey, apple and cranberry wrap. Freshness indicators are also big for Wawa, including hoagie bread made in-house each day.

Overall

On average, 91.1% of the c-store foodservice customers that participated in the study rated the overall food taste and flavor highly. For QSRs, the number dropped to 90.7% of participating customers. 

For this project, Convenience Store Products partnered with sister research company Technomic. Technomic's Consumer Brand Metrics study, powered by Ignite, is an ongoing quantitative and qualitative measurement of customer experience at 27 leading chains in the c-store industry. This report includes the six highest-rated c-store foodservice programs within the study parameters. The data represents survey responses from 18,806 consumers and is based on a recent visit to a c-store brand tracked from Q2 2016 through Q1 2017. Scores represent the percentage of respondents who strongly agree and agree with the statements ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 (top two box ratings).