A C-Store Education

Ten Convenience-Retail Ideas from the 2013 NACUFS Conference

MINNEAPOLIS -- Seventy-one percent of college campuses have a convenience store, and these retail outlets are increasingly seen as revenue drivers for campus foodservice operations. A group of operators and industry suppliers gathered last week in Minneapolis to share opportunities and hurdles in a workshop during the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) annual conference, and CSP was there to capture the excitement and ideas from c-store’s collegiate brethren.

Millennials Care About Brands … Sort of

College students care about retail and packaged-good brands, but at the same time demand more of these brands and how they affect society, according to Tim Powell, principal of research firm Technomic, Chicago. Make sure not only your brand but also the brands you carry send a positive message to the customer.

The Snacking Trend Sustains

Just 4% of college students polled by Technomic stated they don’t eat any snacks during the day. And only 1/3 of students purchase snack foods and beverages from on-campus foodservice or retail locations—indicating the potential for c-stores near campuses, and the heightened competition as colleges continue to grab that share from commercial retailers.

Customization is Critical

Half of students today place a high importance on the ability to substitute and add ingredients to foods themselves, Powell shared. Campus c-stores are answering this need with the requisite toppings stations and beverage condiment bars as well as out-of-the-box ideas such as a build-your-own peanut butter sandwich bar with numerous types of breads, peanut butters and toppings like raisins, granola and dried fruit.

Big Boxes Are Getting Competitive

Think you’re the only ones feeling the pinch from other retail channels? Walmart has targeted colleges with its Walmart on Campus convenience store, opening locations at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., and at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Bottom line: Everyone’s competition for today’s consumer dollar, and college students are a target demographic for many retailers big and small.

They Want More

When asked what they wish their college foodservice programs provided, students told Technomic they want better-quality food, healthier items, more ethnic, vegetarian, vegan and snack offerings, more nutritional transparency, more customization and (drumroll, please) more on-campus c-stores.

Millennials Express Themselves Through Food

According to research presented by Kelly Fulford of General Mills, millennials use food as a way to express themselves, for fun vs. fuel, to pass quality time with friends, and as a hobby.

Beverages Are Big

College-age millennials most often purchase beverages, handheld entrees such as sandwiches, hot dogs and pizza and—you guessed it—snack-type items such as granola bars and chips. To cater to their needs, consider expanding your beverage lineup with more cutting-edge items, says General Mills’ Fulford.

Their Allowance is Growing

The 19 million full- and part-time college students in America hold $76 billion in discretionary spending—a $2 billion increase over a year ago. College students made 351.4 million visits to c-stores, spending $5.2 billion in one year. Thirty-two percent of college students’ c-store purchases are an impulse buy, compared to 22.7% of other c-store shoppers’ purchases.

Supply Them for School

Dennis Meersdom, operations manager for Michigan State University, shared with attendees that school supplies have been a important part of sales at his campus c-stores—especially at the start of the school year. Items to consider stocking include simple items such as pencils up to USB cables.

Sample Away

Sampling is a big win for many campus c-stores. Suppliers, take note: One retailer shared the success of a beverage maker who dropped off pallets of free product at fraternity and sorority houses, advising residents to tell their campus c-store managers to carry the product if they liked it. The strategy worked, and now the item is a big-seller on campus.

The NACUFS annual conference was held July 9-13 in Minneapolis. For more information visit www.nacufs.org.