gas station / convenience store

Citing The Hartman Group's Eating Occasions Compass data as a catalyst, 7-Eleven recently announced the introduction of an expanded selection of indulgent, organic, and healthy snack foods to align its offerings with consumers' increasing interest in healthful snack options.

Not everyone has cheered the news. Skepticism surfaced in a USA Today article in which one consultant described the new healthy snack foods section as a likely "waste of shelf space" and doubted whether 7-Eleven would be as "trusted as Whole Foods" for healthier or higher-quality food options.

We offer a different twist on 7-Eleven's move. While we are flattered that 7-Eleven picked up on our findings as we've shared them in our newsletter or those that have been reported on in various media sources in recent years, we were not directly involved with their decision or implementation on activating on our insights.

Food culture in America is constantly changing. More than half (53 percent) of all eating occasions are snacking occasions. "Health" is an important consideration on 56 percent of snacking occasions. On any given day, one in ten (10 percent) of non-restaurant eating occasions takes place within an hour of purchasing the food and/ or beverage consumed (what we term an "Immediate Consumption" occasion). And, according to our Hartman Eating Occasion Compass data that consists of more than 41,000 total eatings, consumers are four times more likely to go to a convenience store (C-Store) for an Immediate Consumption occasion than for a non-Immediate Consumption occasion (14 percent vs. 3 percent, respectively, sourcing from C-Store).

That the convenience store landscape has been changing for a number of years and now appeals to a wider range of consumers shouldn't be all that surprising.


For one, 7-Eleven and others, like WaWa and Sheetz, have been wellness-izing their store to offer healthier alternatives to the standard fare one typically associates with the convenience channel.

This makes sense since in urban areas, drugstores effectively function as convenience stores and they are seeing interest and growth in their fresh departments. While we separate drugstores from convenience stores like everyone else, we should interpret the positive consumer reaction to these changes in the drugstore channel as evidence for consumer acceptance of convenience stores moving in the same direction (i.e., toward "better for you" and higher-quality products).

Convenience stores appeal to a broad cross section of the population looking for everything from a simple beverage to a meal. And because people of all socioeconomic statuses are busy and on-the-go, convenience stores appeal to a variety of consumers.

Shifting Demographics and the Appeal of the Convenience Store

Historically, core convenience store shoppers have been 18-24 year old males. However, the convenience store demographic is shifting. Women shop convenience stores for immediate consumption occasions for nearly all the same reasons that men do; however, multitasking/being distracted is a bigger driver for women than for men (9 percent vs. 5 percent). Women's on-the-go lifestyles and efforts to balance work and family make convenience stores an increasingly appealing option:

  • Women now use convenience stores as much as men
  • On average, women spend more time than men in C-stores
  • Women are the largest consumers of coffee and fountain beverages

America's changing eating habits

Convenience store features that especially appeal to women:

  • Family-size food selections
  • New product selections
  • Quick in and out service

Women, as "purchasing agents" in charge of their household's day-to-day spending, will find convenience stores that serve their routine shopping needs more relevant.

Millennials represent the largest population segment in the United States. One in every five household dollars are spent by or on a Millennial. The convenience store channel captures a significant share of their wallets. Millennials' shopping behaviors also make them an ideal target audience for convenience stores:

  • They are more impulsive with spending than older generations
  • They make more unplanned purchases
  • They seek immediate gratification
  • "In and out" shopping appeals to them

Millenials use convenience stores even on occasions when they desire higher quality food experiences:

  • Wanting something with a unique narrative
  • Authentic global/ethnic flavors

The C-Store Evolution into Healthier, Fresher Fare Will Continue

The convenience store is increasingly relevant given the demands of modern day living. As such, the channel appeals to a broader range of people, well beyond the traditional core, young male, convenience store shopper. Convenience stores offer a way to multi-task:

  • Improved and expanded selection of foods, fresh items and household goods allow shoppers to pick up pantry staples – or even dinner – while filling their tanks.
  • They are an oasis for last minute shoppers who needs a few things, but can't be bothered navigating grocery store crowds and parking lots.

Convenience stores provide instant gratification and are great channels for impulse buys:

  • Appealing displays and ready to grab items can easily entice the C-store shopper who may have intended only to buy a drink or pay for gas.
  • Stocking interesting and unique merchandise can attract consumers looking for a little entertainment or a mid-drive pick me up.

These features appeal to people across many demographics. Tailoring C-store offerings to the preferences of women and Millennials allows the channel to evolve with these growing market segments.