Compared with adjacent retail channels, U.S. convenience stores have boasted relative strength and sales growth in recent years. Built on the premise of speed, convenience stores are modeled to deliver on specific consumer needs that competing channels don’t yet address fully.


While Nielsen research suggests that the strength of convenience stores will continue, it’s not guaranteed, particularly as consumer shopping trips decline, competing channels diversify and e-commerce grows, according to a press release.


Today, convenience stores are highly relevant to consumers’ on-the-go lifestyles and are well-equipped to deliver products that meet their immediate needs. But channel distinctions are starting to blur. Quick-serve restaurants (QSRs) are also evolving by freshening their menus and remodeling their stores to appeal to younger consumers. Furthermore, convenience stores are largely reliant on drivers, yet Americans’ interest in driving has declined over the years.


In order to grow, convenience stores need to stay relevant to their core customers. In looking at household spend last year, convenience stores attract more men than women. Also, much of this channel’s revenue comes from households with incomes of less than $70,000.


In 2016, convenience stores captured 85% of all sales through sales from just six categories: cigarettes, packaged beverages, candy, beer, salty snacks and other tobacco. Digging deeper, Nielsen data shows that subcategories like enhanced water, import, super premium and craft beer, ready-to-eat (RTE) meals, e-cigarettes, tools and housewares and sparkling wine all delivered mid-to-high double-digit sales growth for convenience stores last year.


Overall, recent sales trends magnify the degree to which consumers seek fast, economical and increasingly healthy options from their convenience stores. That said, convenience stores are also more likely to attract people for meal-time trips rather than “fill-in” and “routine shopping” ventures.


When it comes to food offerings, convenience stores can no longer afford to stick to the basics. Leading on fresh, natural food trends will be essential going forward, particularly as other channels have diversified into everything from sushi to gourmet sandwiches—offerings a step above from what they can make easily at home. Being transparent and health conscious—and displaying these attributes—will also be critical.