Snacks are a staple of the American diet, and, according to the National Institutes of Health, most adults have one to three snacks each day. How many of these snacks are you selling and what can you do to sell more?

Those questions were addressed during Wednesday’s session, “The State of Snacking in Convenience,” led by Kathy Risch, senior vice president of thought leadership and shopper insights for Acosta Group, and Lisa Ham, director of merchandising and space planning for Yesway, who presented research about snacking preferences and behaviors and how to leverage that information into increased c-store snack sales.

With so many people buying snacks, knowing what they are buying and when and where they are buying them are key factors for creating a strategy to target the market, and Risch presented plenty of data describing buying behavior using Acosta Group’s Convenience Store Shopper Study (July 2023) and Snacking Study (April 2023).

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The snacking snapshot:

  • The most common snack or meal trips to c-stores are in the afternoon, particularly between meals with 56% of these snacks between lunch and dinner.
  • Shoppers primarily pick up store-prepped items as a between-meal snack or lunch. 30% say a hot store-prepped food and drink are the reason for a c-store trip. 25% say a cold store-prepped food and drink are a reason for a c-store trip.
  • It’s common to make a special trip for a snack, especially for the Millennial demographic, with 53% of them reporting heading to a c-store when they are feeling snacky. Men are also more likely to get snacks at a c-store or quick-service restaurants (QSR) than women.
  • Snacking needs can strike at various times. Many people prefer the late-evening snack (43%), while others—especially Millennials—snack mainly when they are bored. Another large portion of respondents often use snacks in place of a meal.
  • Regardless of when they snack, most c-store shoppers (78%) consume their snacks on the go, instead of taking it to eat at home or work.
  • Snacking preferences are pretty evenly split, with 51% of people preferring junk food snacks to healthy snacks. The differential between salty and sweet is a little bigger, with salty snacks grabbing 59% of the preference.

Risch and Ham had several suggestions for winning the large share of snackers out there, starting with maximizing dayparts focusing on where you can win.

“While it’s usually ‘win the morning, win the day,’ with people late-day snacking, it’s really more ‘win the afternoon, win the day,’” Ham said.

Also, remember who your competitors are. You are no longer just competing with the grocery store down the street, Risch said. With snackers reporting that they see c-stores in the same category as restaurants for fast-food snacking, there is a lot of channel-blurring in the snack category. You have a better chance of winning by making shopping for snacks more fun.

Things that could drive consumers to c-stores include loyalty programs and apps.

“Fuel rewards are one of our most efficacious promotions that drive value,” Ham said. “You need to win where you can win and, for us, that’s in fuel.

“Men and lower-aged people like to get (app) badges. Higher-aged folks and females want the rewards,” she said. “Making sure you are making it fun is really going to increase that impulse buy.”

Offer variety, but not too much, Ham added.

“If you have too much variety, they will land in what I like to call ‘analysis paralysis,’” she said. “Make it super simple and have a key price point.”