C-Stores Missing Significant Snack Sales Opportunities

Consumer research from MSA and Paradigm Sample suggest the majority of customers looking to buy salty snacks leave the store empty-handed, a serious no-no for convenience stores.

By Trish Temmerman, Management Science Associates (MSA).

Nearly eight in 10 convenience store customers looking to buy salty snacks on a shopping occasion have left the store without making a purchase, according to a recent study by the Convenience Consumer Insights Panel (cciPanel). The findings suggest there is a significant opportunity for convenience stores to boost salty snack sales by developing a more effective product assortment,  managing inventory more closely to avoid out-of-stock situations and placing snacks in
additional locations throughout the store.

MSA and Paradigm Sample have collaborated on a new service that tracks the shopping behaviors of convenience store shoppers, including the 18-34-year-old segment most likely to shop the channel. The Convenience Consumer Insights Panel (cciPanel) is a first-of-its-kind mobile research panel designed to capture purchase-decision and attitudinal information among this valuable segment of young adult shoppers by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with them about their purchase decisions in this channel. Convenience Store Decisions is the exclusive media partner for this valuable service.

The cciPanel participants were polled as part of a custom study to examine the purchase habits and experiences of shoppers in the salty snacks category within convenience stores. Are customers successful in finding the salty snacks of their choice in the first location they look? Would they leave the store to go to a different store because they could not find the salty snack they originally intended to buy? What are the choice drivers in making their final salty snack selections?

To be included in the study, shoppers had to make purchases at least once a week at a convenience store within the past 60 days and respond “Yes” to the question, “Do you typically purchase salty snacks, such as crackers, nuts/seeds, popcorn, pretzels, savory snacks, snack chips, snack mix and meat snacks, in c-stores?” The following are highlights from this research.

When it comes to salty snacks, panelists were asked: “Thinking about your recent experiences with
convenience stores, have you entered a store with the intent to purchase a salty snack item, but left without making a purchase and, if so, why?”

Only 22% of shoppers said they always purchase a salty snack item before leaving. The main reason for leaving without making a purchase (26%) was that the store didn’t have the specific brand the customer was looking for. Furthermore, 9% of shoppers said the store didn’t have the specific snack they preferred. These reasons suggest that better inventory management to avoid out-of-stock situations would help to retain customers in the store. Retailers not only lose the salty snack sale, but also the sale of other products that would normally be purchased with salty snack items.

Additionally, 12% of shoppers reported that confusion and clutter resulted in their non-purchase of salty snack items, so improved category management practices could lead to more favorable buying experiences.

Single vs. Multi-Item Salty Snack Buyers
Thinking about your most recent trip to a convenience store when you bought a salty snack, did you buy more than one salty snack? Approximately 59% of respondents purchased one salty snack item on their most recent trips to convenience stores, while 30% bought two items. These high-value, multi-item buyers of salty snacks went on to exhibit differences in behavior worth noting.

Expected Location in Store
When you walk into a convenience store, where do you first look for salty snack items?  More than 50% of salty snack buyers first look in the middle aisles, while one-third seek these items out on a rack at the end of the aisle. Among the multi-item buyers, 20% first look near the register, suggesting retailers should consider front-of-store placement to cater to these multi-item category shoppers.

Success in Locating Salty Snacks
Thinking about the last four trips when you purchased salty snacks at a convenience store, how often did you find the salty snacks you wanted in the first location you looked? Just over half (54%) of salty snack shoppers surveyed usually find the salty snack items they are looking for in the first place they look in the store.

When comparing the experiences between single vs. multi-item buyers, 63% of multi-item buyers were successful at least three times out of their last four trips, compared to 48% for single-item buyers. Sixteen percent of single-item buyers report that they were successful only one time out of their last four trips. Merchandising the category to reduce confusion and clutter would facilitate better shopping experiences for these buyers.

Market Basket Analysis
Thinking about this most recent trip to a convenience store when you bought a salty snack, in addition to salty snacks, what else did you purchase?

Only 8% of shoppers made the sole purchase of salty snacks. Overall, in addition to gasoline, the top five categories purchased were sodas, gum, cold fountain drinks, chocolate candy and water.  A breakdown by single-item versus multi-item purchasers of salty snack items reveals that shoppers buying multiple items tended to purchase a wider assortment of other products.

Understanding the combinations of items in market baskets helps with merchandising, suggesting placement of salty snacks near to the cold vault to improve sales.

Category Choice Drivers
Thinking about your most recent trip to a convenience store when you bought a salty snack, what prompted you to choose the salty snack you bought?

The number one reason cited for product choice in the category was craved flavor, followed by it quickly met the customer’s needs and hunger. Stocking the optimal assortment of top sellers across various flavors will ensure that your shoppers’ cravings are satisfied.

Demographics of Salty Snack Buyers
Among the survey’s other key findings is that high-frequency salty snack buyers tend to be younger than the average shopper, with 18-34-year-olds representing almost two-thirds of buyers.  Shoppers with kids in the household were more likely to purchase three or more salty snacks–two-thirds of those without kids reported purchasing only one snack. Higher income shoppers were more likely than their counterparts to purchase 3+ salty snacks.

Implications and Potential
Salty snack buyers, whether they are buying a single item or multiple items, have certain expectations of where to locate these items in the store and of the assortment of items to choose from to satisfy their needs.

Understanding the motivation behind these salty snack shopping occasions, and even more importantly, if they are also high frequency convenience shoppers, will help retailers and manufacturers increase the sales in this category.

Retailers should take steps to avoid out-of-stock situations and to merchandise this category so it gets maximum exposure in high traffic areas to take advantage of both planned purchases (so customers can quickly find the items they are searching for) and impulse purchases (customers who are looking to fulfill last-minute cravings.)  Locating these items near to other typically shopped categories, such as the cold vault, could also increase dollars per trip for these buyers.

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