Consumers increasingly turn to convenience stores during the pandemic

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Grab-and-go and delivery are filling the void left by shuttered restaurants

Restaurants have been hammered by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but in many cases, their loss has been gained by convenience stores -- especially those that have emphasized grab-and-go food.

For starters, convenience stores haven’t had to change their business models much in order to adapt to the new environment. Many chains, such as Wawa, have always had sections of prepackaged sandwiches and wraps. All they’ve had to do is increase inventory.

Consumers seem to like the grab-and-go concept at a time when the alternatives are mostly fast-food drive-thrus. And some in the industry believe this trend may last beyond the pandemic.

"We are seeing more consumers opt for something prepackaged for safety reasons," Tim Powell, managing principal at consulting and insights firm Foodservice IP, told Convenience Store News. "The thinking is the food handling by the staff is eliminated."

Powell says research has shown that the pickup in business is coming from consumers who used to frequent restaurants but now avoid the few that are open. He sees only a portion of the current grab-and-go customers returning to restaurants once the danger has passed.

7-Eleven leans on delivery

7-Eleven has expanded beyond grab-and-go and is leaning more heavily on delivery now that the virus is into its second wave. The convenience store chain became Instacart’s first convenience store client in September. 

Last week, 7‑Eleven added two more U.S. ordering platforms – Uber Eats and Grubhub – to its delivery portfolio. In addition to sandwiches, users can order milk, bread and eggs, pizza with a Slurpee drink, and some 7-Select chips, coffee and a pastry, cold medicine, grocery items, and even energy shots.

“When 7‑Eleven began offering delivery in 2017, we certainly didn’t foresee a pandemic accelerating on-demand ordering platforms from convenient to essential,” said 7‑Eleven COO Chris Tanco. “This year we’ve doubled our delivery footprint and quadrupled our daily delivery orders because customers know they can count on us for their necessities in about 30 minutes. We look forward to continuing to respond as our customers’ shopping behaviors rapidly change.”

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