How convenience stores are upping seafood sales
Even while stepping up their prepared seafood offerings, seafood retailers face a major new competitor – convenience stores.
Convenience store foodservice sales continue to rise and seafood is a growing part of that mix. Some c-stores even operate casual and upscale restaurants that serve seafood in the same location consumers buy gas, chips and beer.
“We are seeing an increase in seafood offerings in convenience stores that offer foodservice via our MenuMonitor data base,” said Donna Hood Crecca, associate principal at foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic. “With the growing consumer interest in sourcing more healthful food items and also foods with ethnic or local attributes, opportunities may exist to increase category penetration with operators.”
In fact, Technomic found a 5.6 percent increase in menu items mentioning fish or shellfish and a 8.7 percent increase in c-store operators menuing seafood items for the third quarter of 2016 versus 2015. Sushi, in particular, is a popular item in c-stores – especially those offering Asian specialty foods.
“What’s more, 12 percent of consumers indicate they’d be interested in purchasing sushi in a convenience store,” Hood Crecca said.
Jack Kofdarali, chairman of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) at the organization’s recent U.S. conference, said more and more convenience stores are adding prepared food items to their offerings.
“More than ever, I truly believe that food is our future,” Kofdarali said.
Kofdarali said it is “eye-opening” to travel from California to the East Coast – and Europe – and see so many retailers executing at a very high level with food.
“Their focus is not just on food made fast, but on food that is really good—both in taste and in quality,” he said. “And here’s the most important thing: it’s making them money.”
In fact, foodservice sales accounted for 33.7 percent of c-stores’ gross profit dollars in 2015, according to “NACS State of the Industry Report of 2015”.
“Prepared foods is bringing in more customers, and retailers are selling more food and other items,” Kofdarali said.
At Coco Cove convenience stores, operated by Foodland in Hawaii, high quality prepared seafood items has been core to its offering for years. The c-stores feature 15 different varieties of sushi, a few different varieties of poke, bento boxes featuring seafood and other items such as seared salmon and salmon cakes on a daily basis.
Prepared seafood dishes are selling well at Coco Cove stores partially because seafood is central to Hawaiians’ culture, Keoni Chang, corporate chef and director of prepared foods at Foodland, told SeafoodSource.
“They [seafood items] all do very well. Poke and bento are part of the DNA of our culture so locals and tourists seek it out,” Chang said. “People enjoy it, is perceived as healthy, and the quality of the product has improved,” adding that is due to the fact that “Establishments can get it fresher and quicker from the docks.”
Poke sells for an average of USD 10 (EUR 9.06) per pound at Coco Cove, while sushi is typically priced between USD 10 and USD 11 (EUR 9.96) per container.
Meanwhile, select U.S. c-stores operate restaurants next to their store and gas stations. For example, Coastal Cravings is a fast-casual seafood restaurant at Han-Dee Hugo’s c-store in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The restaurant, featured on the Food Network program, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” used to be a Burger King, and the owners were required by regulations to preserve the drive-through window. The owners have certainly put the window to good use. They do a brisk business selling boiled seafood pots to-go, along with lobster rolls, crab cakes and other convenient seafood dishes.