NACS (the National Association of Convenience Stores) piloted a pair of meal kit tests over the last two years, finding that interest was there where it came to c-store meal kits, but the sales were not.
The association ran tests at Square One Markets in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in September of 2015 and at Shaw's 88 Kitchen at Utah State University in March of 2017.
Sales did not match expectations at Square One Markets, where it was thought that the rush of fuel purchases in the late afternoon and early evening might lead to meal kit purchases by busy consumers. The program uncovered the primary challenge that small chain stores often struggle to obtain certain fresh ingredients directly from suppliers and distributors. Also holding the program back was the perception that the store was not thought of as a dinner meal destination in the market.
The test at Shaw's 88, which does not sell fuel, examined whether students and faculty would embrace a healthy meal kit that could be purchased on campus and prepared at home. While the program received mostly positive feedback from faculty and students, it meal kits presented too many logistical challenges, resulting in end of the test before the planned end date.
Both tests demonstrate the marketing, merchandising and sourcing challenges convenience stores face in producing and selling meal kits to customers. In addition, Utah State noted that, for the average convenience store, it would likely be a more complex challenge to produce a meal kit given the resources a large university campus has.
“While consumer surveys and trends may point to opportunities, it’s also important to examine execution, especially in small-format stores where every square foot of floor space is critical. Dinner meal kits may be a concept that is still ahead of its time for smaller convenience stores. However, it still may be appropriate for larger convenience store chains that have their own distribution centers, bakeries and commissaries, or those that operate highly evolved and dedicated foodservice programs,” says Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives.