The summer months should be good for convenience store operators, according to a recent NACS survey. NACS, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is the trade association that represents the convenience and fuel retailing industry.
U.S. convenience store operators surveyed reported most retailers experienced strong sales during the first half of 2019 and warm weather and low gas prices should lead to robust sales throughout the next three months.
Three in four (75 percent) convenience retailers said that their merchandise sales for the first half of 2019 were higher than the same time period last year; only 5 percent said sales were lower. And, convenience retailers, which sell an estimated 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the United States, also report that fuel sales were stable: 70 percent report that fuel sales were the same or higher than last year, according to the survey results.
Convenience retailers are overwhelmingly positive about sales: 83 percent say they are optimistic about their business for Q3, a 12-point jump from Q2 but similar to optimism levels in the summers of 2018 (86 percent) and 2017 (83 percent). Convenience store sales peak in the summer months with warmer weather, longer daylight hours and more people taking family vacations and spending time outdoors. Consumers also tend to spend more when gas prices are low, and this year the national average gas price is nearly 20 cents less than a year ago.
Another reason for optimism is the continued consumer demand for healthier food and snacks choices. Convenience retailers say they have added or expanded the following categories in the first six months of 2019:
- 42 percent have added more packaged salads;
- 40 percent have added more health bars;
- 32 percent have added more fresh fruit;
- 30 percent have added more nuts/trail mix; and
- 25 percent have added more cut fruit/vegetables.
Pri Mar Petroleum’s Primart stores in southwestern Michigan are using a new open-air merchandiser to showcase a new line of healthy options. And Landhope Farms, with four stores in Pennsylvania and Maryland, focuses on fresh and local items, whether vegetables from local farms or baked goods from local bakeries.
Healthy beverages also are top of mind with convenience retailers, citing the following varieties as having the greatest potential to boost in-store sales during the summer months:
- 59 percent cite bottled water (still);
- 59 percent cite lower-calorie sports drinks;
- 50 percent cite sparkling water; and
- 37 percent say lower-calorie teas and coffee.
Retailers also say they are exploring new opportunities to serve customers at the pump: 27 percent say that they have installed or are considering installing electric vehicle chargers.
The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey tracks retailer sentiment related to their businesses, the industry and the economy. A total of 83 NACS member companies, representing a cumulative 6,152 stores, participated in the June 2019 survey.