Sweet Indulgence

By Scott McKinney

C-store customers seek packaged sweet snacks with better-for-you ingredients and a quality price point.

At convenience stores, time is a central consideration for sweet snacking behavior.


“Sweet snacks and natural snacks account for most morning snacking occasions, with sweet snacks again outpacing other categories after 10 p.m.,” according to market research firm Datassential. Snacks are most commonly paired with beverages, especially coffee before 7 a.m., and impulsive snacking increases as the day goes on. Fifty-five percent of sweet snack purchases are impulsive, according to survey results in Datassential’s “The Keynote Report: Snacking.”


At Certified Oil, a 70-store chain based in Columbus, Ohio, sweet snack purchases are growing. “2019 is off to a positive start, especially considering (spring) weather in the Midwest didn’t cooperate or translate into increased transactions,” said Neil Frandsen, vice president of marketing at Certified, which recently sold its c-stores to EG Group. “The overall snack category is up 4.5% year-to-date.”


Packaged sweet snacks are up 4%. The bump comes as Certified Oil adds new product lines.


“In the pastry line, we added a Krispy Kreme single-serve packaged sweet snack rack … it was very strong out of the gate,” Frandsen said. The chain also offers Hostess and Little Debbie sweet snacks — and freshened up some SKUs in its food bar section, adding more One Bar SKUs and Quest SKUs.


Private-Label Success

7-Eleven anticipates growth in sweet snacks in its 9,000-plus U.S. locations in the coming year, particularly in single-serve snacks and popcorn, said Emily Stegman, 7-Eleven senior category manager.


In terms of pairings, 7-Eleven sees a high affinity in sales between hot beverages and sweet snacks, and the chain considers this for its store positioning and promotions.


“Sweet snacks are positioned adjacent, or as close as possible, to the hot beverage bar, and through our 7Rewards loyalty program, we are activating more cross-category promotions with proprietary and hot beverages to encourage trial and ongoing sales,” Stegman said.


7-Eleven said there is a time factor for sales, with doughnuts and breakfast pastries performing well in the morning, cookies and snacks in the afternoon, and, where available, Hispanic bakery all day long.


7-Eleven sees sweet snacks remaining popular across all demographics, particularly women and younger shoppers, and considers sweet snacks a special occasion or ‘treat yourself’ purchase. “I think consumers want to continue to treat themselves, but are also looking for some better-for-you options in the sweet snacks category,” said Stegman.


ExtraMile also remains optimistic for sweet snacks through the rest of 2019. “The sweet snacks category had positive results in 2018, mainly due to increased All Commodity Value (ACV) on top-selling brands and strong promotional activity,” said Brett Silva, category manager, ExtraMile Convenience Stores LLC. “I expect this momentum to continue to grow the category in 2019.”


The chain — with more than 800 stores in California, Oregon and Washington — merchandises sweet snacks near the coffee bar when possible and, regardless of store layout, focuses to ensure products are adjacent to high affinity categories.


ExtraMile is expanding its private-label offering, and in February 2019 launched its ExtraMile EXTRAGOOD doughnuts. “There are four flavors of eight-count mini gem doughnuts that we have high expectations for driving sales growth,” said Silva. “Also, throughout the year, we promote sweet snacks with specials and beverage combos and have had strong results. These promotions provide a value to customers on top-selling subcategories, while providing value to our franchise network as well.”


ExtraMile sees increased attention on better-for-you options such as protein in sweet snack items, but still sees the majority of sales from the core items, such as danishes, doughnuts, snack cakes and so on. On the West Coast, the chain has seen Hispanic brands and flavors perform well, especially in the sweet snacks category.


Ingredient Conscious Consumers

Consumers are looking for healthier snacks, but the indulgent side still has its place on the shelf.


John Benson, a director in the restaurants, hospitality and leisure practice at consulting firm AlixPartners, said to promote the category, c-stores should build a platform that’s targeted and differentiated to the sweet snack buyer and purchase occasion.


Sweet snack consumers seek a between-meal option that offers value, low price, deals or pairings. “The consumer is interested in claims — better for you, no artificial colors or flavors, low fat, low sugar, high fiber, gluten free, no high fructose corn syrup,” said Benson.


Consumers see c-stores as a destination for pastries and doughnuts, but fierce competition exists from other channels, Benson said. C-stores can maximize sales by focusing on including variety and innovation.


“Sweet snacks are more about experience, fun, the feeling they are getting and having that doughnut or muffin,” said Benson.


He encouraged convenience store retailers to experiment with synergies. For example, as c-stores optimize their coffee platforms, they’d be wise to cross-merchadise with sweet snacks. “Consumers are willing to pay more for premium coffee, but they’re often more price resistant in sweet snacks. In testing strategy, consider pairing with coffee.”