Food to go (FTG) remains a key mission for convenience stores, but the industry is struggling to increase its share of the market in the face of stiff competition, according to a new study from HIM Research & Consulting.

Food to go is the third-most valuable shopping mission to c-stores - driving 890 million shopping trips annually – but the number of missions to the sector peaked in 2014 and has been in decline since, according to HIM.

Communications director Katie Littler said: “Overall, convenience has seen a slight, gradual decline in the contribution that food to go makes to overall industry sales. Data suggests that this is also true at supermarket c-stores and larger supermarkets, suggesting that specialist chains are winning the food to go shopper back. Convenience needs to move fast to compete.”

Asked to name where they go for lunch on the go, 35% of shoppers named fast food chains, followed by supermarket c-stores (29%), independent cafes (27%) and coffee chains (25%). Independent/ symbol c-stores came some way down the list, named by only 15% of shoppers. Symbol c-stores are considered comparable with supermarket c-stores in terms of in-store bakery and food to go prices, and stronger for customer service, but supermarket c-stores are rated higher for quality of sandwiches, meal deal offers and healthier options.

Littler continued: “Proximity to store is the number one reason why shoppers are choosing convenience stores for their FTG needs, but this isn’t the case for specialist foodservice outlets - these retailers are attracting shoppers with their range, brand, prices and service. Convenience stores need to identify a FTG USP - relying on proximity leaves them particularly vulnerable to new competition in the area, particularly delivery apps that mean shoppers don’t even need to leave their work/home.”

A third of c-store FTG shoppers purchased only one item and half purchased no more than two, the study revealed. Despite 38% of symbol retailers offering lunch time meal deals and 22% offering breakfast meal deals, only one in 20 shoppers opted for them in symbol stores, compared to one in four at supermarket c-stores, explained Littler.

“Meal deals have been a key feature in UK retail for nearly a decade, and play a key role in driving up that basket size, but there’s an opportunity to spice up the traditional offer. Many shoppers would like to ‘go large’ with a fourth item: for example, 41% want yogurts.”

A self-service hot food cabinet is of interest to three in four food to go shoppers in symbol stores, indicating huge potential for the concept, with one in two saying they would like to see hot options in a meal deal.

Breakfast remains a largely untapped opportunity in c-stores, with 61% of shoppers saying they never buy breakfast to go at symbol outlets. “A good hot drink offer would make 44% of shoppers more likely to buy breakfast to go from that location,” added Littler. “Without this, retailers will be hard-pushed to attract shoppers to this meal occasion.”

HIM interviewed 1,180 food to go shoppers at independent and multiple c-stores, coffee shops and fast food specialists for the study. For more information, visit