The survey of nearly 500 shoppers, undertaken by consumer research company BMRB, revealed that 58% would like to buy healthy products in their local c-store, with only 6% currently using these outlets compared with 85% shopping in supermarkets.
Fruit & veg is the most important healthy category with 93% of shoppers wanting to purchase fresh produce in their local shop. And in two regions - the South West and East Anglia - fruit and veg was a priority for 100% of consumers.
Healthy snacks such as dried fruit and cereal bars, plus low-fat or low calorie versions of big-name brands, are also popular with 58% and 55% of shoppers wanting to purchase these types of products in c-stores.
Retailers who offer healthy ranges can also expect to attract customers to their stores as often as every day. More than a third (35%) of consumers would like to buy healthy foods in their local shop once a week, while a further 30% twice a week, and 11% and 7% respectively would like to shop every other day or every day.
The study forms the starting point of a new campaign by Convenience Store, dubbed the Healthy Balance programme, which aims to prove that healthy produce needn't be the sole preserve of the multiples and that small, independent retailers can make local stores a destination for better eating, and can grow their sales as a result.
Earlier this month the Department of Health staged a seminar, attended by wholesalers, symbol groups and trade associations including the Association of Convenience Stores, to try to encourage small stores to make more of a contribution to the healthy eating debate.
ACS director of public affairs James Lowman said: "Consumers want to eat healthier, and that means that there are real opportunities for businesses that can adapt to meet their needs. As we heard at the recent seminar, if retailers get this right it will really help their business and yield good returns.
"What is good about the healthy eating debate is that it is moving away from accusations and preaching about stocking healthy foods instead of other convenience categories and into real discussions about the business case for change. ACS is keen to lead that debate and welcomes Convenience Store's campaign."