7-Eleven is the largest convenience store brand in the US, with about 9,000 units. For context, the chain has more locations than Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Burger King.
This is notable given that 7-Eleven has been elevating its foodservice options in the past few years, including through its Evolution Store prototype, first introduced in 2019. There are now nine Evolution Stores and each includes a restaurant concept.
7-Eleven isn’t the only c-store chain upping its food game. BP recently opened its first Ampm convenience store in New York, complete with a hot deli and grocery items, for instance. Casey’s features a pizza parlor and bakery with donuts made from scratch. QuikTrip recently expanded its menu to include made-to-order sub sandwiches in a handful of markets, while Pilot just debuted a Tex-Mex deli called Burrito Junction.
Notably, several Pilot travel centers are undergoing remodels as part of the company’s New Horizons initiative to improve food offerings. The initiative was launched in response to customer feedback, according to the company.
Such upgrades seem to be paying off. New research from Cardlytics finds that food sales at c-stores have increased to over 20% and that the category is likely taking market share away from traditional quick-service restaurants. Since 2019, convenience store share has increased from 18.42% to 21.39%, the report says, noting that all pay-at-the-pump transactions were excluded.
Cardlytics cites c-stores’ advantages as quicker prep time, more variety and shorter wait times. The average wait time at a QSR is about 7 minutes, for instance, while c-stores average 4-minute waits.
There is also the convenience factor. As c-stores upgrade their foodservice offerings to be on par with QSRs, consumers may be more likely to choose the option that is most convenient for them. Speed is one factor, but so is location (consider that 7-Eleven footprint) and additional offerings, like gas or beer. For the latter, the scale will always tip in c-stores’ favor.
In fact, according to a recent report from Bluedot, 70% of consumers enter a c-store when they’re pumping gas, and over 50% purchase snacks, while 20% buy grocery items and 16% get alcoholic beverages. Nearly 60% of those consumers believe c-stores to be on par with QSRs.
The lines between convenience stores and QSRs have been blurring for years, and it’s getting harder to determine if a line even exists anymore. In some instances, the answer is clearly no. Take Sheetz, for example, which offers drive-thrus and curbside pickup service. Wawa opened its first drive-thru in 2020 and plans to add even more as part of its goal to double its footprint.
Seven-eleven opened its first drive-thru last year and also recently added an outdoor patio to one of its Evolution stores in Dallas. That store also happens to include frozen margaritas, beer on tap and a self-espresso machine. The chain is also focused on delivery, adding partnerships with Instacart, Uber Eats, Grubhub
Last year, the National Association of Convenience Stores’ State of the Industry report found that about 23% of c-store sales come from foodservice, up from 16.8% 10 years ago. At least some of those gains seem to be coming from the QSR category, intensifying an already competitive space.