Packaged cookies
Shelf life may keep food sales surging in convenience stores.

C-store goals: Convenient and fresh

Shelf life may keep food sales surging in convenience stores. The National Association of Convenience Stores, Alexandria, Va., points to growth in food sales as a key reason for a strong performance in in-store sales this year. A survey of U.S. retailers released by the association in October found 60% said in-store sales through the first nine months of 2017 were higher than in the same period last year, which compared with 20% who said sales were lower.

Yet improved freshness and shelf life, along with simpler ingredient lists, might lead to even higher food sales. Research from Chicago-based Mintel found consumer complaints about too many artificial ingredients in convenience store foods and that 18% of the people who do not buy food service items in convenience stores believe the items are unhealthy.

“The quality of food at c-stores is one of the first things that’s called into question, mainly by people who are infrequent visitors of convenience stores,” said Jennifer Zegler, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, in an interview with Food Business News.

Convenience stores come with specific challenges when it comes to food quality.

“With the vast number of convenience stores to service, and the low volume of units per store, direct-store delivery is not only complex but extremely expensive for bakery distributions,” said Kathy Sargent, market director, bakery, for Corbion and based in Lenexa, Kas. “To win in convenience stores, bakeries must develop products that have fresh quality but can withstand the warehouse distribution for greater reach onto the shelves at a competitive cost model.”

Single-serve pastries
Single-serve items are staples in convenience stores.

Enzyme-based systems may assist in shelf life and clean label aspects.

“When it comes to baked goods, every day in distribution and on the shelf is precious,” Ms. Sargent said. “Today’s consumers want convenient snacks they can eat on the go, but they also want foods that taste fresh. Therefore, it’s important for manufacturers of products for convenience stores to work with suppliers who have the experience and knowledge to help extend the freshness of their products while ensuring quality, taste and texture throughout the life cycle of their baked goods. Enzyme-based solutions will play a key role in providing the shelf life required for baked goods sold through convenience stores.”

Corbion offers enzyme-based systems in Ultra Fresh and Ultra Fresh Sweet to ensure products stay fresher longer, she said.

“The enzyme solutions also help sweet baked goods manufacturers reduce wastes and stales, keep fuller shelves for enhanced selling opportunities and improve the quality of baked goods while meeting varying consumer preferences,” Ms. Sargent said. “These enzyme solutions improve shelf life by slowing down starch recrystallization, resulting in a fresher tasting product.”

Enzymes have been shown to enhance crumb softness and moistness over the life of a product, said Marie Thomas, vice-president — innovation, baking ingredients, for AB Mauri North America, St. Louis.

Mini chocolate snack donuts
The shelf life for a package of snack-sized donuts would typically be longer than a freshly baked loaf of bread.

“The real consumer benefit here is the delivery of end-use products that still have great eating qualities at 30 days of shelf life,” she said.

Shelf life may vary by product.

“The shelf life for a package of snack-sized donuts, for example, would typically be longer than a freshly baked loaf of bread or a hot, fresh slice of pizza,” Ms. Thomas said. “Other key considerations may include product portability, ease of consumption, packaging, value/price, availability and sales promotion.”

People tend to go to convenience stores for portability and convenience, which makes single-serve items popular there, Ms. Sargent said. Jumbo muffins, donuts, Danish and snack cakes are staples.

“With the new shelf life technology available, bread items are making their way into convenience stores as well,” she said. “Consumer shopping behaviors are changing, and the ability to grab a grocery staple such as bread or buns along with your morning coffee is valuable use of consumer time. Enzymes are the enabler to allow such fresh bakery items to sit on a convenience store shelf.”