By Darcy Maulsby

Ever thought of a convenience store (C-store) as a dining destination? In today’s mobile, fast-paced society, C-stores are delving more into foodservice, and pork offers many convenient meal solutions.

“While the pork industry has traditionally focused on retail, which is still important, C-stores offer big opportunities, too,” said Elaine Otte, manager of national channel marketing and innovation for the Pork Checkoff. “We’re working with C-stores to build pork sales.”

As competition for people’s food dollars increases, more C-stores are striving to improve the quality, taste and freshness of their food.

“From fully-cooked ribs to boneless chops, pork allows C-stores to offer unique products,” said Otte,who noted that food has become such a big part of their business.

Pennies per Gallon

C-stores make pennies per gallon on fuel. And “sin taxes” have eaten into profits offered by tobacco products while the number of smokers has dropped significantly.

“Food now drives 40 to 60 percent of gross profit margins in C-stores,” Otte said. “They’ve expanded snack foods, sandwiches and beverages, with about 70 percent of the merchandise typically including something you can ingest.”

The sheer number of C-stores nationwide is staggering, she added. The most recent count showed nearly 155,000 C-stores as of Dec. 31, 2017. That’s a 0.3 percent increase (423 stores) from the prior year, according to the 2017 National Association of Convenience Stores/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count.

“Think about this the next time you’re driving,” Otte said. “You pass a lot more C-stores than grocery stores.”

Breakfast, Lunch Standby

Oscar Mayer products were among the first to tap into the foodservice potential of C-stores, starting with Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Otte said. Then came Oscar Mayer Lunchables, the handy, portable meal boxes in 1989.

“Food you buy at a C-store has to be snackable and easy to consume with one hand,” Otte said. “Messy meatball sandwiches with marinara sauce do not cut it.”

Pork Checkoff Promotes New Pork Options

While pork has found a sweet spot in C-stores, there’s room for growth. The Pork Checkoff is working with C-stores to build new pork products, such as:

  • Chorizo and carnitas. A C-store chain in Texas and Oklahoma buys 1.5 million pounds of raw pork jowls and picnic hams a year to make homemade chorizo sausage and pork carnitas in its stores.
  • Precooked ribs. Country Fair, with 84 C-stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, has found a niche by offering precooked, bone-in slabs of pork ribs.
  • Fully-cooked pork chops. The Pork Checkoff is working with a C-store chain on a special promotion of 4-ounce, boneless, fully-cooked pork chops.
  • Rotisserie pork. The Pork Checkoff also is working with a 200-unit C-store chain to test pork cuts that can be cooked in rotisseries.
  • Pork Jerky. “There should be more pork jerky,” said Otte, who noted that jerky is especially popular with young men.

“Promoting new pork options in C-stores can equate to millions of pounds of pork sold each year,” Otte said. “My message to C-stores? Pork builds your business, and it helps hard-working American pig farmers, too.”

Pork is a great fit for popular C-store foods that are convenient, great-tasting and easy to eat. The nation’s more than 155,000 C-stores offer:

Breakfast sandwiches

Pork owns breakfast, with bacon, sausage and Canadian bacon. The average C-store buys about 1,000 pounds of pork per year just for breakfast.

Pizza

Pork is a favorite topping for breakfast and other pizzas, with pepperoni and sausage the most popular.

It takes about one pound of pork to top four large pizzas. C-store pizza sales nationwide use 200 million pounds of pork toppings each year, and many C-stores sell frozen pizzas with pork toppings.

Deli sandwiches and pork rib sandwiches

BBQ pork sandwiches, submarine sandwiches and prepackaged deli sandwiches with sliced ham, pepperoni, salami and bacon are among the lunch options at many C-stores.

The average C-store uses 12 pounds of ham a month. Multiply that times 12 months and 155,000 C-stores nationwide, and the total is 22.3 million pounds of ham per year.