Since I was a kid, I’ve loved hot dogs. When the craving hits and I don’t have any in the house, I will often go to 7-Eleven for a couple of quarter-pound Big Bites. They’re good, they’re cheap, and the chili and cheese are free!
Lately, I’ve noticed that 7-Eleven offers other prepared foods: Chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers, pizza, chicken wings, and even mozzarella sticks in some locations. It’s even increasing the number of promotions for these items: Any sized coffee and a ring donut for $2. Two pizza slices for just $2. A 1/4 –lb. Big Bite and 32-oz. Big Gulp for $2 (and if you get a second Big Bite, most locations will let you up the soda size to 64 oz). More and more, I find myself going to 7-Eleven for not just my hot dog needs, but for my donut and pizza needs as well.
I’m just one example of an interesting trend in the fast food world: Quick-service chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s are facing increasingly stiff competition from convenience store chains like 7-Eleven and ampm as they expand their prepared food options.
Convenience stores now make up 10% of the quick service market, according to Nation’s Restaurant News, citing data from the industry research group NPD. Quick-service restaurants “really have to pay attention to [convenience] stores,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs told Nation’s Restaurant News in November. “They are making inroads and stealing visits from QSR.”
Another boon for convenience stores are the customers they’re attracting. Twenty-something millennials and Generation Z teenagers are the first- and second-heaviest user groups, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. These are consumers that fast food chains have been trying — and failing — to attract in recent years.
The fact that convenience stores are attracting the younger crowd is surprising given that this same demographic has expressed a preference for freshness and quality — two traits that don’t exactly jump at you when it comes to convenience store fare. What’s not surprising, however, is the threat convenience stores present to fast food. They offer similar food at cheap prices and have the added advantage of being a one-stop shop for services such as groceries and gasoline.
Nevin Barich is the Food & Beverage analyst for Industry Intelligence, a Los Angeles-based market intelligence firm. It's the perfect job for him: He loves junk food, he often works besides a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper, and anytime one of the health nuts in his office gives him grief for eating a Big Mac, he gets to smile and say: "Hey, this is my job." Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.