When it comes to convenience stores, there isn’t typical shopper. Rather, a c-store’s customer base reflects its geographic location. 

“It’s much different on the highway. That’s everyone,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president, strategic industry initiatives, National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). “In neighborhoods, you do see a higher percentage of workers and fewer commuters.”

However, in the sweet goods category, research by Lenexa, Kan.-based Hostess Brands has identified young males as the brand’s biggest c-store consumers.

“We know they’re looking for craveable, hearty, handheld sweet snacks, so we’re developing a strong multi-year pipeline of innovation to help deliver on their needs,” said Tina Lambert, vice president, Marketing Center of Excellence, Hostess Brands.

She noted Hostess is outpacing the baked sweet goods category with more than 20% in dollar sales growth in the c-store channel compared to a year ago.

One big change this fall has been schools returning in full for the first time in two years, said Nick Sayegh, managing director, International Delights, the Clifton, NJ-based supplier of prepackaged and bulk pastries and sweet goods to c-stores, foodservice and retail outlets throughout the New York metropolitan area.

Moreover, travel surged this summer and fall with hotels operating at near-full capacity while offices are now opening steadily.

“Our traditional business came back with a vengeance during the last three months,” he explained. “It’s like nothing happened. Nobody hears anything anymore about the virus or the pandemic. Like many bakeries, we were forced to get creative and diversify into grocery and other retail channels after foodservice in hotels, offices, schools and colleges shut down for a couple of years. Now everything is open again.”

Ms. Lambert said the return of the morning rush, albeit different, has parents feeling frazzled again.

“Because of this, people are increasingly looking for portable, grab-and-go options that require little-to-no preparation, and no mess to start the day,” she said.

Hostess introduced several products over the past year for morning snacking and afternoon “pick-me-ups,” Ms. Lambert said. Those include portable Hostess Muff’n Stix, Hostess Devil’s Food Cake Jumbo Honey Buns and Hostess Boost Jumbo Donettes, which come in Chocolate Mocha and Caramel Macchiato and contain slightly less caffeine than one cup of coffee.

She said research has found nearly one in four consumers now eat snacks to begin the day, and this “morning sweet start” snacking occasion represents a $5.8 billion annual market opportunity that has been growing at 5.5% over the past three years.

“In total, we’ve identified 18 different consumer snacking occasions, and we offer snacks for every occasion, with some of the top occasions being a sweet start to the morning, in the lunch box, as an afternoon reward, immediate consumption and afternoon snacks for sharing,” Ms. Lambert said. 

In November, single-serve packages of Hostess Bouncers began arriving in c-stores. The poppable, no-mess, mini-variations of some of its most iconic cakes include Glazed Chocolate Ding Dongs and Cinnamon Donettes. She said Hostess’ investment in innovation has paid off, contributing 27% of Hostess Brand’s growth and 12% to its category growth over the past year. 

“So far, these products are performing very well in c-stores, and we believe we have the runway to continue innovating for this category,” Ms. Lambert said. “Research shows that during times of uncertainty and stress, consumers turn to brands they know and trust, while also seeking out little, inexpensive ways to treat themselves.”

This article is an excerpt from the November 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Convenience Stores, click here.