New trend in convenience stores aims to keep you there longer

Posted at 11:22 PM, May 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-29 11:11:54-04

You might call them mini marts or convenience stores -- where you fill up your tank, run in, grab a snack or a slushy, and then head out on your way. But there's a new trend in some corner stores: Food, drinks, and dining are turning upscale -- even healthy!

We’re talking fresh from the grill chicken wraps, stir fry, mouthwatering meatloaf, and custom omelets.

"There's certainly a move towards more healthy items at convenience stores,” says Jeff Lenard from the National Association of Convenience Stores. “You want something indulgent? Great. You want something healthy? Great. It's all under one roof."

Of course, you can still snag a giant soda, candy bar, and a bag of chips, but we also found mini-restaurants inside some mini marts where employees make your food to order.

Some of the 165-million customers who go to convenience stores each day in the U.S. told us they're liking the variety.

"My favorite healthiest menu option is definitely grilled chicken,” Keith Berkley says.

"I like how I feel after I eat it. I feel healthier,” Jessica Hardy adds.

And for some Americans, the 154,000 corner stores in the country are where they buy much of their food. So, the National Association of Convenience Stores partnered with Partnership for a Healthier America.

"We are working with nutritionists who can basically help tell us what is credible and what is not,” Lenard says.

Some stores allow you to fill up your tank, grab your food, and then dine in café style seating areas such as patios with umbrellas or on leather lounge chairs.

One store offers a burgers and beer joint featuring local craft beers with a speakeasy atmosphere.

"There certainly is a growing trend to look at what is hip, what is new, what is exciting. A lot of people come to stores, and they want to be surprised [and] they want to be wowed,” Lenard says.

Other stores are going high-tech, allowing you to use touch screen menus inside the store and then pick up your food.

Others are working on technology to let you order food from the gas pump on a touch screen and then duck in to get it inside the store.

And with 83% of items purchased for immediate consumption, experts predict this trend will only continue to grow.

"When you look at convenience stores in the next 10 years, they'll be different, and they will focus on what customers want -- fast, fresh, and get them on their way,” Lenard says.

Last year sales convenience store sales topped 600-billion-dollars. That number is comparable to grocery store sales.

For a look at some of the programs these stores are participating in to help stock healthy food and beverage items, click here.