Many recent updates to c-store chains’ menus, store remodels and loyalty programs have focused on breakfast, reflecting the importance of the morning mealtime to operators.
Loyalty members visit c-stores more in the morning than any other weekday daypart, according to Paytronix’s Loyalty Report 2023. More broadly, 58% of consumers who eat breakfast away from home do so for convenience, Datassential’s Breakfast Keynote report said.
“Breakfast represents our largest and strongest day part in terms of food sales,” said Kevin Smartt, CEO of TXB Stores in Spicewood, Texas. “[It] is one of our most popular as guests are stopping by before work or school to get some coffee and a quick bite to eat.”.
The company’s breakfast competes not just with convenience-store peers but also with major fast food restaurants. TXB seeks to set itself apart in the space by using all fresh ingredients, Smartt noted.
The Texas chain isn’t alone in that sentiment.
“Guests are looking for value and speed at breakfast as they head to work for the day,” echoed Ryan Bublavy, food service director for Sayre, Pennsylvania-based Dandy Mini Marts. “Breakfast as a c-store is crucial to our overall success as a company.”
Across the industry, many c-stores are focusing on how to make breakfast their most important meal of the day. The top breakfast trends right now include creating value; offering breakfast at other dayparts besides mornings; boosting sales with breakfast pizzas, tacos, quesadillas and more; and offering some healthier fare — for the right audience.
C-stores’ breakfast value often beats QSRs
With restaurants charging more for menu items, many c-stores have maintained their breakfast pricing — and offered a variety of specials. The price of a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, for instance, has risen to $4.39 in Florida. In September of 2021, it was $4.21, according to Pricelisto.com.
Many c-stores, both independents and large chains, beat that price. 7-Eleven’s English muffin with sausage, egg and cheese, for example, retails for $3.09.
Dandy often offers a deal where customers can buy two breakfast sandwiches for $5, along with breakfast sandwich/coffee combos and other discounts.
“Our prices and offerings are competitive with fast food, and customers can load up on other consumables at the same time — and a full tank of gas,” Bublavy said.
Dandy has “focused heavily” on breakfast in the past year, accelerating its advertising and value propositions. “This has worked for us as we’ve seen double-digit unit percentage growth month to month versus last year,” Bublavy added.
As a result, breakfast sandwiches are the company’s third most sold item, behind pizza and coffee.
Unique morning meals push up sales
While breakfast sandwiches are the top sellers for many c-stores operators, alternative options like breakfast pizzas, tacos, burritos and bowls are earning top marks from consumers, as well.
Brisket, egg and cheese breakfast tacos are the most popular breakfast item at Pontiac, Illinois-based Wally’s, which operates two massive travel centers. The company sells around 300 breakfast tacos daily on average, says Tim Good, director of store operations.
The most talked about item at Wally’s — and one which Good said drives new traffic to the store — is its Kitchen Sink Burrito, which he said “includes everything you could possibly fit inside it... minus the kitchen sink.
Dandy recently added breakfast tacos to its menu, offering both value and portability. They are “easily eaten in the car” because the company uses a 6-inch tortilla, Bublavy said.
“They are selling well as we are advertising them as a 2/$5 deal,” he added
Meanwhile, Dandy’s breakfast pizza, featuring multiple breakfast meats, scrambled eggs and cheese, is one of the company’s top-selling pizzas.
Many c-store operators offer their version of a breakfast pizza — and Americans want more. In fact, 57% of Americans said they would eat breakfast more often if they could get breakfast pizza, according to a recent survey from Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores.
Casey’s, which offers a variety of breakfast pizzas, launched a new flavor last year: Ultimate beer cheese breakfast pizza, which features Busch Light beer cheese.
Breakfast quesadillas are very popular at TXB — particularly the meaty breakfast quesadilla with sausage and bacon and the cheesy chorizo breakfast quesadilla.
“These are super easy to eat on the go and guests can top it off with salsa verde, salsa roja or fresh-cut pico de gallo,” Smartt said.
Earlier this year, TXB grew the menu even more by launching a brisket, egg and cheese quesadilla.
“We love this new item as it incorporates two Texas favorites: BBQ and quesadillas,” Smartt said.
Breakfast is not just for mornings anymore
Americans seem to be eating breakfast all day long, given the rapid growth of breakfast-based restaurants like IHOP and Waffle House.
The ongoing popularity of brunch dining is also a testament to this trend. In fact, eighty-three percent of Americans go out to eat brunch at least occasionally, according to Datassential’s Breakfast Keynote report. Younger cohorts in particular are interested in the hybrid meal occasion.
While a majority (95%) of restaurants — including on-site operators and retailers — offer breakfast in the mornings, many restaurants continue offering it all day, with about 11% of respondents even offering the morning meal late into the evening, Datassential found. The company also noted that sandwiches, wraps and burritos were among the most successful breakfast foods sold after 2 p.m., behind only potatoes and platters or combos.
No bad time for breakfast
Certain c-stores are embracing the all-day breakfast — including Rutter’s, which sells breakfast items 24 hours a day.
Consumers seek healthy choices at breakfast, too
There is a growing demand for lighter and healthier breakfast choices, Chad White, food service category manager for York, Pennsylvania-based Rutter’s said. Furthermore, many consumers want to customize and tailor their morning meal to their liking, he noted.
“At Rutter’s, our made for you options allow a guest to create their own meal by selecting their preferred ingredients,” he noted.
At the same time, it is important for retailers to know their local demographics. For instance, lighter fare isn’t as big a priority for Dandy’s customers.
“Our operating area is mostly hard-working tradesmen and blue collar. They are not big on plant-based or perceived ‘healthier options’,” Bublavy said. “It’s important to keep the focus on our core customers. National trends don’t always translate to our operating area, and we think of that as we add new items.”