CSD: Developing a Late Night Menu

Jul 22, 2009

By Howard Riell

Through a special arrangement, presented here
for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store

While late night has grown into an identifiable daypart on its own,
too many retailers either haven’t yet recognized it as such or simply
don’t have the traffic to warrant promoting it. But for those who do,
the opportunities are real–and increasing.

Savvy food retailers “know there’s money to be made by staying open
late,” said NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs. “The hours between 10 p.m. and
5 a.m. are turning into a lucrative daypart.”

For years, NPD found, “convenience stores such as 7-Eleven have catered
to the late-night customer by offering late operating hours or 24-hour
service,” Ms. Riggs said. “Now consumers have even more options, as
an increasing number of quick-service chains expand their hours of
operation by opening earlier or closing later.”

Late-night customers are mostly young (males 18-49, females 18-34),
and half of them are coming from home; another 25 percent are coming
from work. More than 40 percent of the late-night business during NPD’s
study came between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.

“The reason [late night] is growing simply is increased availability,” Ms.
Riggs said.

For the year ending March 2009, the trend has not been a pretty one
for the restaurant industry. Between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., NPD reported,
visits are down two percent. At burger concepts they’re down three
percent. For c-stores, however, visits are up four percent. The industry
currently holds a 20.9 percent share of the daypart, with about 368
million visits during these hours.

“C-stores have a smaller piece of the pie, but it’s growing the most
between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.,” Ms. Riggs said.

The most popular menu items purchased during the late-night period
are pizza, burgers and French fries, followed by salty snacks, ice
cream, chicken nuggets or strips, breaded chicken sandwiches, doughnuts,
tacos and breakfast sandwiches, NPD found.

The top beverages are regular carbonated soft drinks, diet carbonated
soft drinks and regular or decaffeinated coffee, followed by bottled
water, noncarbonated soft drinks, specialty coffee, tap water, iced
tea, juice and milk shakes.

Jerry Weiner, vice president of foodservice for Rutter’s in Pennsylvania,
believes the industry as a whole could do better from late afternoon
through late night. “It has become a piece of the business that we
generally, as a group, don’t go after,” he said. “There is not a lot
of competition for good, fresh-baked food at that time of the night,
so that puts you at the top of the list, and that’s really what it’s
all about.”

Discussion Questions: How can c-stores better take advantage of the
opportunity in late night hours? How big an opportunity is it for retailers
in the channel?

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6 Comments on "CSD: Developing a Late Night Menu"

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Doron Levy
Doron Levy
12 years 9 months ago

Some late night spots are busy, some aren’t. This is where local store marketing should come into play. If you get a late night crowd, change your retail space to accommodate them. If they are coming in for hot food at one location and cigarettes and gas at another, no sense in rolling out a campaign, especially one that will create waste because of shelf life. Independents and conglomerates need to scrutinize their late-night business before embarking on huge programs.

Steve Montgomery
12 years 9 months ago
C-stores are well positioned to take advantage of late night shoppers. First the majority of c-stores are open 24 hours. Second they already carry the majority of the items that the NPD research indicates these customers want. The area the industry falls down is “fresh.” Most c-stores do not continue to produce foods late into the evening (if they produce prepared on-site foods at all). Their rationale is simple–for most it simply is not economical. In some, if not most cases, it requires a second person with the skill sets and necessary certifications to do so. Trying to produce made-to-order foods with a single person who is also responsible for the rest of the store and the fueling operation is not practical. The alternative is to have a selection of heat-and-eat foods to compliment all the other items people seek. There are programs that can provide many of the items on that basis. Will they be competitive in quality with what a QSR might offer? Probably not but many of the late night customers are… Read more »
Jonathan Marek
12 years 9 months ago

C-stores and restaurants can both start to address this problem by really digging into their transaction-level data. By filtering on different hours of the day (as well as different types of sites), food service companies can figure out what sells by daypart and what items late-night guests are most loyal to. That info is perfect for generating hypotheses to test–what if we expended the availability of certain items, what if some more difficult items weren’t available late-night, what if we layer on media or grassroots promotion campaigns, etc. Through testing, leading c-stores and restaurants are finding the answers they seek.

Michael L. Howatt
Michael L. Howatt
12 years 9 months ago

I see a huge opportunity here for C-stores. See what’s being bought during the late night hours on a local basis and then put out some special offers. If I’m working late with my buddies and someone says “Hey, the 7-Eleven has 2 for 1 specials on pizza slices tonight” then odds will increase that more than 1 person will show up. It shouldn’t be difficult to identify the right products to promote.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
12 years 9 months ago

True to form, ever-innovative c-store merchants are finding new ways to serve new consumers. Developing an offering for late-night consumers sounds like a winning strategy. What will definitely help define that offering is deciphering the motivators behind store trips, and that’s likely to differ according to region. This consumer’s desire for prepared foods may be motivated by factors like late-night snacking, all-night studying, shift work, late dinner (working overtime) or partying. Regardless, uncovering those drivers will help determine what to offer, staffing, and where to reach these consumers with marketing messages.

Ralph Jacobson
12 years 9 months ago

This is not only an opportunity for C-stores, but also any store in a high-traffic, late-night area. I have even seen stores alter their pricing on the top 200 items between 10pm and 5am to reflect a higher, “convenience” pricing strategy. This is very easily done with electronic shelf labels.


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