By Maggie Gioia | Marketing Coordinator

It’s back to school time, which means that students — and their parents — are constantly on the go. Whether it’s an early morning drop off, on the way to a friend’s house, or rushing off to practice, neighborhood convenience stores are the number one stop along the way.

Due to their busy schedules, “consumers will be focusing on convenience and affordability” now more than ever, according to an LTK shopping trends report. Consequently, “location was the most important factor to consumers when considering which convenience store to frequent.”

In addition to shoppers considering locational convenience first, there is a “growing consumer interest in improving mental wellness and using more environmentally friendly products.” This trend is particularly visible amongst Gen Z and millennial shoppers who now make up the high school, college and early parenthood demographic.

Consumers who prefer products that are generated with sustainability and wellbeing in mind are also more likely to spend more.

“K-12 parents concerned about their child’s mental health plan to spend 8% more… Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed want to choose more sustainable product options when available; those who choose to shop more sustainable options spend about 22% more,” in correlation with a survey performed by Deloitte.

A different study, completed by the National Retail Federation, concluded that the back-to-school and back-to-college categories are expected to reach $37 billion amongst K-12 students and $74 billion amongst college students. But these categories are more than just the typical school supplies and wardrobe updates – they also include the necessary snacks and beverages to fuel the school year.

Convenience stores can “leverage back-to-school season for sales” based on research from pepviz, PepsiCo’s business intelligence and solutions data practice.

“Recent back-to-school shopping trends reveal consumers this season will aim to save time and gas by shopping closer to home. Pre-pandemic life’s hustle is back, and people want simple solutions that fit their schedules.”

“Consumers will seek pre-packaged items” and “single-serve mini cans and bottles that fit easily into lunch kits. In terms of functionality, consumers want grab-and-go experiences. Time is a commodity, and although people are seeking lower prices, they also value the shopping experience and product selection. Retailers can capitalize on this craving for curated, relevant offerings by better understanding their different shopper segments.”

Parent Shopping

While parents are stopping at their neighborhood c-store in between school year errands, college students are experiencing the convenience store a bit differently.

For c-stores in communities with a nearby university, college students will often “make up a large segment of the population during the school year,” says Convenience Store Products. In fact, convenience stores are one of the most visited locations by college students.

Whether students are preparing for a study session, grabbing a bite in between classes or heading off to a party, c-stores ensure that students “get their fix of energy drinks and late-night snacks.”

CSP established that it is “key” for c-stores to take note of “what their young consumers look for in a quality establishment.”

Research conducted by Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metric Program surveyed 700 recent c-store chain customers ranging from ages 18 to 22 to see what they rated as the most important qualities when shopping.

45% of students said that “the taste and flavor of food served is an important aspect in their preferred c-store, while 42.2% say the same for food quality.”

A Circle K store near Indiana University has experienced increased success as a result of greater “attention to detail regarding food production.” Like National Convenience Distributors’ proprietary pizza brand, My Pie, Circle K’s made-to-order pizza model only uses fresh dough, cheese and sauce.

“This focus on fresh has helped create a quality product,” said Circle K’s director of marketing, Mark Dalesandro in an interview with CSP.

You can check out how to get started with My Pie Pizza here.

But what does this have to do with back-to-school? If college consumers don’t feel comfortable shopping in your store – they won’t. But if your store offers what students are looking for, back-to-school time can mean big bucks.

This is particularly true for the foodservice category, as “nearly two-fifths of college and university students say they visit a c-store for foodservice items off campus at least once a week.”

Explore NCD’s other handmade food service options, such as Island Coffee, Rachael’s and Mighty Chicken, here.

Similarly, c-stores even showed up amongst “the top three most-visited on-campus locations for all types of snacks.”

College Students Eating

For many, back-to-school is such a busy and important time of year. Because of this, consumers prioritize overall convenience and quality products in their shopping experience. Retailers can cash in with these back-to-school-focused, accessible, high-quality offerings:

Jack Link’s

High in protein and made with 100% premium, lean cut meat, Jack Link’s is a healthy, ready to eat, pre-packaged snack. Not only is Jack Link’s recipe a family tradition, their natural smoking and drying process means that their products are nitrite and nitrate free. Thus, parents can feel good about packing Jack Link’s in their child’s lunchbox and college students can feel good about their mindful snack choice.

Though they have countless flavors to choose from, make sure to check out their signature Original Beef Jerky, which is a part of the Smart Snack Program – a specifically curated roster of USDA-certified snacks safe for schools and geared towards K-12 consumption.

Jack Link's Original Beef Jerky
Bon Appetit Banana Nut Muffin
Bon Appetit

Odds are that students will be looking to satisfy their sweet tooth. Bon Appetit’s pre-packaged, single serve offerings are a top-choice for grab and go breakfast. Their complete line of fresh baked goods includes a wide selection of pastries, muffins, cookies, cakes and donuts. Amongst their product variety, the chocolate donuts and banana nut muffins continue to perform.

Kellogg’s

Kellogg’s has remained a best seller within the children’s food market since its inception. As a household name with countless recognizable brands, retailer shelves are easily stocked with Kellogg’s extensive product lines. Although Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Special K, Rice Krispies and Eggo Waffles are a breakfast staple in the American household, Kellogg’s has continued to reinvent themselves with innovative spins on their timeless items.

Pop Tarts, for example, are a favorite among students of all-ages. The packaged pastry can be effortlessly added to any school bag for a breakfast on the go or a fun snack for later. Kellogg’s has reimagined this classic treat, now presenting it in a mini, bite-size form. Pop Tarts Bites come in all the timeless flavors such as strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon and chocolatey fudge.

Pop Tart Bites Strawberry
Poland Spring
Nestle Waters

Every day, parents send their children off to school with a water bottle. College students will pick one up on the way to class. No matter the target audience, water bottles are a must-have back-to-school item for consumers. Retailers can keep their community hydrated and ensure that they have what consumers are looking for by carrying in-demand water products from Nestle Waters – now Blue Triton – like Pure Life and Poland Spring.

Explore more Back-To-School Time Deals Here.