As food prices continue to soar, two very specific brands are posting big upticks in foot traffic: convenience stores Wawa and 7-Eleven are emerging as strong alternatives to the quick-service restaurant category, and they’ve got the numbers to prove it.
Wawa, which has previously announced plans to grow its stable of stores to 1,800 by 2030, has experimented in recent years with drive-through dining formats and has built out its menu to include dinner staples like hamburgers. And the pivot has served the chain well, according to Placer.ai analysts: visits to Wawa “exploded” during Q4 2022, and visits to the chain were up year-over-year almost every week of the quarter. Year-over-three-year foot traffic increased by 81.3% as of December 2022. And the average number of visits per venue also increased by 41.4% during that time, “indicating that the chain’s expansion is meeting a ready demand,” analysts say.
7-Eleven, the largest C-store chain in the US, is also on a growth path: since 2019, it opened nine “Evolution” locations offering in-store restaurants, premium products like cigars, craft beers, and wine cellars, and in 2021, opened its first dining drive-through. And “during most weeks since October 2022, visits to the c-store have outpaced pre-pandemic levels,” Placer.ai analysts note. “For a behemoth with such a vast geographical footprint, this overall level of visit growth is remarkable. And when zooming in on the six states which also boast a Wawa, the growth is more impressive still – with Yo3Y visits up between 3.9% and 17.5% throughout the entire period.”
Visits also appear to be more of an all-day affair, whereas prior to the pandemic foot traffic tended to peak in the morning and afternoon. The majority of visits to each are still in that time period, but over the past three years there has been a “distinct shift” towards evening and night time visits. And “as both chains increase their dinner offerings and lean into QSR, this shift may become even more pronounced moving forward,” Placer.ai’s Lila Margalit says.
Ultimately, the switch to a more QSR rival format appears to be serving the chains well.
“In the face of rising prices and shifting post-pandemic work routines – with more people working from home and commuting less often – this positioning has helped the sector sustain remarkable growth despite economic headwinds,” Margalit says. “While fewer customers may need to snag a donut on the way to the office, more seem to be on the hunt for cheaper ways to treat themselves – and for many budget-conscious consumers, c-stores have become an attractive quick service restaurant (QSR) alternative.”