Convenience store operators can increase sales of prepared food items by connecting late afternoon and evening snacking behaviors with purchases, according to a new study commissioned by Tyson Convenience Foodservice in partnership with Anheuser-Busch.

"Snacking is a mega-trend," said Kevin Miller, senior marketing manager, Tyson Convenience Foodservice. "According to a 2014 Technomic snacking study, 51 percent of Americans snack twice a day and 31 percent snack more frequently than they were just two years ago. As a result, the snacking occasion has evolved from incidental to purposeful, creating opportunity for convenience store operators to rethink their late afternoon and evening snack game plan."

The study, which confirmed emotional needs – not just physical needs – are at the core of why people snack, identified a variety of opportunities for convenience store operators to drive growth through prepared food snack sales:

• Late afternoon/evening offers potential for incremental prepared food purchases – Although convenience store traffic is highest during morning and lunch dayparts, the study showed half of all recent convenience store snack purchases were between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Of those snack purchases, however, only 22 percent included a prepared food item.

• Consumers view snacks as an opportunity to reward themselves with indulgence – The study showed that consumers are looking for late afternoon and evening snacks to be a reward and indulgence. The research also indicated that compared to prepackaged snacks, prepared food snacks in convenience stores more strongly fulfill that need.

• Highlight fresh prepared food offerings to satisfy, but not fill up – According to the study, even for snack purchases, prepared food quality and freshness were the most important attributes consumers consider. In addition, snacks should be easy to consume on-the-go and satisfy without overfilling.

• Differentiate snack offering through linkage to beer sales – The study revealed only five percent of recent convenience store beer purchases included a prepared food item, however when they were purchased together, more than half of those purchases were consumed as a snack. This indicates an awareness challenge between beer and prepared food at convenience stores, but reveals an opportunity for operators to position prepared food offerings as a snack to accompany beer.

• Target millennial impulse buyers – Operators should concentrate resources to capture this group's attention with strongly branded signage, value-driven offerings and an emphasis on "quick and quality" product attributes.

"Partnering with Anheuser-Busch tapped into our collective industry expertise and resources to provide operators with valuable insights about consumer behavior to compete in the convenience store marketplace," said Miller. "These findings indicate operators have the opportunity to better communicate their snack and prepared food offerings, as well as develop cross-purchasing programs if they want to attract and maximize sales with today's consumer."

"This study gave us valuable additional insights on something we already know: That cross-merchandising beer with snacks helps drive additional revenue," said CJ Watson, vice president – small format at Anheuser-Busch. "Displaying items together gives retailers an opportunity to potentially create occasions and capture more shopping missions. Displaying beer alongside the prepared food items in the c-store can tap into the key snacking opportunities this study uncovered and capture unplanned sales."