Financing

Yes, restaurants are losing traffic to grocers and convenience stores

According to data from Placer.ai, traffic at restaurants has lagged that of grocers, superstores and convenience stores since the pandemic.
Wawa
Brands like Wawa are upping their foodservice game, taking traffic from restaurants. | Image courtesy of Wawa.

Restaurants might be generating more sales coming out of the pandemic, but they are nevertheless losing traffic to retailers.

That is based on data from Placer.ai, which notes that traffic has increased at grocers, superstores and convenience stores since 2019, easily outperforming both full-service and quick-service restaurants.

Traffic last year at quick-service restaurants was 5% higher than it was in 2019. At full-service restaurants, it was 8% lower than 2019.

Yet traffic at convenience stores was up 17% compared with 2019. At grocers it was up 12% and at superstores 7%.

In short, restaurants appear to be losing customers to retailers. “It’s happening at value locations, like Aldi, Trader Joe’s, dollar stores, along with c-stores,” R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research with Placer.ai, said in an interview.

Restaurants have generated strong sales coming out of the pandemic. Sales at chain restaurants grew 7.8% last year to $424 billion, according to the Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report.

Yet that number came from a larger number of locations and price increases.

Industry traffic took a major hit last year, particularly in the back half of last year, as concern about restaurant prices increased.

Prices for food at home increased 1.2% in March, while prices at restaurants and bars increased 4.2%, including 5% at fast-food restaurants.

That gap in pricing has yielded concern among some industry executives, many of whom note that lower-income consumers are opting for options other than restaurants, including chains like Olive Garden and McDonald’s.

“Eating at home has become much more affordable,” McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said in February.

Convenience stores, meanwhile, have upped their foodservice game. Led by chains such as Wawa and Sheetz, the sector has improved their prepared food to take advantage of the large number of consumers stopping by for gas, beverages or lottery tickets.

Convenience store sales rose 8.2% last year, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, while foodservice now accounts for 27% of c-store sales.

 

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