In the not-so-distant past, if you needed to get a quick meal or snack on the road from a convenience store, your choices were mainly limited to hot dogs and prepackaged foods with a long shelf life. As more Americans adopt healthier diets, demand for natural foods is on the rise. Consumers want access to healthy, affordable foods wherever they shop, whether it’s a supermarket or corner store. To meet this demand, many convenience retailers are adding fresh fare like salads, fruit cups and whole produce to their shelves.
Programs that Encourage the Sale of Fresh Produce
There are a number of programs around the country that encourage business owners to add more fresh fruits and vegetables to their convenience store shelves. One such initiative in West Virginia is the “Change the Future WV” program sponsored by the state’s Bureau of Public Health. As part of this program, stores can receive free in-store marketing materials promoting the sale of fresh produce, including display racks and signage. In Ohio, the Board of Health recently adopted a policy that waives up to 100 percent of a store’s Retail Food Permit fee just for selling fresh fruits and vegetables.
Another similar type of program, sponsored by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in collaboration with the United Fresh Produce Association, is known as the “reFresh” initiative. Besides focusing on getting fresh produce on store shelves, reFresh is also helping to change the public’s perception of convenience stores through marketing and education. They aim to “refresh” the image of highway convenience stores and local corner stores as they move forward into the future.
Challenges for Store Owners
Adding fresh produce to the shelves does pose certain types of challenges for store owners. Convenience stores have always specialized in the marketing and sale of prepackaged products, but fresh fruits and vegetables require additional considerations, like:
- Temperature requirements
- Delivery schedules
- Shelf life
- Merchandising methods to minimize spoilage
Employee training is one way to combat issues of convenience store food safety when selling fresh produce. In-store employees are on the front lines of this transformation, making it crucial for owners to train and educate them on proper handling and restocking methods of fresh food. Consumers want to know the fruits and vegetables sold at their local corner store are just as fresh as what they’d find at a supermarket. This requires convenience retailers to adopt grocery store food safety protocols into their businesses to ensure safe products and a fresh image.
As an increasing number of convenience retailers start to integrate fresh produce into their stores, this is good news for consumers. Shoppers living in rural areas can finally purchase fresh food staples for their families’ meals, even if they live a distance away from the nearest supermarket. This also makes it much easier for commuters and travelers to maintain a healthy diet while on the road.
As long as convenience store owners continue to offer healthy options to consumers, the public’s perception of fast food will slowly transition from processed foods loaded with sodium, fat and calories to healthy, natural foods. After all, can you really think of a food that’s more convenient to unwrap and eat than a banana?