ALEXANDRIA, VA.  — Consumers increasingly are turning to convenience stores for pantry items during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a national survey of US convenience store owners released April 1 by Alexandria-based NACS, a trade association that represents the convenience and fuel retailing industry.

The survey, which began in late March and closed April 1, involved 105 member companies representing 1,828 stores. It found 52% of stores that responded said grocery sales have increased. Normally, 83% of all products sold at convenience stores are consumed within an hour, but the stores are pivoting to items that may be brought home. The survey showed 31% of the stores are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals while 28% are showcasing multi-pack/bulk items and 52% are adding more cleaning/toiletry items.

Self-serve foodservice and restaurant functions have been scaled back. The survey showed 66% have closed public eating and dining areas and 45% have removed customer access to self-serve foodservice such as coffee, fountain drinks, bakery items and roller grills.

To allow social distancing and enhance convenience, 14% of stores are offering some type of curbside pickup program, 13% have increased focus on drive-thru and 11% have added or increased delivery options. Sixty percent have reduced store operating hours due to less customer traffic or to deep clean and restock during overnight hours.

When asked whether their current distribution system is working, 46% said yes. Eighteen percent said the system is sufficient, but they are supplementing it with other deliveries.

Convenience retailers are supporting medical/health care personnel and first responders through activities such as offering free beverages and discounts on food, delivering free meals to local hospitals and firehouses, providing free fuel for community groups that provide school lunch deliveries, donating product to food banks and other programs, and supplying masks and other supplies to emergency and health care professionals.