Baltimore is shaping up as a convenience store battleground, and the fight is as much between the prepared food the stores offer as their brands, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Locally based Royal Farms opened 12 new locations last year, most of them in Baltimore or its suburbs. The 151-store chain specializes in its fried chicken and Western-cut fries, but its newest store format also offers deli sandwiches and milkshakes as well as gas and a car wash.
In Wawa's newest Baltimore stores, there's a larger kitchen area and the chain offers made-to-order sub sandwiches and espresso drinks, quesadillas, soups, salads and fruit. The 570-store chain plans to open roughly 50 new stores this year in a six-state area, but didn't say how many will be in or near Baltimore. About half of Wawa's stores also have gas pumps.
And convenience store giant 7-Eleven, which plans to open between 8 and 12 new stores per year in the Baltimore area, has expanded its food offerings beyond Big Gulp soft drinks and Big Bite hot dogs to include more ready-to-eat foods.
The fight over differentiation, especially in food offerings, may be crucial for local and regional convenience-store chains as 7-Eleven continues its rapid U.S. expansion (it opened more than 1,000 new stores across the country last year). Some local C-stores have partnered with Subway or other ready-to-eat chains, putting a mini-franchise inside some stores. Others, like Royal Farms and Wawa, have established menus that smaller competitors aren't likely to adopt and 7-Eleven, which maintains tight control over how its franchisees do business, won't go near.
What's clear is that milk, soda and gas pumps are available to any convenience-store chain—and aside from location, the only way to differentiate may be food that competitors don't have.
- See this Baltimore Sun story
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