The chain that is home of the Slurpee, Big Gulp, and self-serve nachos with chili and cheese is betting that consumers will stop in for yogurt parfaits, crudite and lean turkey on whole wheat bread.
7-Eleven, the convenience store chain, is restocking its shelves with an eye toward health. Over the last year, the retailer has introduced a line of fresh foods for the calorie conscious and trimmed down its more indulgent fare by creating portion-size items.
The change is as much about consumers' expanding waistlines as the company's bottom line. By 2015, the retailer aims to have 20 percent of sales come from fresh foods in its U.S. and Canadian stores, up from about 10 percent currently, according to a company spokesman.
"We're aspiring to be more of a food and beverage company, and that aligns with what the consumer now wants, which is more tasty, healthy, fresh food choices," said Joseph M. DePinto, the chief executive of 7-Eleven, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Seven & i Holdings.
Convenience stores have typically been among the most nimble of retailers. In the 1980s, they added Pac-Man arcade games as a way to keep customers in stores longer and to buy more merchandise. They installed ATMs a decade later, taking a slice of the transaction fees. More recently, they built refrigerated dairy cases, with milk, eggs, cheese and other staples.
But just as they have taken business from traditional supermarkets, convenience stores have faced increased competition from the likes of Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, which offer a basic menu of fresh foods for consumers on the go. At the same time, a major profit driver for convenience stores -- cigarettes -- has been in steady decline over the last decade as the rate of smoking has dropped in the United States.
Fresh foods can help offset some of those losses. The markup on such merchandise can be significant, bolstering a store's overall profits. It's also a fast-growing category.
7-Eleven has been selling fresh food since the late 1990s. But much of its innovation has been limited to the variety of hot dogs spinning on the roller grill or the breakfast sandwiches languishing beneath a heating lamp.
As 7-Eleven refocuses its lineup, the retail chain has assembled a team of culinary and food science experts to study industry trends and develop new products. Such groups have been around for a while at fast-food restaurants like McDonald's and packaged-goods manufacturers like Kraft. But it's a relatively new concept for players like 7-Eleven, which have typically relied on their suppliers to provide product innovation.