Wawa goes after the dinner crowd with hamburgers and chicken sandwiches

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Wawa, Pennsylvania's popular convenience store chain, known for its sandwiches, said this week that it is introducing hamburgers, breaded sandwiches and waffle fries in half a dozen stores at night as "part of a larger dining platform. ".

The Philadelphia Business Journal first reported in the Wawa test. The news spread immediately on social media among the Wawa diehards and pits the chain against McDonald & # 39; s (MCD), Popeye & # 39; sand other fast food chains and restaurants. Chicken sandwiches, in particular, are seeing explosive growth now.

Wawa is not the only convenience store that is making this change. Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip has been expanding its selection of dinners and fried chicken. And Pennsylvania-based Sheetz has been focusing on hamburgers for the past few years.

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Convenience stores have struggled to attract customers for dinner in the past, said Frank Beard, who covers the GasBuddy segment, a navigation app. "While Americans see convenience stores as destinations for breakfast, lunch and, of course, snacks, dinner has been a challenging day. Customers often look for more rewarding options at dinner time."

Americans usually fill their gas tanks at night, so convenience store owners see an opportunity to lure them inside during their visit. About 40% of consumers say they usually fill up after 3 pm and 34% say they go to the pump between 3 pm and 7 pm, according to Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, a defense group of the sector.

The entrance to convenience stores at dinner is the most recent step in his attempts to improve his diet. Chains like Sheetz, Wawa and Kwik Trip now offer meal kits, salads, ketone snacks, Kombucha and espresso. Even 7-Eleven launched meal kits with their own brands and tested keto and paleo snacks in their stores.

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America's new favorite restaurants are Wawa, Sheetz and 7-Eleven

For years, convenience chains have relied on soft drinks, tobacco and fuel to attract customers, a business model known as "Coca-Cola, tobacco and gas". But they were forced to reinvent themselves as Americans change the way they eat.

Today, consumers smoke less and are cutting soda. Snacks are becoming their favorite meal, and Americans cook less dinner at home, as they increasingly eat out or place orders.

"People just don't have time to sit down and cook an entire meal at night as they used to," said Carl Rick, a leadership development expert at Kwik Trip, in an interview last month with CNN Business. "We are looking to capitalize on that."

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It remains to be seen how tasty some dinners are at convenience stores. The Philadelphia Inquirer reviewed Wawa's new foods and was not impressed.

The $ 5.99 hamburger was "soft and gray all the time, and as perfectly formed as a lab sample," he said in his review, while the $ 5.49 chicken sandwich was "gummy, moist, tasteless and without crushing. " "

Still, Beard, from GasBuddy, expects convenience stores to start gaining ground at dinner.

"The restaurant industry must pay close attention to convenience retailers. They are not only already competing – and often winning – for breakfast and lunch, but they are also coming for dinner."

Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN Business contributed to this report.

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