Convenience stores go big on high-end desserts
Dessert sales at convenience stores are surging as more diverse premium delights are being offered at affordable prices, catching the eyes of young Koreans.
Before, convenience stores were mostly limited to selling quick grab-and-go-snacks, but they now offer premium desserts, such as chocolate ganache cake, cheese terrine and Basque burnt cheesecake.
Local convenience stores – GS25, CU, 7-Eleven and Emart24 – are intensifying their dessert lineup, from collaborations with a famous dessert shops to introducing their own private-brand desserts.
Desserts at convenience stores started to gain popularity as more people spent time eating alone due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Individual preferences were aired on social media platforms. On Instagram, there are over 98,000 Korean hashtags that translate into English as "New Convenience Store Products" as of Thursday. Most of the posts are centered around snacks, desserts and confections. Mukbang videos of YouTubers eating convenience store desserts are also easy to find.
The hype goes back to 2015. Convenience store chains started selling high-quality brewed coffee, driving up demand for sweet complements. Roll cakes and mini puffs were first to come, gaining popularity for their cheap price but delicious taste. Spoon cakes, Japanese mochi rolls and macarons also caught on. GS25 and CU used to be the only two convenience stores offering desserts, but Emart24 and 7-Eleven jumped on the bandwagon.
GS25 only sold five to six desserts at its branches in 2015, but now carries over 40. It's dessert sales from March to April grew 32.7 percent on year. Dessert sales of Emart24 during the same period grew 36 percent on year, and CU's 12.4 percent.
Affordable price is the biggest factor that popularized convenience store desserts. Customers can enjoy a wide variety of tasty treats that are on par with famous bakeries for no more than 2,000 ($1.77) to 3,000 won. Macarons, cream puffs, castella cakes, tarts and ttoek sticky rice cake are just few of the many varieties.
Amid rising demand, companies are introducing fancier desserts. They now collaborate with well-known cafes to sell their products. 7-Eleven sells Dolcarons, a macron sold at a cafe in Jeju Island, for 4,200 won. Ingredients are also becoming high-quality, with desserts using cream with higher milk-fat. CU introduced St. Dalfour Bread, providing the French-made St. Dalfour jam for their ciabattas, focaccias and whole grain breads. GS25 launched Breadique, a bakery brand that makes bread with high-grade milk. 7-Eleven also has a premium bakery brand, Brea;daum.
Easy accessibility is also helping convenience stores win. Rather than going to bakeries and cafes that are far away, people can buy similar desserts at convenience stores just minutes from their homes. With the pandemic becoming a hindrance for cafe goers, more people turned to convenience stores to buy desserts and coffee to enjoy at home.
For young Koreans, eating desserts offers a bit of joy in their daily lives. As enjoying desserts isn’t pricey but provides a satisfactory experience, reviews of convenience store desserts have frequently appeared on social media, tagged as self-bought items. Convenience stores release new products almost every week, allowing customers to catch up on the rapidly changing food trends. Those in their 20s and 30s are known to flock towards unique but offbeat collaborations between brands, also putting convenience stores at the center of attention. CU’s collaboration with Hite Jinro, Korea’s largest alcohol maker, to offer macarons and GS25's collaboration with Lotte Confectionery to offer a sweet corn cake are some of the recent examples.
Increasing dessert sales are welcomed by convenience stores, but some say that this is typical consumption behavior in an economic recession. Similar to the lipstick effect, consumers are known to spend more money on small luxuries such as desserts during hard times.
“The convenience store is almost like a playground for the young, and companies are living up to their high expectations with high-quality products,” said Suh Yonh-gu, a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University’s Division of Business Administration.
BY YOO JI-YOEN [firstname.lastname@example.org]