Grocers Gain With Gas Amid Commuting Chaos

NPD data shows pandemic-driven shifts in traffic patterns have benefited food retailers
Grocers Gain With Gas Amid Commuting Chaos The NPD Group Consumer Research
A dramatic reduction in fuel demand led to steep price declines at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, as evident at this Costco location in Florida.

Pandemic-related shifts in purchasing behavior have extended to the way consumers buy fuel at retailers, according to the new Motor Fuels Index from The NPD Group.

As Americans commuted less for work and reduced daily activities over the past 14 months, they decreased fuel-buying visits and, when they did hit the pumps, they filled up more and stocked up on household items and groceries.

The research found that overall visits among fuel buyers at retail dropped from an average of 4.2 per month in 2019 to 3.6 in 2020, but the average number of gallons per buyer increased slightly. At the same time, these high-volume retailers saw significant market share gains attributed to more one-stop

"The pandemic has upped the ante on the importance of the consumer experience across all of retail, and the motor fuels market is experiencing this shift as fuel buyers look to get more from their shopping trips," said Nathan Shipley, automotive analyst at Port Washington, New York-based NPD. "While there will be an evolution as the consumer enters the next stage of normal, pandemic-driven behaviors will continue to play a role in motor fuel purchase decisions."

Heading into road trip season and with continuing restrictions in many states, such one-stop shopping is expected to continue as consumers buy fuel and groceries and use other services at fuel stations, such as ATMs and fast food.

"The road ahead looks different, with a new set of opportunities to engage the
motor fuel consumer," predicted Shipley. "The daily commute is not expected to get back to pre-pandemic levels, but the increasing popularity of road trips will help improve the number of miles driven, bringing a generally positive outlook to the fuel and automotive aftermarket in 2021."