Visits to convenience stores increased by 4.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to same quarter year ago reflecting positive movement in some key economic indicators and lower gas prices in the last quarter of the year, according to The NPD Group, a leading global information company.  NPD’s convenience store research reports that the increase in traffic was attributed to an increase in average monthly visits, which grew 3.7 percent over last year as c-store shoppers made an average of 6.2 visits in a 30-day period.

Fresh food ranked among the top three categories in strongest category growth over last year.

Traffic gains were spread among all type of c-stores, according to NPD’s Convenience Store Monitor, which continually tracks the consumer purchasing behavior of more than 51,000 convenience store shoppers in the U.S. Traditional c-stores increased 0.7 percentage points, major oil chains garnered a 3.2 percent growth, and small/other chains had the strongest growth in traffic at 11.5 percentage points compared to the last quarter 2011. The afternoon daypart, between 2 and 6 P.M., continues to be the most popular daypart with slightly more than 35 percent of c-store shoppers visiting then, a 1.7 percentage point growth over same quarter year ago. In addition, the afternoon daypart realized a nearly 10 percentage point growth in traffic in the quarter. There was a slight decline in moderate and heavy c-store shoppers in the quarter, meaning the channel grew light shoppers, who make one to three visits in a 30-day period.

The amount consumers spent on products per visit in the fourth quarter of 2012 increased by 31 cents over the last calendar quarter of 2011. This increase may be attributed to a combination of  inflation and changes in the mix of products as the average number of items consumers purchased has remained steady throughout 2012 at 3.4 items per visit. More than half, 58 percent, of c-store shoppers purchased a non-alcoholic beverage in the quarter; with about a third of consumers buying can or bottled beverages and 14.2 percent choosing dispensed beverages.