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3 Minimum 125K job relocation fee 3 Looking for extraordinary deal-makers for our 45,000 SKUs 3 60,000 square ft stores with 100+ fueling positions 3 Business doubling in size over the next 50 months 3 If you’re smarter than your boss, we should talk For a confidential phone discussion with the owner to discuss the details, email owner@buc-ees.com today.



WITH ME For a confidential phone discussion with the owner to discuss the details, email owner@buc-ees.com today.






Local, State and Federal tobacco taxes and restrictions on the sale of tobacco products can hurt your business. Governments often pass new laws quickly, so you need to stay informed about what is happening in your area. You and your business matter and making your voice heard is crucial to our success in fighting for fair tobacco policies.

Take this survey to learn more about how you can get involved


Provided on behalf of Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., John Middleton, and Helix Innovations. ©2021 Altria Group Distribution Company | For Trade Purposes Only


The C-store Growth Chain of the Decade Is… Casey’s General Stores has made Convenience Store News’ Top 20 Growth Chains list every year THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT ways to measure a company’s growth. You can calculate a public company’s revenue gains, increase in operating income, stock price or market capitalization.

Since the majority of retailers in the convenience store industry are privately held, Convenience Store News decided 10 years ago to identify the fastestgrowing c-store retailers by net storecount increase per year. Starting in 2012, CSNews, with the help of data from Nielsen’s TDLinx database, has spotlighted the Top 20 Growth Chains every year. Using net store-count growth may not be perfect, but judging by the retailers that continuously make the list year after year, there is no denying that our Top 20 Growth Chains list features many of the most impressive performers in the industry. Sheetz, Love’s, Murphy USA, QuikTrip and Wawa made the Top 20 Growth Chains list nine out of the past 10 years. 7-Eleven, Kwik Trip and Pilot have also been fixtures, making the list eight times in the past decade. And other admirable retailers like Alimentation CoucheTard, Marathon Petroleum/Speedway, Sunoco, RaceTrac Petroleum, Maverik and GPM Investments have been regulars, achieving top 20 rankings at least six times or more over the past 10 years. Some of these retailers have increased their store count through huge acquisitions, others through a

series of targeted mid-sized mergers, while others have focused on organic new store growth. Casey’s General Stores is the only chain that made the Top 20 Growth Chains list in each of the past 10 years. It’s been quite a run for the fourth-largest convenience store retailer in the country. While the Ankeny, Iowabased chain has made some small and midsized acquisitions, it is not known to be one of the industry consolidators, growing mostly organically over the past 10 years. While increasing its store count and footprint across the nation, Casey’s has achieved double-digit earnings growth for most of the decade. Its digital strategy has propelled it to the vanguard of the industry’s push into loyalty programs and contactless delivery. The company has also brought on a group of talented executives to blend with its core of longtime leaders, assembling one of the industry’s most diversified and effective leadership teams. As for future growth prospects, 2,000 of Casey’s 2,200 stores are located in just nine of the 16 states in which it operates. So, there’s plenty of room for the retailer to grow within its current footprint. Congrats to Casey’s — our Growth Chain of the Decade. For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editorial Director, at (201) 855-7606 or dlongo@ensembleiq.com.


EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Brett Atherton Bolla Management

2018 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Editorial Use of Data, June 2017

2013 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Best Single Issue, October 2012

2013 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Profile, August 2012

2020 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Series of Articles, September 2019 2018 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Website Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2017 Business to Business, Editorial Use of Data, June 2017

Rick Crawford Green Valley Grocery

2017 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, May 2017 Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, June 2016

Edward Davidson ER Davidson & Associates (7-Eleven Inc., retired)

2016 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2015 Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, August 2015 2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Bronze, Best Original Research, June 2015 2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Silver, Best Original Research, June 2015

2015 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2014

2013 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Bronze, Best Editorial/Commentary, July 2012

Jim Hachtel Eby-Brown Co.

2014 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2013 Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2013

Chris Hartman Rutter’s

2013 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2012

Ray Johnson Speedee Mart

2015 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Silver, Best Profile (long form), February 2014 2015 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best Special Supplement, November 2014 Silver, Best Profile (long form), February 2014

Laura Aufleger OnCue Express

Joe Lewis ExtraMile Convenience Stores Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments Danielle Mattiussi Maverik Inc. Vito Maurici McLane Co. Inc. Jonathan Polonsky Plaid Pantries Inc. Greg Scriver Kwik Trip Inc. Bill Stein Core-Mark Roy Strasburger StrasGlobal

Jack Lewis GPM Midwest

2020 Trade Association Business Publications Intl. Tabbie Awards Honorable Mention, Best Single Issue, September 2019 2016 Trade Association Business Publications Intl. Tabbie Awards Silver, Front Cover Illustration, June 2015


20 21

Convenience Store News 3











30 The Ever-Evolving C-store Industry Landscape A decade of our Top 20 Growth Chains report shows just how much has changed. FEATURE

48 Going the Extra Mile Sixteen convenience channel suppliers earn the title of Category Captain in this year’s awards.


3 The C-store Growth Chain of the Decade Is… Casey’s General Stores has made Convenience Store News’ Top 20 Growth Chains list every year. 8 CSNews Online 22 New Products SMALL OPERATOR

26 Leveraging the Community Connection Small operators have many tools at their disposal to create strong bonds with their customers.


88 Creating a Consistent Brand Road Ranger’s 40th travel center introduces a new look and feel that will roll out across its network. INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

102 A Slow Climb Consumers are returning to c-stores little by little, but they come with new demands.


86 Supporting the LGBTQ+ at Work Where we are and where we must go.

4 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m





8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631 (773) 992-4450 Fax: (773) 992-4455 www.csnews.com

BRAND MANAGEMENT Vice President/Group Brand Director Paula Lashinsky (917) 446-4117 plashinsky@ensembleiq.com EDITORIAL Editorial Director (201) 855-7606

Don Longo dlongo@ensembleiq.com

Editor-in-Chief (201) 855-7608

Linda Lisanti llisanti@ensembleiq.com

Senior News Editor (201) 855-7618

Melissa Kress mkress@ensembleiq.com

Associate Editor (201) 855-7619



10 Convenience Retailers Incentivize Employees to Get COVID-19 Vaccine


12 Murphy USA Turns to Integration & Synergies Following QuickChek Acquisition 14 Eye on Growth 16 Fast Facts 18 Retailer Tidbits 21 Supplier Tidbits TECHNOLOGY 80 Is the Industry EMV Ready? With the April 2021 deadline looming for compliance at the pump, c-store retailers are making progress toward compliance, but still face challenges.


64 Global Trendspotting Consumers seek out new flavors to enjoy in the comfort of their homes. FOODSERVICE

66 Elevating & Optimizing Grab-and-Go Changing consumer habits due to COVID-19 put this segment in a strong competitive position.

Angela Hanson ahanson@ensembleiq.com

Associate Managing Editor (201) 855-7604

Danielle Romano dromano@ensembleiq.com

Contributing Editor (303) 741-3377

Renée M. Covino reneek@aol.com

Contributing Editor (201) 280-2614

Tammy Mastroberte tmastroberte@gmail.com

ADVERTISING SALES & BUSINESS Associate Brand Director & Northeast Sales Manager (508) 385-2524

Rachel McGaffigan rmcgaffigan@ensembleiq.com

Associate Brand Director & Western Sales Manager (330) 840-9557

Ron Lowy rlowy@ensembleiq.com

Associate Publisher & Midwest Sales Manager Kelly Fischer (773) 992-4464 kfischer@ensembleiq.com Account Executive & Classified Advertising Terry Kanganis (201) 855-7615 tkanganis@ensembleiq.com Classified Production Manager Mary Beth Medley (856) 809-0050 marybeth@marybethmedley.com



72 Packing a Promotional Punch Multipacks and loyalty promotions are two tactics on the rise in tobacco marketing.

Executive Vice President, Events & Conferences Ed Several (860) 830-8321 eseveral@ensembleiq.com


76 Exclusive Brews C-stores are gaining customers by offering them beers they can’t get elsewhere.


AUDIENCE List Rental (914) 309-3378

MeritDirect Marie Briganti

Subscriber Services/Customer Care TOLL-FREE: (877) 687-7321 FAX: (888) 520-3608


PROJECT MANAGEMENT/PRODUCTION/ART Vice President, Production (877) 687-7321 Creative Director (973) 607-1320

Derek Estey destey@ensembleiq.com Colette Magliaro cmagliaro@ensembleiq.com

Advertising/Production Manager (773) 992-4418

Ed Ward eward@ensembleiq.com

Art Director (973) 607-1321

Lauren DiMeo ldimeo@ensembleiq.com

CORPORATE OFFICERS Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Litterick Chief Financial Officer Jane Volland Chief Innovation Officer Tanner Van Dusen Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Jadown Executive Vice President, Events & Conferences Ed Several Senior Vice President, Content Joe Territo


The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the consent of the publisher. The publisher is not responsible for product claims and representations.

Convenience Store News (ISSN 0194-8733; USPS 515-950) is published 12 times per year, monthly, by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Subscription rates: Subscription rate in the United States: $125 one year; $230 two year; $14 single issue copy; Canada and Mexico: $150 one year; $270 two year; $16 single issue copy; Foreign: $170 one year; $325 two year; $16 single issue copy; Digital One year, digital $87; two year, $161. Periodical postage paid at Chicago, IL 60631, and additional mailing addresses. Copyright 2021 by EnsembleIQ. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprints, permissions and licensing, please contact Wright’s Media at ensembleiq@wrightsmedia.com or (877) 652-5295. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Convenience Store News, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631.

6 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

GSK is now the leader and your strategic partner for health and beauty care in Convenience.

Get all of your favorite brands from one familiar place! Contact your local GSK C-Store representative on how to order or email Scott.F.Breisinger@gsk.com




Speedway Sale to 7-Eleven On Track for Q1 Completion

While the timing of the deal’s closing is dependent on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) process, Marathon Petroleum Corp. continues to target the closing for the end of the first quarter of 2021, President and CEO Michael J. Hennigan reported during a Feb. 2 earnings call. “During the quarter, we responded to the second request from the FTC, and continue to support 7-Eleven in its efforts to secure anti-trust clearance,” he said. “Our interactions with 7-Eleven and our interactions with the FTC have gone well.”


Gas Prices Expected to Keep Climbing Driven by Rising Crude Oil Prices


Circle K Charged Up for Electric Vehicle Adoption

Both demand and refinery utilization fell, but the rising price of crude oil caused the highest price points since February 2020. Gas prices are predicted to rise while crude oil prices remain at their current level, according to AAA.

For the last three years, Norway has been home to the company’s global electric vehicle (EV) lab, where a dedicated team is learning all it can about EV charging and building a more sustainable future. Starting this year, Circle K is bringing those learnings to North America, and plans to be ready as EV adoption grows among motorists.


Connecticut & Maryland Eye Statewide Bans on Flavored Tobacco

Lawmakers in two more states are considering putting an end to the sale of flavored tobacco products within their borders. If the measures get signed into law, Connecticut and Maryland would follow the lead of Massachusetts and California.



Despite Pandemic, Nearly Six in 10 C-store Retailers Say In-Store Sales Grew in 2020

Convenience stores saw fuel sales and commuter traffic dip during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, a majority of retailers did see in-store sales grow. According to the latest NACS Retailer Member Pulse Survey, 59 percent of U.S. c-store owners reported an in-store sales increase for 2020, compared to 30 percent who reported a decrease.


Leveraging Customer Data to Create More Targeted Marketing Campaigns Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, data-driven marketing was an essential revenue-generating tool for convenience store operators, with retailers understanding that the right customer data could be translated into actionable insights, writes Mo Chaar, chief commercial officer at Givex, a global cloud-based operations management solution. Now, with the pandemic forcing convenience store buying behavior to shift, consumer outreach needs to be more proactive, meaningful and effective so that marketing campaigns can have a greater impact. Plus, with the rise of e-commerce putting pressure on small retailers, forward-thinking convenience store owners need to leverage valuable consumer data to create a more targeted marketing strategy, expand name recognition, and draw more customers to their stores.

8 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Sprint Food Stores Finds the Scent of Success Building an appealing brand identity is a crucial task for all convenience store chains, regardless of where they operate or how many stores they have. The methods retailers use to do so vary, and Sprint Food Stores takes a less common approach to enhancing its brand identity: it appeals to the nose. The Augusta, Ga.-based chain partnered with Prolitec, a provider of ambient scent delivery systems, to launch a three-store pilot starting in 2017. After it received a uniformly positive response, Sprint rolled out the program to all 30 of its Central Savannah River Area convenience stores. The key to the program’s success lies in how it affects customers’ emotions in ways that colorful signage or a good two-for-one deal can’t. For more exclusive stories, visit the Special Features section of csnews.com.


Kiosk Prepaid New Services Kiosk Prepaid combines cutting-edge technology with the need to provide access to financial services to consumers. With just 3x3 feet of space, retailers can now offer check cashing, airtime, gift cards, wire transfer, bill pay, bitcoin sales and ATM, increasing store foot traffic and revenues instantly, according to the company. Kiosk Prepaid is dedicated to providing financial freedom to the 100 million-plus persons considered unbanked or underbanked in the United States.

Kiosk Prepaid Las Vegas (855) 730-6336 kioskprepaid.com

Sales tips. Customer insights. Free swag. Get it all – and more at 5hourEnergyRetailer.com

The website for independent convenience store owners like you. • Order forms for top industry distributors. • High-resolution product pictures. • Store merchandising plans. Access everything you need to take your 5-hour ENERGY® sales to the next level. Check it out now.


See 5hourEnergyRetailer.com for more details. ©2021 Living Essentials Marketing, LLC. All rights reserved.


Convenience Retailers Incentivize Employees to Get COVID-19 Vaccine Casey’s, Royal Farms and Love’s offer incentive pay to their team members A GROWING LIST of

convenience retail companies are urging their employees to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and get vaccinated. Both Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores Inc. and Baltimore-based Royal Farms are offering a $50 wellness bonus to team members who receive the full vaccination dosage. “Employees have worked under some uncertain and often stressful conditions and have helped make it possible for the company to continue serving the need of the public,” said Royal Farms President John Kemp. “Royal Farms believes it is important that all its essential workers are vaccinated because getting the COVID-19 vaccine gives an added layer of protection against COVID-19 and could also protect coworkers and their own families.” The Royal Farms bonus will be offered through the end of 2021. Employees who

10 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

receive the vaccine can also get an official CDC COVID-19 vaccination sticker that they can wear at work if they choose to do so. In addition, Oklahoma City-based Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores became the first nationwide travel stop network to offer employees an incentive to receive the vaccine. Its $75 payment covers all employees from the entire Love’s Family of Cos., including Love’s Truck Care and Speedco centers, alternative fuel provider Trillium, its commodity trading company Musket, the Gemini trucking fleet, and its hotels. “A big element of our culture is taking care of our team members, so we’re always thinking of new ways to do that,” said Love’s President Shane Wharton. “As an essential business, our employees have worked tirelessly to keep America moving and the vaccine, along with following safety protocols, offers the best protection from COVID-19. The incentive is another way of encouraging our employees to stay safe during the pandemic.”


Phone: 888-824-3256 | www.cbprices.com www.hempbombs.com | www.naturesscript.com


Murphy USA Turns to Integration & Synergies Following QuickChek Acquisition Foodservice and fuel expertise are key areas of focus now that the transaction is complete By Melissa Kress its acquisition of QuickChek Corp. in just six weeks, Murphy USA Inc. is now focused on integrating the two retail chains and tapping into the synergies.


Through the $645-million purchase, El Dorado, Ark.-based Murphy USA added 157 convenience stores, bringing the combined network to approximately 1,660 stores. According to Murphy USA President and CEO Andrew Clyde, three QuickChek attributes stand out as complementary to Murphy USA’s business model and geographic footprint: • A best-in-class food and beverage program; • A strong brand; and • An attractive market. Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek also brings its own pipeline of organic growth opportunities, Clyde noted during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Feb. 4. “Our integration is not about the rapid extraction of cost synergies. Rather, we are being thoughtful on both what we can learn from QuickChek and what we can do to help improve their business,” he explained. “This will be a mutually inclusive process where the best practices of each are shared and implemented in an appropriate timeframe.” For example, Murphy USA can benefit from QuickChek’s food and beverage offer, while Murphy USA will leverage

12 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

its gasoline supply and retail pricing expertise to optimize QuickChek’s operations, the chief executive said. As he pointed out, ramping up its foodservice program was already “an area of internal priority for Murphy USA as we began to focus management attention on the part of the business where we felt there was both near-term low-hanging fruit and long-term opportunity.” According to the CEO, the main strategic initiative going forward will be leveraging QuickChek’s food and beverage platforms on “a fit-for-purpose basis for all formats.” Clyde acknowledged that there is less opportunity to bring these platforms to Murphy USA’s kiosk locations — a concept the company is reducing by 5 percent a year through its raze-and-rebuild effort. However, he said there are opportunities with the remaining 50 percent of Murphy USA’s portfolio. Alongside the plans to enhance its foodservice offer, Murphy USA will also launch some branding or subbranding efforts to let customers know about the change. “Also, we’ve been working on our own with Core-Mark and other equipment providers on what a distinctive, unique-to-Murphy USA offer would be,” Clyde said. “We believe not only that it is still appropriate for our business, but has legs within the QuickChek model as well.” The changes will not have immediate benefits in 2021, according to Clyde, but will set the foundation for accelerated growth in 2022 and beyond.



BIC® EZ REACH™ MEANS EZ PROFITS! The new BIC® EZ Reach™ Lighter is pocket-sized for convenience, and its 1.45-inch wand helps keep your customers’ fingers away from the flame when lighting tight spaces. A must-have for all lighting occasions! Visit ShopBIC.com/newinquiry

*Source: IRI C-MULO Vol Sales of Pocket for the 52 weeks ending 6/7/20 © 2020 BIC USA Inc., Shelton, CT 06484



Eye on Growth

Salted Caramel • Peanut Butter • Fudge Unwrap and enjoy...

10 sec.

or heat at home!

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores set a growth plan for 2021 that includes opening up to 50 new travel stops. In all, the retailer plans to add more than 3,000 truck parking spots and 3,000 jobs during the year. The Sprint Mart chain acquired 31 MinitMan convenience stores from The Spencer Cos. Inc. The deal boosts Sprint Mart’s network to more than 100 company-operated stores and increases its presence in several North Alabama markets.

Buc-ee’s also opened its second location in Alabama on Jan. 25.

Buc-ee’s welcomed customers to its first Florida store, in St. Augustine, on Feb. 22. The store measures 52,600 square feet and features 104 fueling positions.

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Weigel’s is growing in East Tennessee. The retailer is adding more than 200 jobs as its footprint expands in Bristol, White Pine, Morristown and Wears Valley. U.S. Petroleum Partners LLC closed on its acquisition of Tri-Lakes Petroleum LLC. Now known as USPPTri-Lakes LLC, the combined company will focus on simplifying fuel supply for retailers, wholesalers and governmental entities.


PacWest Energy LLC completed its purchase of R.M. Parks Inc.’s U.S. wholesale petroleum distribution assets. PacWest Energy is a joint venture between Jackson Energy and Shell Oil Products U.S. ©2020 Prairie City Bakery, LLC



co um a com g out of th oo o th y a , th th p t c of COVID-19 a y v . C- to o ll a t to l v ag t — th p f ct t o ucto y typ .


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C-store businesses appreciate wine’s friendly price point:


of buy t th cat go y th ough U r $11 wi s.3






• Under $11 price tiers account for 66% rs and 84% of total wine volume.3 • They’re nearly 2x m r i y r ur s than Over $11 wine drinkers.3

Sweet wine shoppers are most influenced by:4 • Pr u •T •As i


ca’ mo t a a al pa t .

• Consumption has r w v r 2.9% per year for 10+ years.1

Now a $74B+ category, Wine has seen substantial growth lately.1


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Mainstream fruit flavors are seeing x i v um s s r w in AlcBev:

M : +28% YTD5

•B r C rs (750ml and 1.5L) — Moscato, Pink Moscato, Red Moscato •B r Frui s (750ml and 1.5L) — Apple, Peach, Strawberry, Watermelon, NEW Blueberry, NEW Mango, Pineapple (coming in August) •B r Wi -T -G (500ml tetra) — Moscato, Sweet Red Blend

of t pu cha a ma fo imm i sum i .4

Bu rry: +13% YTD5

B r offers a sweet selection that’s priced right and suited to the impulsive quicktrip shopper:

5 %

of F u t Va tal g o th com g f om NEW sum rs, almo t 3x r of tabl .6

• Fruit-forward wine is r wi faster than all table wine.7

©2021 Barefoot Cellars, Modesto, CA. All rights reserved. SOURCES: 1. Bw166, “Total US Beverage Alcohol & Volume Spend,” March 2020, 2. IRI, Total US MULO + C + Liquor, Latest 52 Weeks, w/e 7-24-2020, 3. IRI, Total US MULO, Latest 52 weeks, w/e 12-29-2019, 4. E&J Gallo, Custom KUBE Study, 2018, 5. IRI, Total US MULO + Conv + Sum of Liq, Spirits Flavors, % Change Volume Sales vs YA, w/e 6-28-2020, 6. IRI, Total US MULO + Conv, 6 weeks, w/e 4-19-2020, 7. IRI, Total US MULO + Conv + Sum of Liq, Fruit Varietal Category, % Change Volume Sales vs YA, w/e 10-18-2020

+90% vs. YA,

•B r S ri z r (250ml can) — Moscato, Pink Moscato, Summer Red Blend





During the winter holiday season, chocolate represented 64 percent of all sales and was up 7 percent from the 2019 winter season.

Nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, of NACS supplier members said they will boost their investment in the convenience channel in 2021.

— Information Resources Inc.

— NACS Supplier Member Pulse Survey

16 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Four convenience industry players were recognized as 2021 Military Friendly Companies: 7-Eleven Inc., The Altria Group, Army & Air Force Exchange Services, and Nestle US. — Military Friendly


Retailer Tidbits

Par Pacific Holdings Inc. is selling 22 c-store and gas station properties in Hawaii to Realty Income for $116.1 million, and will then lease them back on a commercial triple-net basis for an initial 15-year term.

Alltown rolled out PayByCar Inc.’s in-car touchless payment service across its 30 gas stations in Massachusetts. The retailer began testing the technology in mid-2019. TravelCenters of America Inc. added PumpSmart to its TruckSmart mobile app. The feature allows professional drivers to activate diesel pumps and pay for fuel from inside their cabs. Kum & Go LC is rolling out CB4’s artificial intelligence solution for its store teams chainwide. The CB4 app alerts store teams to replenish products, escalating out-of-stocks and ticketing errors.

The university lab store has a heavier-thanusual focus on healthy products and does not sell alcohol or tobacco products.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. and McGill University opened a lab store where faculty and students can conduct research and testing. The store features a cashierless corner where shoppers enter and check out using the CoucheTard mobile app.

R-soing ad as Mobile Cart w/Handle Easy to roll around oors and carpeted areas Removable handle to use as display Move while fully loaded

www.forteproducts.com | 816.813.3337 18 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Wawa Inc. launched its new dinner platform chainwide with the introduction of an all-natural Angus burger that is fully customizable with choice of cheese, fresh toppings, sauce and bacon. EG Group is expanding PDI Payments to nearly 1,700 convenience stores across North America. The platform powers EG Group’s SmartPay Rewards program, which originated at Cumberland Farms.


W MEN IN CONVENIENCE OCTOBER 6, 2021 | CHICAGO The 2021 Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience awards program recognizes the integral role women play in convenience retailing. Women will be honored from the retailer, wholesaler and supplier communities in four different categories: AWARD CATEGORIES* Women of the Year

Senior Level Leaders

Rising Stars







Vice President and Brand Director 917-446-4117 plashinsky@ensembleIQ.com Associate Brand Director/West Coast 330-840-9557 rlowy@ensembleIQ.com

TWIC2021_FullPg_0121_Final.indd 1

Associate Brand Director/Northeast 508-385-2524 rmcgaffigan@ensembleIQ.com


Account Executive/ Classified Advertising 201-855-7615 tkanganis@ensembleIQ.com

Associate Publisher/Midwest 847-894-8134 kfischer@ensembleIQ.com

1/27/21 5:56 PM

Legal Notice


If you bought butter or cheese directly from a National Milk Producers Federation Cooperatives Working Together Program Member between December 6, 2008 and July 31, 2013, you could receive a payment from a $220 million settlement.

Supplier Tidbits

NCD’s annual revenue of $3 billion makes

it the fifth-largest National Convenience Distributors wholesale distributor LLC (NCD) expanded its family of in the convenience industry. distributors with the acquisition of Albany, N.Y.-based Wustefeld Candy. Wustefeld joins existing divisions J. Polep Distribution Services, Allen Brothers Wholesale Distribution and Harold Levinson Associates.

Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc. extended its supply partnership with Murphy USA Inc. Under the five-year pact, Core-Mark will continue to serve as Murphy USA’s primary wholesale distributor. Financial Information Technologies LLC (Fintech) acquired data management and analytic provider Aperity. Its Beverage Data Exchange will integrate with Fintech’s data offerings and broaden its data platform. The Coca-Cola Co. introduced a 13.2ounce bottle made from 100 percent recycled plastic material. The bottle is debuting with the company’s iconic brand, Coca-Cola, and will roll out to other brands this summer. GSTV formed a content partnership with WAVE.tv, a sports media company. The partnership will include the distribution of sports highlights and user-generated content from six of WAVE.tv’s most popular media brands. Aptos is acquiring LS Retail. The companies will create a retail technology powerhouse that is equipped to support retailers across all tiers, verticals and geographies. OPW, a Dover company, took ownership of Innovative Control Systems Inc. (ICS), a provider of technology solutions for the car wash industry. ICS will become part of OPW’s Vehicle Wash Solutions platform of brands, which includes PDQ and Belanger. Utz Quality Foods LLC, a subsidiary of Utz Brands Inc., entered into an agreement with Snak-King Corp. to acquire certain assets related to the Vitner’s brand for $25 million. These assets include direct-store delivery distribution assets.

What is the lawsuit about? A $220 million settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit brought against National Milk Producers Federation, Agri-Mark, Inc., Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., and Land O’Lakes, Inc. (collectively “Defendants”). The lawsuit claimed that an effort known as Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) operated a Herd Retirement Program that was a conspiracy to reduce milk output that violated the law. The Defendants deny doing anything wrong. The Court has not decided who is right. On April 27, 2020, the Court granted fnal approval of this $220 million class action settlement and issued a Final Judgment. The settlement is no longer subject to appeal because the period for appeals has passed. On April 27, 2020, the Court approved a Plan of Distribution and set a deadline of April 23, 2021 for claims to be postmarked or received by the Administrator. Who is included? The Court decided that the Class includes all persons and entities in the United States that purchased butter and/or cheese directly from one or more Members of Defendant, Cooperatives Working Together and/or their subsidiaries, during the period from December 6, 2008 to July 31, 2013 who did not timely opt-out of the Class. Those that are included are called “Class Members.” To be a Class Member who could be eligible for a payment, you must have purchased butter or cheese made by a CWT Member.If you are a consumer, you must have purchased butter or cheese made by a CWT Member at one of the dairy co-op stores. Go to the website for a list of CWT Members along with their store names and locations. The Settlement does not include Milk purchases. What does the settlement provide? The settlement provides that payments to Class Members will be allocated: 37% to the Butter Sub-Class, and 63% to the Cheese Sub-Class. Total payments will be $220 million plus interest, minus: attorneys’ fees and expenses; payments to the Named Plaintiffs; notice and administration costs; and taxes. What are your options? If you would like to claim purchases of butter and/or cheese made from Defendants, you must complete and submit the Submitted Documented Claim Form with proof of your purchases. If you do not have documentation to show your butter and/or cheese purchases, please complete the Undocumented Claim Form. Both claim forms can be found online at www.ButterandCheeseClassAction.com. Claim Forms must be signed and verifed by the claimant or a person authorized to act on behalf of the claimant and must be postmarked no later than April 23, 2021. Claim Forms should be addressed to: Butter and Cheese Class Action Administrator, P.O. Box 4290, Portland, OR 97208-4290. Do not send Claim Forms to the Court or to any of the parties or their counsel. Complete only one Claim Form covering all of your qualifying purchases. Do not submit more than one claim, and do not submit duplicate claims. Detailed information and copies of the relevant Court documents are available at the website and toll-free number listed below.

1-855-804-8574 www.ButterandCheeseClassAction.com






1. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade

2. Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix

3. Johnsonville New Sausage Varieties

Following the successful launch and expansion of Bud Light Seltzer, the brand is now introducing a seltzer-based liquid packed with bold, bubbly lemonade flavor. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade is available in 12-ounce slim can variety 12-packs featuring four varieties: Original Lemonade, Black Cherry Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, and Peach Lemonade. Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade is packed with real lemonade and brewed with cane sugar and natural fruit flavors, coming in at 100 calories with less than 1 gram of sugar and 5 percent ABV.

Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix is a new cheesy snack mix that blends two fan favorites — traditional Cheetos Crunchy and the popular Cheetos Popcorn introduced last year. Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix is available in a 7-ounce bag for a suggested retail price of $3.99, and a 2.25-ounce bag for a suggested price of $1.89. To promote the new product, the Cheetos brand returned to the Super Bowl this year with an in-game commercial featuring celebrity Ashton Kutcher.

Johnsonville added three new sausage flavors to help convenience store operators meet customer demand for variety: Ultimate Queso, Southern Style BBQ, and Smoked Honey BBQ. All three are made with premium ingredients and uncompromising quality to the convenience store experience, according to the company. Ultimate Queso features spices and a blend of creamy pepper jack and cheddar cheeses. Southern Style BBQ is naturally hardwood smoked with a bold tomatobased barbecue flavor and seasoned with a hint of cayenne and black pepper. Smoked Honey BBQ has a subtle honey flavor that is balanced with the tangy heat of barbecue sauce.

Frito-Lay North America Plano, Texas fritolay.com

Anheuser-Busch New York budlight.com

Johnsonville Sheboygan Falls, Wis. (800) 837-5391 foodservice.johnsonville.com

5. Twangerz Hot Pickle Flavored Salt Twang Partners Ltd., maker of Twang Beer Salt, relaunched its Twangerz Hot Pickle Flavored Salt due to popular demand. The product, which debuted as a limited-time offer in 2014, is made with natural pickle flavor and jalapeño peppers that give the blend an authentic spicy flavor. It can be added as a complement to a variety of snacks or beers. Twangerz Hot Pickle Flavored Salt comes in a 1.15-ounce shaker jar and has been repackaged to match the 2019 rebrand of the Twangerz Classicz product line. Twang Partners Ltd. San Antonio info@twang.com twang.com

22 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


4. Ethel’s Baking Co. Single-Serve Dessert Bars Ethel’s Baking Co. dessert bars are now available in single-serve packages. The gluten-free bars are handmade in small batches using local, sustainably sourced ingredients, including hormone-free butter and cagefree eggs. Four varieties are available: Pecan Dandy, Ethel’s original bar that is reminiscent of a pecan pie; Cinnamon Crumble, which tastes and smells like an old-fashioned cinnamon roll; Raspberry Crumble, which tastes like a fresh raspberry pastry; and Blondie, featuring the sweet butter and chocolate of a chocolate chip cookie plus a touch of caramel. Ethel’s Baking Co. Shelby Township, Mich. ethels.com

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6. Dutch Leaf Cigars Dutch Leaf is a 100 percent natural leaf cigar line that features a premium, allnatural leaf wrapper handselected for quality and texture. With no paper, just tobacco, Dutch Leaf cigars provide adult smokers with a smooth, natural smoking experience, according to the maker. The line launches with three variants — Ripe Berry, Pure Tobacco and Real Sweet. Each one is available in a two-pack resealable pouch, offered in both prepriced and nonprepriced options. ITG Brands Greensboro, N.C. itgbrands.com

7. Old Trapper Jumbo Kippered Beef Steak Old Trapper Jumbo Kippered Beef Steak incorporates wood-fired smoked flavor into three varieties: Old Fashioned, Peppered and Teriyaki. The steak snacks come in individual two-ounce packs and are available in 12-pack boxes. Old Trapper designed these snacks to cater to consumers’ craving for steak in a format that can be savored straight out of the package without the need to cook. After being seasoned with the company’s blend of spices and fresh ground pepper, the steak strips are smoked with real wood.

8. Totally Awesome Gummies Bazooka Candy Brands launches its new Totally Awesome brand with a fantastical gummy candy line. The soft and chewy gummies take the shape of characters that represent magical powers and come in two varieties: Totally Awesome Dragons and Totally Awesome Unicorns. The gummy candies are available in four flavors: strawberry, grape, watermelon and blue raspberry. The suggested retail price for a 3.8-ounce bag is just $1. Bazooka Candy Brands New York bazookajoe.com

Old Trapper Smoked Products Forest Grove, Ore. oldtrapper.com

10. Scripto Folding Lighters Calico Brands Inc. unveiled new packaging and three new lighter colors for its refillable Scripto Folding Lighter line. The lighters are now available in berry red, cobalt blue, and ash gray. Each Scripto Folding Lighter conveniently lights in multiple positions and folds into a compact 5.5-inch lighter, allowing for easy storage in small spaces such as kitchen drawers and backpacks. The product is available in a single pack on a full-size blister card or a space saver blister card with, a suggested retail price of $7.59. Calico Brands Inc. Ontario, Calif. (800) 544-4837 calicobrands.com 24 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

9. Sweet Street Retail-Ready Manifesto Packs Sweet Street introduces Retail-Ready Manifesto Packs, which fold open for an instant display of its Manifesto individually wrapped cookies and bars. Made with only pure cane sugar, cage-free eggs and sustainably grown chocolates, Manifesto individually wrapped cookies and bars are designed to provide one-of-a-kind wholesome decadence with convenience, rooted in better-for-you ingredients and comforting flavors. All of Sweet Street’s Manifesto individually wrapped cookies and bars are now available in this selfdisplay carton. Sweet Street Desserts Reading, Pa. sweetstreet.com





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Leveraging the Community Connection Small operators have many tools at their disposal to create strong bonds with their customers By Danielle Romano LAST FEBRUARY, Lucky Candy convenience store cashier Ahmed Alwan began asking customers if they could solve a math problem while filming the exchanges on short-form mobile media platform TikTok. If they answered the equation correctly, they had five seconds to nab anything off the store’s shelves and Alwan would pay for it out of his own pocket.

Little did the cashier know that he and the Bronx, N.Y.-based c-store would become an internet sensation. But the point of the game, Alwan told CNN, was to help low-income community members save for higher-priority expenses, such as rent and utilities. “This changed our relationship with the community big time. They’re all showing me so much love and lining up at the store just for a chance to play,” Alwan told the news outlet. “We have so many visitors coming to take pictures and say hi. But it’s not about me. It’s about the community.” Building community connections, like Alwan did, can be advantageous for the convenience channel’s small operators in competing against the industry’s larger chains.

26 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

It isn’t about small operators giving the house away, but rather about getting their faces out in public, according to Anthony Perrine, president of single-store Lou Perrine’s Gas and Groceries, which has been in business for more than 60 years in Kenosha, Wis. “Being an active community member when you’re a small business is almost like being a politician: you attend an event where you hand out food or other supplies from your store and it opens that door for people to put a face to a name,” he told Convenience Store News. “There is a chance there are people who will or will not know you, but eventually the more active you are, your convenience store begins building brand equity and creates a personality and culture around your brand that big businesses can’t do. This is where small operators and [small] businesses really win over customers.” A key advantage for small operators (those operating 20 stores or less) is that they are both physically and psychologically in closer proximity to their customers, whereas executives or those in a position of power who can institute changes at larger chains are a few steps removed from the local community’s wants and needs. “Small operators can take advantage of a resource they already have and is not something you need a consultant for or special software for. Most small operators already have everything they need to be a good community partner,” said Roy Strasburger, president of StrasGlobal, a contract operations provider that services retail locations


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for companies, which for various reasons, don’t have the expertise, infrastructure or desire to operate them. Another key advantage for small operators, Strasburger cited, is that the owner of the site(s) is directly involved in the day-to-day operations, so they can decide quickly, get immediate feedback, and make changes if necessary. “This compares to larger chains where the information has to work its way up before being implemented,” he noted. Being an active community member can create multiple opportunities for small operators. Among them is acquiring brand equity through emotional connections, becoming a reliable resource for the community, and retaining and gaining new employees. CSNews asked small operators and convenience channel consultants what the best strategies are for reaping these benefits. Here’s what they had to say:

Create an Emotional Connection Although most consumers are aware of big chains because of their continual advertising, more often than not it is difficult for customers to create an emotional connection to big businesses. Small operators can capitalize on this by creating an emotional connection through community involvement that positions the retailer as “one of them,” advises Gray Cat Enterprises Inc. President and CEO John Matthews, whose retail consulting firm focuses on multiunit operations, interim divisional or general management leadership, consumer marketing for companies launching products in the retail sector, and strategic project management. “Once the customer connects with the operator as someone that ‘has their back,’ then it will be very difficult for the big chains to break that bond,” Matthews explained.

Form Strategic Partnerships Perrine offers a similar sentiment, noting that while larger chains and businesses base their corporate social responsibility efforts on donating money, smaller operators’ success comes from being strategic in the partnerships they choose to be a part of. For example, Lou Perrine’s recently held a program where a customer could buy a backpack and the store would donate

a backpack to the local Boys and Girls Club of America, which focuses predominantly on lower-income children. Perrine and his team hand-delivered the backpacks and spent time with the kids, creating that personal connection with everyone involved. “Our No. 1 priority and our No. 1 brand recognition is community involvement, so it’s important to let everyone know that we’re here and we’re for the community,” Perrine said. “When it comes to small businesses, we have a leg up to connect with the community by not giving the house away, but by getting our face out there and becoming a business that the local community can rely on.”

The Halo Effect Small operators need to communicate their efforts in order to get a halo effect of positively serving their community. In doing so, these retailers build customer loyalty vicariously through people who are associated with the projects they support, Strasburger explains. “For example, if you support a local little league baseball team, you’re not only helping the team get supplies that it needs, but you’re also getting your name out in front of the parents, grandparents and others who watch those children play,” he said. “It creates customer loyalty so that they will choose your store over another because of what you’re doing.” Word of mouth about your community involvement is another key element to creating the halo effect. Keeping with the example of the little league team, Strasburger noted that if a small operator talks about his or her support of the local team as if it were a national major league team, it shows a deeper understanding and depth to the community vs. touting that you donated money and in return, the team sent a framed picture that hangs on the wall. “The more active you are, they more activity your store receives,” he emphasized. In addition to advertising and communicating any local activity to the public, it is just as important to communicate with your employees about all community-focused efforts. This will give them pride in their jobs and the small businesses they work for. “We’ve found that by doing that, it has helped us with employee retention, customer service levels have risen, and employees have taken the initiative to go out on their own to support local projects and causes they are passionate about,” noted Strasburger. To create some positivity in his community, Perrine publicly stated that he would pay his employees out of his own pocket when his business was forced to shut down in October after a bystander drove her car through the store’s window as part of unrest and rioting in Kenosha. “That not only created a positive public perception, but also helped us acquire talent because there aren’t many small businesses that make a statement like that and follow through with it,” he said. CSN


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Convenience Store News




C-STORE INDUSTRY LANDSCAPE A decade of our Top 20 Growth Chains report shows just how much has changed By Melissa Kress

30 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

IN MARCH 2012, Convenience Store News published a special report highlighting the convenience channel's growth. Partnering with Nielsen TDLinx, we identified the chains that grew their networks the most in the previous 12 months. Since then, that special report — the Top 20 Growth Chains — has become a key piece of CSNews' coverage of the industry. Growth continues to be a hot topic even as the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of the convenience retail industry. The channel's normal operations came to an almost grinding halt as retailers focused on keeping their employees and customers safe, while still keeping the doors open as a federally deemed essential business. Even with a slowdown in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and new store construction over the past year, the channel's players still found a way to grow in the face of unprecedented challenges. This year’s Top 20 Growth Chains added a combined 898 stores for an average growth rate of 13 percent, vs. last year when 2,214 stores were added for a 23.1 percent growth rate.

The Top Growth Chains of the Decade

Over the past 10 years of publication, these companies have appeared six or more times in the annual Top 20 Growth Chains rankings: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Casey's General Stores Inc. (10 times) Sheetz Inc. (9 times) Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores (9 times) Murphy USA Inc. (9 times) QuikTrip Corp. (9 times) Wawa Inc. (9 times) 7-Eleven Inc. (8 times) Kwik Trip Inc. (8 times) Pilot Co. (8 times) Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (7 times) Marathon Petroleum Corp./Speedway (7 times) Sunoco LP (7 times) RaceTrac Petroleum Corp. (6 times) Maverik Inc. (6 times) GPM Investments LLC (6 times)

Comparing c-store retailer store counts from January 2020 to January 2021, 7-Eleven Inc. takes this year’s title of top growth chain. The Irving, Texasbased retailer rang in the new year with 9,372 stores flying the brand’s familiar red and green banner, vs. 9,070 stores at the beginning of 2020. With its addition of 302 locations year over year, 7-Eleven blew past its industry peers in regard to expansion over the past year. Case in point: La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. took the No. 2 spot in this year’s ranking with 65 new stores, and Richmond, Va.-based GPM Investments LLC captured the third spot with 63 more stores in its portfolio.

Where Are They Now? To quote legendary baseball player Yogi Berra, 7-Eleven's top ranking this year is “like déjà vu all over again.” Serendipitously, 7-Eleven also wore the crown in CSNews’ first-ever Top 20 Growth Chains report back in 2012. At that time, it boasted a total store count of 7,179 stores. Comparing the 2012 report to present day, it could be said that the inaugural report and where those chains are now perfectly sums up the convenience channel over the past decade. It is an ever-evolving landscape. When the first Top 20 Growth Chains report was published, it was about a year after Big Oil began its exit from direct operations in the channel. Today, Dallas-based Sunoco LP (the No. 3 growth chain in 2012) has substantially left the corporateoperated side of the industry after selling the majority of its stores to 7-Eleven in early 2018. Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. (the No. 5 growth chain in 2012) — which acquired the retail portfolio of Hess Corp. (No. 20 in 2012) two years later — is likewise in the process of selling its Speedway LLC network to 7-Eleven. The sale is expected to close by the end of the first quarter of 2021. Illustrating the grow-or-go state of affairs in the industry, other M&A moves have included: • Giant Industries Inc. (No. 17 in 2012) and its parent company El Paso, Texas-based Western Refining Inc. were acquired by San Antonio-based Tesoro Corp. in 2017. Tesoro would go on to change its name to Andeavor before eventually merging with Marathon Petroleum in 2018.


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Convenience Store News 31


• Massachusetts' Cumberland Farms (No. 12 in 2012) was sold to the United Kingdom's EG Group in 2019. EG wore the growth chains crown in last year’s report.

2021 Top 20 Growth Chains

• Wilmington, N.C.-based VPS Convenience Store Group (No. 13 in 2012) sold to GPM Investments in 2015. GPM has been a consistent presence in the annual rankings.

NO. 1

A Star Shines in Iowa

7-Eleven Inc.


• San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp. (the No. 8 growth chain in 2012) spun off its retail division as CST Brands Inc. in 2013. Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (No. 6 in 2012) acquired CST Brands four years later.

Among the myriad convenience store chains that have earned spots in the Top 20 Growth Chains reports throughout the years, one stands out as an enduring star: Casey's General Stores Inc. The Ankeny, Iowa-based retailer stands alone as the only chain to appear every year since the report began publication a decade ago. Casey’s continued network growth has necessitated the addition of not one, but two distribution centers over the past seven or so years. Its Terre Haute, Ind., facility — the company's second — opened for business in the spring of 2016, and a Joplin, Mo., facility is under construction. While the industry’s consolidators often get a lot of the attention, Casey's has grown quietly and mostly organically over the years. However, that is changing. In November 2020, the retailer inked a deal to acquire Omaha, Neb.-based Buchanan Energy, owner of Bucky's Convenience Stores, in an all-cash transaction of $580 million.

This year’s Top 20 Growth Chains added a combined 898 stores for an average growth rate of 13 percent, vs. last year when 2,214 stores were added for a 23.1 percent growth rate.

32 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Irving, Texas 2021 Store Count: 9,372 2020 Store Count: 9,070 Increase: 302 (3.3%)

About the company's growth: 7-Eleven Inc. is a consistent leader when it comes to growth in the c-store industry. This past year was no different. Most notably, the nation’s largest convenience retailer kicked off 2020 with an agreement to acquire more than 100 independently operated 7-Eleven stores in central Oklahoma from 7-Eleven of Oklahoma.

NO. 2 Kwik Trip Inc.

La Crosse, Wis. 2021 Store Count: 742 2020 Store Count: 677 Increase: 65 (9.6%)

About the company's growth: In December 2020, Kwik Trip closed on its purchase of Stop-N-Go, which operated 36 stores in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. It plans to operate many of these stores under the existing Stop-N-Go banner, and will remodel and rebrand some of the larger stores as Kwik Trip, or Kwik Star in Illinois.

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NO. 3 Casey's President and CEO Darren Rebelez has called the pending acquisition the "most significant, single strategic transaction in our 52-year history." Not only will the purchase mean the addition of roughly 94 c-stores and 79 dealer locations across the Midwest, but the deal's wholesale fuel component will also unlock additional M&A opportunities that Casey's would have previously passed up. Before with potential deals, Casey's would often find a mix of assets — some that the company found attractive either because of size or location, and some that did not fit into its business model. Now, however, a wholesale dealer capability that builds on relationships with owner-operators of independent c-stores will clear a new path for Casey's. "This new capability provides the company with future flexibility with respect to mergers and acquisitions, as well as a new income stream, while further leveraging our existing scale for fuel procurement," Rebelez explained during a company call on Nov. 9. Drawing "a straight line" from the Buchanan deal to Casey's strategy, Rebelez noted that the company's plan is to add 345 stores to its network over the next three years. "That growth is now underway," he said. "We said our approach to owning Midwest locations was important to us, benefiting from our core strengths including convenience, a differentiated guest experience, a passionate sense of community, and a values-driven approach to serving the local market. We have now amplified our Midwest presence."

Consistent Growers While Casey's is the only retailer to have landed on the growth chains list every year for the past 10 years, it is not the only c-store chain to consistently show growth. Giving Casey's a run for its money, Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. appeared on the list nine times, just narrowly missing this year's ranking by landing in the No. 21 spot. Also making the list nine times are: Oklahoma Citybased Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores; El Dorado, Ark,-based Murphy USA Inc.; Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip Corp.; and Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. Similar to Casey's, most — if not all of these chains — have ranked among the top 20 predominantly through ground-up new builds rather than acquisitions. The exception is Murphy USA, which just recently veered from the trend with its Jan. 29, 2021 acquisition of Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek Corp. Other chains making repeat performances in the annual rankings include: 7-Eleven, Kwik Trip and Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Co. (appearing eight times); Couche-Tard, Marathon Petroleum/Speedway and Sunoco (seven times); and GPM Investments, Salt Lake City-based Maverik Inc. and Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum Corp. (six times). CSN 34 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

GPM Investments LLC Richmond, Va. 2021 Store Count: 1,315 2020 Store Count: 1,252 Increase: 63 (5%)

About the company's growth: GPM was busy in the second half of 2020. In early October, it completed a strategic acquisition of Empire Petroleum Partners LLC; and less than three months later, its parent company Arko Holdings Ltd. closed on a business tieup with Haymaker Acquisition Corp. This combination is expected to help drive GPM's organic growth strategy, as well as a store remodeling initiative.

NO. 4 Bolla Oil Corp. (TIE) Garden City, N.Y. 2021 Store Count: 157 2020 Store Count: 100 Increase: 57 (57%)

About the company's growth: In July 2020, the company opened its first Bolla Market location to feature a Tim Hortons coffee shop, with plans to bring this offering to more locations down the line. At the time, Bolla Oil also revealed a roadmap for network expansion that called for 15 to 20 new stores over a 12- to 18-month period.

NO. 4 Tri Star Energy LLC (TIE) Nashville, Tenn. 2021 Store Count: 146 2020 Store Count: 89 Increase: 57 (64%)

About the company's growth: Last year, Tri Star Energy completed an acquisition of Hollingsworth Oil Co. Inc. and its convenience retail brand Sudden Service. The purchase added 53 c-stores in Kentucky and Tennessee to Tri Star's existing 89 locations in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. In turn, the company agreed to sell retail fuel assets in Whites Creek and Greenbrier, Tenn.

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NO. 6

A GAME WITH MANY PLAYERS Big Oil, private equity, large, midsize and small operators all play a role in the future of M&A A Convenience Store News Staff Report

United Pacific

Long Beach, Calif. 2021 Store Count: 359 2020 Store Count: 314 Increase: 45 (14.3%)

About the company's growth: United Pacific expanded its presence mostly in its home state during 2020. Its portfolio boost came from a deal for 95 convenience stores and gas stations from Platinum Energy and its related entities. The transaction also included three full-service car washes and one quick-service food location. The majority of the stores are in Southern California.

NO. 7 Casey's General Stores Inc.

TEN YEARS AGO, Convenience Store News published its first Top 20 Growth Chains report. It came one year after Big Oil began its exit from the convenience channel, leading to a flurry of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity that has done anything and everything since, but slow down. Ken Shriber, managing director and CEO of Chappaqua, N.Y.-based Petroleum Equity Group, characterizes the past decade of M&A in the c-store industry as "a whirlwind of transaction and aggressive consolidation," initially spurred by major oil companies, like Shell, ExxonMobil and BP, exiting the direct-served business. C-store M&A over the past 10 years has been active because there have been significant economies of scale, noted Steve Montgomery, president of b2b Solutions LLC. There’s been a shift from transactions of smaller chains buying one another to today’s transactions where the larger chains in the industry are often the purchaser. "Another change is we now see transactions where the buyer and the seller are both large chains," he added.

Ankeny, Iowa 2021 Store Count: 2,233 2020 Store Count: 2,191 Increase: 42 (1.9%)

About the company's growth: Casey's has mostly grown organically through the years. The retailer added nine new-store constructions in the first quarter of its 2021 fiscal year and 14 in the second quarter. It's also poised to appear on next year’s Growth Chains list with the pending acquisition of Buchanan Energy and its 94 Bucky's Convenience Stores. Additionally, Casey’s expects to complete the construction of approximately 40 new stores this fiscal year.

NO. 8 QuikTrip Corp. (TIE) Tulsa, Okla. 2021 Store Count: 859 2020 Store Count: 822 Increase: 37 (4.5%)

About the company's growth: QuikTrip Corp. hit a milestone of 850 stores when it welcomed customers at four new locations on Sept. 17. Throughout the past year, the retailer has also moved closer to entry into the Denver market, where it plans to open 50 to 70 locations in the metro area over the next five years. And it’s gearing up for expansion in Tennessee.

36 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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GROWTH CHAINS Terry Monroe, president of American Business Brokers & Advisors, compares c-store M&A to a freight train. "Ten years ago, there were acquisitions, but as time has passed, the need for consolidation in the convenience store industry has picked up speed, and now M&A is running at full speed," he said.

"The industry has consistently proven that it can outperform other commercial options, and the pandemic further affirmed this fact." — Mark Radosevich, PetroActive Real Estate Services LLC

The Cost of the Deal Accordingly, pricing has increased, particularly for highquality sites. Some estimates put buyers paying 20 to 25 percent more for acquisitions today than they did 10 years ago. "Valuation multiples increased through time,” said Mark Radosevich, president of PetroActive Real Estate Services LLC. “Financing was available for quality borrowers. The desirability of our commercial space grew from a secondary to a primary player. The industry has consistently proven that it can outperform other commercial options, and the pandemic further affirmed this fact." Shriber cited some additional drivers of the upswing. "With low borrowing costs, a steady increase in rack to retail fuel margin over the past 10 years, and synergies created with larger companies and MLPs [master limited partnerships] buying assets, the multiples paid for this asset class has also steadily risen," he explained, noting that multiples have increased from 5x during the financial crisis in 2009-2010 to 9x currently for strong assets, with some outliers even higher. Another factor driving the multiples higher is that competition for assets has ratcheted up as more companies recognize that the easiest way to move the needle on their numbers is to buy another company or a portfolio of stores, according to Dennis Ruben, executive managing director at NCR Realty & Capital Advisors LLC. "Even though companies are buying into multiples, they are buying into an established cash flow. The thing about opening new stores is that you don't know how they are going to perform for at least a few years,"

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NO. 8 Murphy USA Inc. (TIE) El Dorado, Ark. 2021 Store Count: 370 2020 Store Count: 333 Increase: 37 (11.1%)

About the company's growth: Murphy USA ended 2020 on a high note. In December, it held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for its 1,500th location: a 2,800-square-foot Murphy Express store in Mesquite, Texas. In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, the c-store and gas station operator welcomed customers to 15 new retail locations and 20 raze-and-rebuild locations.

NO. 10 Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores Oklahoma City 2021 Store Count: 542 2020 Store Count: 509 Increase: 33 (6.5%)

About the company's growth: Love’s stuck to its 2020 growth agenda and opened nearly 40 new locations, adding more than 3,000 truck parking spaces throughout the year. The travel stop operator also added to its Love's Truck Care Center and Speedco networks. To help support its growth, the company launched an initiative to hire more than 2,000 employees across its locations.

NO. 11 Wawa Inc.

Wawa, Pa. 2021 Store Count: 917 2020 Store Count: 891 Increase: 26 (2.9%)

About the company's growth: Wawa had a busy 2020. The retailer continued its organic growth trajectory, cutting the ribbon on its 900th store. Wawa celebrated the milestone store, located in Springfield, N.J., in true 2020 pandemic style — with a virtual experience held in mid-June. Last year also saw the opening of the first Wawa store to feature a drive-thru.

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GROWTH CHAINS Ruben said. "With cheap money, most big players have lines of credit that they can tap and don't have to go through traditional real estate lenders. This has made it more difficult for smaller and midsize operators to be competitive in bidding processes." In some cases, there have been bigger deals where there is a two-multiple difference between the winning bidder and the next-highest bidder. This results in aggressive bidding on offers. "I think a lot of the way that retailers are justifying paying these strong multiples is because of what they think it is going to do for them after they rationalize the portfolio," Ruben said, citing the efficiencies and synergies that come after the deal is closed. The NCR executive pointed to Murphy USA Inc.'s recent $645-million acquisition of QuickChek Corp., where the El Dorado, Ark.-based company was looking to enter new markets in a big way with a sizable acquisition that could achieve its objective. "Acquisitions have not only been beneficial for adding store count, but additionally benefit from the acquired company's technology, management team/style, foodservice offers, etc.," he said.

Big Oil: In or Out? While all of the industry experts CSNews tapped for this report called out Big Oil's exit from the direct-served business as a significant M&A trend of the past decade, some wonder whether the time is ripe now for Big Oil to reemerge onto the scene. A few companies are already making inroads. For instance, a joint venture (JV) between affiliates of BP and ArcLight Capital Partners acquired Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons in early 2019. In addition, Chevron Corp. — which had only partially exited the directserved business — formed a JV with Meridian, Idahobased Jacksons Food Stores in 2017 to double the ExtraMile brand. Shriber said had he been asked pre-COVID whether Big Oil would reenter the direct-served retail market, his answer would have been “absolutely not.” PostCOVID, however, he notes that the major oil companies have suffered greatly without a retail network during the pandemic. “So, my answer post-COVID is they may choose to reenter the retail market,” he said. “Only caution is that given their history of high infrastructure costs putting pressure on returns, they would be wise to select acquisition targets with a lower overhead expense load; and in order to propel future growth, a built-in and wellmaintained foodservice component is a must." Radosevich isn't surprised that Big Oil is showing interest in returning to retail. He has predicted for several years that it would be back in joint ventures to preserve brand equity. He believes that success will require a renewed focus on facility size and

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NO. 12 Croton Holding Co. Pittsburgh 2021 Store Count: 153 2020 Store Count: 134 Increase: 19 (14.2%)

About the company's growth: Croton Holding's Par Mar Convenience Stores banner added the 17-store Mountaineer Mart chain to its network in a deal that was first announced in late 2019. Based in Buckhannon, W. Va., the Mountaineer Mart locations boosted Par Mar's footprint in the Mountain State.

NO. 13 Two Farms Inc. (TIE) Baltimore 2021 Store Count: 245 2020 Store Count: 227 Increase: 18 (7.9%)

About the company's growth: Two Farms' Royal Farms network made headlines when it opened its first store in New Jersey in late 2017. Since then, the chain has made New Jersey a key focus of its growth and set its sights on the Jersey Shore, a market dominated by longtime Garden State convenience store brands QuickChek and Wawa. Additionally, Royal Farms is growing organically in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

NO. 13 United Refining Co. of Pennsylvania (TIE) Warren, Pa. 2021 Store Count: 224 2020 Store Count: 206 Increase: 18 (8.7%)

About the company's growth: In late 2020, United Refining Co. of Pennsylvania took ownership of the convenience retailing and ExxonMobil-branded fuel distribution business assets of Acorn Markets Inc. and Putnam Co. The deal closed in early December and United Refining rebranded the Acorn Market stores to its Kwik Fill banner.






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GROWTH CHAINS configuration to ensure that outlets will stand the test of time. Monroe expects to see more major oil companies return to the channel, but as partners that supply crude oil and distribution rather than operators, as in the past. "It offers another avenue for them to profit from the sale of their oil," he said. Montgomery, meanwhile, points out that while BP's joint venture to acquire Thorntons did spark speculation in the industry that this move may kickstart a resurgence of Big Oil refocusing on retail, “since then, we have not seen another such transaction." Ruben also sees the Thorntons acquisition as more the exception than the rule. "It was a unique opportunity for BP because there was talk that the company wanted to get back into retail, but other than the Thorntons deal, there hasn't been much movement," he said. "Generally speaking, there is more of a possibility for joint ventures between retailers and oil companies (like that of BP/ArcLight for Thorntons, and Chevron U.S.A./Jacksons Food Stores for ExtraMile) if oil companies see that there is a possibility of losing fuel gallons," he explained.

Private-Equity Infusion In addition to Big Oil, another group poised to continue shaking up the c-store industry is private equity firms. Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based Refuel became part of Texas-based private equity firm First Reserve in 2019, and BW Gas & Convenience Retail LLC, which operates the Yesway and Allsup's chains, is part of Beverly, Mass.-based Brookwood Financial Partners LLC.

NO. 15 Sunoco LP

Dallas 2021 Store Count: 81 2020 Store Count: 66 Increase: 15 (22.7%)

About the company's growth: Sunoco may have substantially exited corporately operated c-store locations when it sold the bulk of its stores to 7-Eleven Inc. three years ago, but that hasn’t stopped the company from making growth moves. Sunoco is known to acquire c-stores and then convert them to wholesale distribution sites or commission agent locations.

NO. 16 Maverik Inc. (TIE) Salt Lake City 2021 Store Count: 357 2020 Store Count: 343 Increase: 14 (4.1%)

About the company's growth: Growing organically, Maverik’s new store openings in 2020 spanned several western states, including New Mexico, Colorado, and its home state of Utah. The retailer also welcomed customers to a Maverik convenience store in the Salt Lake City Airport in October, with a second one slated to open in early 2021.

NO. 16 Hassan & Sons Inc. (TIE) Orange, Calif. 2021 Store Count: 107 2020 Store Count: 93 Increase: 14 (15.1%)

About the company's growth: California convenience and gas retailer Hassan & Sons’ growth came predominantly from a transaction to acquire convenience stores from G&M Oil Co., another Southern California c-store/gas retailer. The September 2020 deal added 11 locations to Hassan & Sons' network.

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GROWTH CHAINS This is a trend that will continue, according to the M&A experts who spoke with CSNews. "They are more keen than ever to the strong investment returns and resilience of the retail fuels and convenience sector, even in the face of severe economic disruptions," said Shriber. Private equity’s interest level could depend on interest rates remaining low, Monroe reasoned. "It will continue, and more than likely pick up speed, as long as the Federal Reserve is keeping the flow of money at a cheap rate," he said. "Investors are starving for yield on their money and have very few places to go to invest their money to get return on their investment." The convenience channel also benefits from being a "tried and true" industry that’s received national recognition as an essential service during the pandemic, Monroe cited. "The convenience store industry is an industry that anyone can understand, because on the surface it looks like all you do is put some products on the shelf and people come to you and pay you for the products and they go away," he said. "Even though the convenience store business is not as simple as it looks, it is an easy sell to investors. Plus, it is a cash business where there are not a lot of receivables and it generates a lot of cash flow, which investors like to see." Similarly, Montgomery expects private equity firms to continue making inroads in the channel. "This industry got a lot of attention during the last recession. We were seen as recession proof," he said. "People needed to buy fuel and we were the place to buy it. I've seen stats that 80 percent of the gasoline sold in the U.S. is by c-stores. The industry has the ability to survive difficult times, as proven once again during the pandemic."

The Future of Growth In previous years, many of CSNews’ top growth chains reached the No. 1 spot through major acquisitions. Opinions vary on whether there are any big deals left to be made — some experts are skeptical, while others expect the large chains to begin feeding on one another. With Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc. preparing to close on its $21-billion acquisition of Enon, Ohio-based Speedway LLC, Shriber believes other major acquisitions are not likely for the foreseeable future, unless activists take a run at Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores Inc. or San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron. Instead, he sees industry growth coming in other forms. "For existing owners or operators, the growth is in the ability to increase rent, consumer-based technologies, and in more expansive foodservice," he said. "On the M&A front, it will be in acquisitions of smaller chains with store counts in the five to 30-plus range, which is where we put our focus.” Ruben likewise doesn't see many plausible large deals in the pipeline, noting that among the big players left are family-owned and -operated businesses or privately held companies that have shown no interest in selling.

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NO. 18 Stewart's Shops Corp. Ballston Spa, N.Y. 2021 Store Count: 351 2020 Store Count: 338 Increase: 13 (3.8%)

About the company's growth: Stewart's Shops invested $45 million in 17 new or rebuilt stores in 2020 — the last year of its $245-million, five-year store investment plan. Included in 2020's efforts were seven new stores and 10 rebuilt stores. The new stores measure roughly 3,975 square feet, compared to its 2,500-square-foot legacy stores — with some in the North Country region of New York State coming in at 4,100 square feet.

NO. 19 RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. Atlanta 2021 Store Count: 566 2020 Store Count: 554 Increase: 12 (2.2%)

About the company's growth: RaceTrac is not only focused on growing the size of its network, but also its reach. In late 2019, the company made its Tennessee debut and embarked on a journey to open up to 50 stores in Middle Tennessee within the next five years. Next up is the retailer’s reentry into Alabama after a 15-year absence in the state.

NO. 20 Pilot Co.

Knoxville, Tenn. 2021 Store Count: 699 2020 Store Count: 688 Increase: 11 (1.6%)

About the company's growth: Pilot Flying J started 2020 with a new name, Pilot Co., in a move that not only unified its portfolio under one umbrella, but also set the stage for future growth. Among its new locations last year were travel centers in Washington State, Illinois and Texas. The company also worked to expand its One9 Fuel Network.



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"Looking ahead, I think a lot more growth will be organic vs. acquisitions, especially expanding into new or competing markets." — Dennis Ruben, NCR Realty & Capital Advisors LLC "Although some of the latter operators have grown by acquisition, most have grown organically," he said. "Looking ahead, I think a lot more growth will be organic vs. acquisitions, especially expanding into new or competing markets." On the buyer side, the industry's consolidation will continue to be much more dominated by the larger players than the small to midsize marketers for the foreseeable future, according to John Flippen Jr., managing director of Petroleum Capital & Real Estate LLC (PetroCapRE). Speaking during the recent OPIS Fuel Price & Profitability Outlook virtual conference, Flippen noted that the larger players have a lower cost of capital, more funding options, and can achieve synergies unavailable to smaller players. Midsize operators do have opportunities to expand through acquisition, but Flippen said it's not through the professionally marketed sites. Rather, it's through local competitors and generational changes taking place at fellow operators in their market.

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"You have to be ready and take advantage of it if you can," he said. Radosevich also sees room for small operators and midsize chains to grow. "Midsized companies will grow through acquisitions of smaller companies that fall below a threshold of size for the big players, or are located in areas where the big guys don't have critical mass," he predicts.

Room for All? With all the movement at the top, the industry’s small operators may be feeling left out. "Small chains will increasingly find it more difficult to compete with large firms. Midsize chains with 70 to 100-plus sites are firmly entrenched and can compete at the street level and attract lucrative deals from fuel suppliers, so they have a favorable outlook as long as they remain competitive with their facilities, food offerings, technology, loyalty, etc.," Shriber said. Monroe predicts that smaller, family-owned operators that keep their costs down will stay in business, but midsize chains will eventually have to merge with a larger operator or sell. "I have had many discussions where I will consult with a midsize operator and explain to them [that] in order for them to continue in business, they are going to have to spend so many millions of dollars to be able to compete going forward," he said. "Their choice is either

spend the money to compete, sell out and make a profit now, or attempt to stay in the game and watch their market share erode away as the larger chains begin to encroach into their marketplace. This may sound brash, but it is the reality of the business and it will continue." Monroe compared the current trajectory of the convenience channel to Walmart's effect on local retailers, noting that increased competition has prompted c-stores to grow in size in order to sell more merchandise to make the same amount of money. "The size of the store moved up to 3,000-3,500 [square feet], and now it just keeps getting bigger," he said. "So, we will have big, supersized convenience stores, mom-and-pop convenience stores, dollar stores. The larger chains of stores get better deals from their vendors, which puts the smaller chains in a bad place to begin with, so they are struggling from the outset with having to pay more for their products." Ken Currier and Aaron Cutler, principal consultants at Gilford, N.H.-based C-Store Investments LLC, which focuses on smaller companies that have good locations, echo that most of the selling activity over the next several years will be around small operators and midsize chains. "Many of these operators have developed a network of stores over the past 15 to 20 years and are now looking to exit. We also are working with buyers who are expanding their network through the acquisition of smaller chains, or are developing new-to-industry locations," they said.

METHODOLOGY The Convenience Store News Top 20 Growth Chains report is based on store count figures provided by TDLinx, a service of Nielsen. This is the tenth year that CSNews has partnered with TDLinx to identify the c-store retailers that added the most convenience stores in the past year. A convenience store is defined as a store that includes a broad merchandising mix, extended hours of operation and a minimum of 500 SKUs. Fueling stations with small kiosk stores do not meet the official definition and thus are not reflected in TDLinx’s store count figures. The store counts are based on the “Ultimate Parent Owner,” the corporate owner of the banners/stores.

Many smaller operators are opting to sell vs. making the large capital investments required for future sustainability, Currier and Cutler noted. Strong pricing, buoyed by low interest rates, strong margins and competitive bidding, is also influencing the decision to sell. By and large, as the industry consolidates more and more, it is going to get harder for small to midsize operators to compete for multiple reasons, the way Ruben sees it. "[Smaller operators] don't have the buying power that big players do, the marketing power and most times, there is the issue of having to get financing from the bank, which larger players do not need to do," he said. "On the other hand, there are players who have found a niche and who understand their customers, and therefore have a stronghold on market share." Looking longer term, convenience retailers will have to contend with the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects that the new administration will have on business, and how the new work-at-home setting will change fuel sales and in-store foot traffic. CSN


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Convenience Store News



GOING THE EXTRA MILE Sixteen convenience channel suppliers earn the title of Category Captain in this year’s awards By Susan E. Durtschi, Past Times Marketing

store industry had to adjust in 2020, with cleanliness and contactless solutions coming to the forefront and making it even more critical for retailers and suppliers to work together to squeeze as much sales and profit out of every product category as possible.


Based on this year’s entries in Convenience Store News’ Category Captains awards program, many leading suppliers partnered closely with their c-store customers to create successful solutions for today’s retail environment. While 2020 was a difficult year for both retailers and suppliers, the 2021 Category Captains displayed exceptional leadership, resilience, determination, and willingness to embrace change in a year of unprecedented challenges. Sixteen suppliers and distributors in 17 product categories have been chosen as this year’s honorees. Now in its eighth year, the awards program celebrates outstanding category management by suppliers to the c-store industry. All entries were judged based on: • Product innovation; • Creativity in merchandising, marketing, promotion and advertising; • Use of consumer insights to drive entire category sales; • Innovative and dynamic category management tools; • Demonstrated commitment to meeting the specific needs of retailer customers; • Efficiently lifting sales for the entire product category; and • Fact-based evidence of market-specific or account-specific results. Past Times Marketing, a consumer research and product evaluation firm based in New York, once again judged the entries based on information supplied by participating companies.

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This year’s Category Captains are:

Alternative Snacks: Link Snacks Link Snacks kept its customers close, even if they met more on a virtual level. With sales drastically shifting, especially during March and April of 2020, many retailers wanted to analyze data not just against a year ago, but also to pre-COVID and post-COVID results. Link Snacks invested in research and insights to examine its product and consumers in c-stores, not just in the main ambient location within the store, but also on the complete refrigerated protein snacking set. Consumers’ shopping habits within convenience stores shifted drastically in 2020. The morning daypart was (and still is) being disrupted, with many people working from home and no longer making morning commutes. Nevertheless, consumers still utilized convenience stores for their fill-in trips or as a lunchtime option. Meat snacks proved to be a popular snack and meal replacement option as dollar sales increased 11 percent in 2020 while other center-store categories struggled. One important thing Link Snacks learned during the pandemic was that consumers were trading up to value-sized options not only in jerky, but also for resealable multipack stick offerings. Most unwrapped/ bulk jerky was discontinued or put on hold for the early parts of the pandemic. As consumers shifted their spending from foodservice to fresh wrapped items, Link Snacks helped retailers with data-driven insights to ensure the best assortment in their refrigerated cases. Refrigerated meat snack dollars grew 16.7 percent in 2020, and Jack Link’s Cold Crafted brand grew 48.6 percent. This Category Captain also helped many retailers move forward with larger projects, such as increasing their main location of meat snacks, adding secondary placements throughout the store, and creating


queueing lines to help direct customer flow to these products.

that supports the reset process through improved accuracy, validation, transparency and reporting.

In these times, many consumers have shifted back to the brands they know, trust and value. Jack Link’s claimed the third-largest snacking brand in center-store convenience in 2020 with 10.2 percent dollar growth. Link Snacks continues to be a trusted source, bringing multiple data sources and platforms to deliver insights to help retailers have the best assortments and stay ahead of the unknowns.

The company’s investments into shopper research and category capabilities were recognized by retailers and led to a number of new and expanded captaincies at such retailers as GPM, EG Group and RaceTrac Petroleum. Existing AB category captaincies include the majority of the top 20 convenience retailers, including Circle K, 7-Eleven, Speedway, Casey’s, Murphy USA, MAPCO, Jackson’s, Sheetz, Kum & Go, Wawa, Maverik and Allsup’s. According to the company, the average beer category growth rate was 3.1 percent higher at retailers where AB was the captain, compared to those retailers where AB was not the captain.

Beer/Malt Beverages: Anheuser-Busch In the past year, Anheuser-Busch (AB) shared its insights and solutions with its key retailer partners and across the entire convenience store industry through partnerships with NACS and IRI. The company reviewed 2019 incoming retail trends, introduced a global framework for understanding the shopper evolution through COVID, highlighted key changes in consumption and shopper behavior, and identified the top trends to focus on in order to capture business growth opportunities for the convenience channel. One trend Anheuser-Busch identified initially was that shoppers wanted larger pack sizes and trusted brands, so AB worked with retailers to leverage warm and ambient space to ensure in-stock availability on top core packages to meet shopper needs. In order to support space and assortment decisions through the 2020/2021 resets, AB invested in and rolled out several new technologies. Key among these was the rollout of IRI Incrementality, a program that helped identify the most incremental packages in stores while also supporting SKU rationalization during a time when in-stock availability was a key retailer priority. Additionally, AB established an exclusive partnership with ShelfIQ, an industry-leading merchandising software

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Candy: The Hershey Co. In the third quarter of 2019, a price increase took place on king size and standard bars across the entire confection category. As a result, king size bars were going to be crossing the $2 threshold on-shelf for the first time. Advanced price models that predict shopper behavior due to price action suggested that yearover-year unit conversion on king size bars could be as low as 82 percent; a $189-million risk to the confection category. Understanding the need to build baskets per transaction to counter unit conversion forecasts, Hershey partnered with Eversight, a price optimization software suite, to understand which everyday two-unit prices resonated with the c-store shopper on king size and standard bars. From the test, Hershey found that simplified pricing — pricing that is easy for the shopper to quickly calculate — drove the greatest engagement despite having a less than 10 percent discount from the regular price. In 2020, the company partnered with retailers and distributors to execute its “Everyday Multiples” pricing strategy across 28,000 convenience stores. In one example of innovation driving category results at a partner retailer, Hershey worked with Waze Media, the GPS navigation app, to improve results at 7-Eleven. When sales declined during the peak of the pandemic, 7-Eleven approached Hershey’s omnichannel marketing team for a strategy to drive foot traffic back to the stores. Hershey found that while driver volume was still






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down in April and May, consumers were driving longer distances, opting for road travel rather than air. The analysis suggested more drivers could hit the road long term with gasoline demand possibly surpassing 2019 levels. By June, Waze navigations to c-stores fully recovered and were up 17 percent in August compared with pre-COVID levels. Through this analysis, Hershey decided to lean into Waze to drive foot traffic to 7-Eleven by promoting its “King Size Multiple Price” strategy.

merchandiser offering THC-free and lower pricepoint Happy Place gummies. • After placing Happy Place merchandisers, a c-store chain of 20 locations across the Midwest is averaging two to six units per day across the entire chain. • A travel plaza selling three brands of CBD prior to placement of two Happy Place merchandisers sold out of 144 Happy Place gummy units in just five days.

Foodservice/Turnkey Foodservice Solutions: Eby-Brown

CBD: Happy Place CBD products have seen major growth during the year of the pandemic. The Happy Place brand was built for c-stores; created by c-store professionals to specifically appeal to c-store shoppers. The products are designed, priced and positioned just right, offering a compact, clear acrylic merchandiser (small enough to fit on a front counter), low retail pricing (all products are under $10), low cost of entry, guaranteed 100 percent THC-free products, and marketing and education tools to train and inform both staff and consumers. Happy Place is a data-driven, compliancebased organization with more than five years of experience in the medical cannabis space and a combined 50 years of experience in the convenience store industry. It is a fun brand serious about quality. Knowing c-store customers are oftentimes people who drive for work every day, Happy Place recognizes the importance of offering a product that is non-intoxicating and guaranteed to be THC-free. It uses pure Isolate CBD manufactured in a Food and Drug Administration registered facility with GMP certification and openly published third-party test results. Happy Place has 150-plus placements and is growing exponentially. Among the company’s results: • A leading c-store chain went from selling one unit of competitor branded gummies per week to 17 Happy Place units per week by positioning a front-facing

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Eby Foodservice offers its retailer partners vital, collaborative support in strategy, operations, product development and strategic marketing. Take, for example, Eby’s recent experience with a long-term partner looking for new foodservice opportunities. Throughout the last year, Eby teamed with this retail chain to expand the scope of its offerings, with the vision of leaving behind the typical c-store environment for a rebranded model featuring upscale formats and an extensive food selection that would compete with local restaurants. Eby professionals took the client’s concept and pushed its limits. Going beyond basic c-store frozen pizzas and breakfast sandwiches, they collaborated on a component-based program that would build delicious food, a solid following of local customers, and a beneficial stream of revenue. First, they developed turnkey programs with superior private-label ingredients. Recipes were developed using a team of Eby culinary experts (more than 25 chefs are on staff) who crafted a line of creatively flavored breaded chicken sandwich items featuring flavors like Cordon Bleu, Buffalo and Parmesan, among others. Then, they provided tactical store support and consultative services. Eby equipped the stores with branded paper products, uniforms and store supplies to match the new concept. Tackling food production, the retailer was focused on high-end Turbo-Chef ovens, which Eby sourced for all the new concept stores at their request. After a series of taste-tests and product demonstrations, more than 150 new items would fill the menu, anchored by mainstays of hot sandwiches and individual made-to-order pizzas. Informed by its experience in multiple regions across the U.S., the Eby team introduced products like Nathan’s Hot Dogs, a highly successful brand from the East Coast that would set these stores apart from local competitors. At breakfast, space was made for a proprietary French Toast sandwich conceived by EbyBrown, which quickly became the No. 1 breakfast item.


To support the store staff through the transition, Eby-Brown produced customized operation manuals. Culinary partners then visited each store as it opened, working alongside the staff for weeks, offering skilled, on-the-job instruction as they acclimated to the new menu.

at home during the pandemic. This provided a 3 percent lift in sales during the promotion. • Hy-Vee and ICEE worked together on a 99-cent any size ICEE and ICEE slush, and a $1.99 Nitro coffee. This resulted in a 24 percent lift in 2020. • Bolla Oil utilized ICEE’s most modern and unique merchandising with video door translite technology, an outstanding display with digital and custom ICEE graphics. • In the summer of 2020, High’s of Baltimore had ICEE machines installed as part of a rebranding. The Maryland-based retailer upgraded to frozen carbonated beverages from its slush programs. Most locations have more than doubled their sales despite the pandemic.

Foodservice/Cold & Frozen Beverages: The ICEE Co. The ICEE Co.’s c-store partners have created successful frozen beverage programs serving ICEE, Slush Puppie, frozen Nitro coffee and premium frozen lemonade. ICEE provides a full turnkey solution to retailers, a full offering of branded flavor concentrates from leading brands, co-branded flavors, a full-service partnership, marketing support, beverage industry insights, and customer service. The equipment offered by ICEE is more customizable than ever before, allowing retailers to dispense multiple product types and flavors out of one machine. Despite a challenging year due to the pandemic, many of ICEE’s core customers reported increases last year. The company’s R&D team launched flavors such as “Red, White and Boom,” “Baby Narwhal,” “Elf” and “Mermaid” to help create whimsical experiences for consumers. ICEE also launched a “100 Days of Summer” campaign to help c-stores capture the attention of consumers taking road trips due to their aversion to air travel during the pandemic. A few retailer case studies illustrate the creative marketing and merchandising by ICEE that produced great results: • ICEE and MAPCO executed a First Day of Summer value promotion in June 2020. All 16-ounce drinks were 20 cents all day on June 4. Four thousand ICEE beverages were sold on this single day across the chain. • ICEE and Huck’s held a Movie Night promotion (buy two ICEEs, get free popcorn) that provided value and helped consumers enjoy their movie nights

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Foodservice/Hot Beverages: Franke Coffee Systems With cleanliness and contactless solutions coming to the forefront in 2020, retailers are now looking for partners that will work with them to come up with innovation solutions. During 2020 and presently, Franke Coffee Systems partnered closely with its customers to ensure successful coffee solutions for today’s c-store environment. As one of the only coffee equipment manufacturers to provide free webinars on coffee trends, insights for c-stores and specific research data, Franke has armed c-store operators with an understanding of how to market their coffee programs during COVID. Additionally, Franke has worked with c-store operators across the U.S. to help educate consumers on how to use Franke’s coffee systems, which include selfcontained coffee, milk and syrups. The company also worked with c-store operators throughout the year to put emphasis on its automatic cleaning systems. With less labor requirements than traditional units, Franke’s system allows c-store staff to have minimal contact with customers, and provides enhanced consumer confidence and safety. Continuing to innovate, Franke introduced the Franke Touchless feature to its Digital Services offering. This option enables customers to use their mobile phone camera to scan a QR code, which then populates the available coffee beverages for selection on their phone. Despite a challenging year, Franke continued to provide innovative solutions and execute large-scale rollouts for c-store operators such as 7-Eleven, Sheetz and Family Express, to name a few. In February 2020, 7-Eleven introduced its new bean-to-cup Franke equipment at the 7-Eleven Experience show for franchisees.


Sheetz continued to educate consumers on its Franke equipment utilizing social media platforms throughout the year. And in October, Family Express announced a chainwide bean-to-cup rollout in partnership with Franke Coffee Systems to all of its stores. These rollouts included working hand-in-hand on menu development, executing trainings, and focusing on cleaning.

beverage stations with multiple topping options that enable customers to craft custom drinks. With consumers eating more comfort foods — like pizza — while also seeking healthy and better-foryou foods, Rich’s offered products key to a c-store’s foodservice success during the pandemic. Rich’s plantbased pizza crusts, for example, allow c-stores to meet both those consumer needs. The supplier recently launched an expanded plant-based pizza and flatbread portfolio, with each product composed of at least 20 percent vegetables. With the help of Rich’s, a Midwest c-store chain grew its pizza by the slice and whole pizza program by 14 percent in same-store sales. Offering Rich’s pizza for hot grab-and-go, online ordering and select drive-thru locations helped achieve this growth.

Foodservice/Prepared Food: Rich Products Aiming to be a resource for every operator’s foodservice needs, Rich’s hosted two c-store virtual roundtables in 2020 that enabled 25 store leaders to share best practices and develop solutions. The supplier and retailers shared challenges, strategies and approaches to new product innovation and new ventures. To help c-store operators maintain strong baked-goods sales during the pandemic, Rich’s commissioned research on “Reimagining the C-Store Bakery Case.” A coronavirus research study by Datassential found that less than half of consumers trust other shoppers at c-stores; therefore, it’s no surprise that two out of five consumers consider self-service bakery items to be unsafe and more than 90 percent of consumers think c-stores need to make changes to their current safety measures as a response to the pandemic. Rich’s shared this research with c-stores and offered solutions, such as: incorporating visual cues communicating safety and sanitation, more protective packaging, and implementation of a virtual bakery case through apps for curbside pickup or delivery. Additionally, in June 2020, Rich’s conducted a weeklong “Talking Toppings” study to explore the impact of COVID-19 on consumer perceptions, preferences and purchase behaviors around customized beverages in c-stores. The study helped identify a need for c-stores to shift consumers’ view on topped beverages from functional to emotional, and offer enhanced

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General Merchandise: McLane Co. Inc. As rules, regulations and guidelines have evolved throughout the pandemic, McLane has seen an increase in demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items. Consumers are looking for masks and sanitizing agents, so McLane increased its offerings and inventories in these areas. Many states and municipalities have mandated the use of face masks. Through its retailer and supplier partnerships, McLane anticipates carrying this new subcategory throughout 2021. PPE offerings are new to the general merchandise mix, so McLane is helping retailers ensure that the sources for these items are reliable and of good quality. The distributor has also worked with customers to merchandise these products in a variety of locations throughout their stores. Endcaps specifically designed to market these items along with other cleaning and sanitizing products have been very successful. McLane has had stores merchandise PPE products on the front counter as well, or in a display near the entrance for ease of access and purchase, especially in those areas of the country where masks are required. Through this effort, the new subcategory has gone from zero sales to more than $18 million across McLane’s network, and the company expects to see continued PPE sales through most or all of 2021.


Health & Beauty Care: Lil’ Drug Store Products

As the nation’s largest c-store distributor, McLane helped to source new suppliers and earned its customers’ respect by holding each new entrant to the same quality standards as expected by retailers. McLane has increased its inventories and offerings in these areas and worked diligently at managing allocations, filling basic needs, and keeping options on the shelves.

Lil’ Drug Store Products takes the complexity out of the health and beauty care (HBC) category for retailers. The distributor helps break down the category’s constantly changing SKUs, item numbers, UPCs and subcategories.

McLane expects longstanding impacts from the pandemic through 2021. As it maintains relationships with its new suppliers, McLane is enthusiastic that it will help increase stock levels and bring in items that will add incremental value as c-stores find the new norm.

A true data-driven category partner, Lil’ Drug Store helps maximize HBC sales and profit dollars. The company provides retailers with action steps for implementation today and the near future. Lil’ Drug Store has implemented a four-week HBC Trends report to track the COVID19 impact to sales, as well as consumer behaviors and attitudes. The company’s retailer partners have responded positively to the report. “Thank you so much for sharing. The insights are extremely helpful as we adjust our customer offerings!” commented one retailer customer. A 500 plus-store national convenience chain saw a 10.2 percent dollar and 2.2 percent unit sales increase by implementing the Lil’ Drug Store planogram, while a 300 plusstore chain achieved a 20 percent dollar sales increase within the first 90 days of implementation.

Nonedible Grocery: McLane Co. Inc. Consumer behavior changed dramatically as the pandemic swept the country. All trade classes saw huge increases in paper and cleaning/sanitizing products as consumers began to stockpile dry goods. Sanitizing products became scarce. Retailers had to be open to new options such as nonbranded products and unfamiliar brands. Companies quickly shifted their business models to produce high-demand options, causing many new suppliers to enter the marketplace.

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Other Tobacco Products/Cigars: Cheyenne International Known for making a high-quality filtered cigar at a reasonable price, Cheyenne International is committed to its partnerships with retailers and strives to improve OTP category profitability for them. The company goes beyond the pack and provides successful merchandising solutions, a strict focus on regulatory compliance, and specialized retail programs that ensure store owners are armed with everything they need to prosper and grow their OTP profits. Featuring a product that is proudly made in the USA and 100 percent guaranteed, Cheyenne Cigars are a leader in the marketplace. Nationwide, Cheyenne holds the top three cigar SKUs: Menthol at No. 1, Full Flavor at No. 2, and Wild Cherry at No. 3. Of the top five SKUs nationwide, Cheyenne Filtered Cigars represent 80 percent of those SKUs. Looking at the volume of the national top five filtered cigar SKUs, Cheyenne accounts for 85 percent of that volume. Its nationwide market share of filtered cigars is 22 percent.

Other Tobacco Products/E-Cigarette & Vape Products: E-Alternative Solutions During the past year of category changes and economic downturn, E-Alternative Solutions’ Leap brand has kept a strong place in the market. With memorable menthol and tobacco pod blends and a line of disposable e-cigarettes, Leap continues to grow month over month. While many pod-based vapor manufacturers have experienced hardship due to the national flavor ban and the popularity of disposable e-cigarettes, Leap vapor

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products experienced success. In 2019, Leap and Leap Go had a 4 percent market share in stores carrying these products, and grew to a 4.5 percent share during a tumultuous 2020. The Leap Go brand also grew as adult consumers rediscovered disposable ecigarettes, enjoying their flavored options and ease of use. The brand’s satisfying Fresh Mango, Mint and Smooth Tobacco flavors brought consumers back to the store. Despite having less than a 1 percent market share in 2019, Leap Go more than doubled to reach a 1.4 percent market share in stores carrying the brand in 2020. Stores with Leap products in their assortment benefit, with chain stores carrying Leap selling an average of 70 e-category units per store per week (UPSPW). Leap products sell seven UPSPW within chains and five UPSPW in independent stores. In October 2020, Leap Kits outsold competitors in gross UPSPW, signaling steady, healthy growth and leadership in the category. In 2020, Leap revamped its loyalty program with Leap Smart Rewards, enticing consumers to come back to the store. Currently, Leap Smart Rewards has more than 4,000 active members. In 2021, the program will foster even more consumers with a new points program.

Other Tobacco Products/Overall: Swisher Throughout the pandemic, Swisher was able to consistently manage inventories at both the distributor and store levels and help its trade partners meet the demand of the adult consumer. In September 2020, Swisher announced an expansion of the company’s vision, offerings and strategic focus on serving the adult consumer with five strategic businesses: Swisher Sweets Cigar Co. (cigars), Fat Lip Brands (smokeless), Drew Estates (premium cigars), Hempire (hemp products), and Rogue Holdings (modern oral nicotine). Throughout this evolution, Swisher has continued to innovate in the OTP category. For example, the newly emerging Modern Oral Nicotine (MON) segment is quickly becoming a key sales and profit driver. Oral nicotine pouch sales were up 26.3 percent in dollar sales year over year for the

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52-week period ending Oct. 3, according to a report by Goldman Sachs. Swisher’s Rogue Nicotine On Demand is designed to be the next level of nicotine satisfaction for the person on the go. The only company to offer products in all four formats — gums, lozenges, pouches and tablets — Rogue delivers tobacco-free nicotine in a smoke-free, spit-free way. It can be either a complement (add-on) or a substitute for a traditional tobacco sale. An important component of Swisher’s evolution is Success Simplified, a service platform that makes success easier and profitable for trade partners. The platform is based on the tenets of Innovation, Insights, Action, Reliability and Shared Success. These are delivered through a one-stop shop offering of products, creative packaging, advanced manufacturing technologies, product guarantees, and shared performance programs.

Packaged Beverages: The Coca-Cola Co. In 2019, The Coca-Cola Co. identified an unmet need among mainstream water drinkers for more engaging flavor variety. This presented an opportunity to drive continued growth within the water category by expanding upon its premium water brand, smartwater. Beverage industry data showed that flavored water led the growth in the booming premium water category, and consumer research noted that 60 percent of mainstream water drinkers were willing to trade up to premium flavored water at a higher price point. With this in mind, Coca-Cola looked to expand upon the already robust product offerings within its smartwater portfolio by adding still, flavored varieties. Looking to differentiate these products and expand the category as a whole, Coca-Cola drew flavor inspiration from the “spa water” trend. During the time of development, social conversation around spa water was increasing almost 25 percent year over year. And there was a more than 30 percent increase in consumers looking for water products that felt like a reward or indulgence. Coca-Cola curated a portfolio of flavors that encapsulated the spa water movement, maximizing their appeal to mainstream water drinkers. The move accomplished its goal of bringing new drinkers into the category with the timely, innovative launch of smartwater still flavors. In the first month of launch, 55.7 percent of households that purchased smartwater still flavors were new to the smartwater portfolio. Additionally, not only were the smartwater still flavors a success for the brand, but they also grew the overall


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flavored, ingredient-enhanced water category. In 2020, despite the pandemic and corresponding economic downturn, smartwater still flavors were a top driver in the category, responsible for $25 million in growth for the convenience channel.

Packaged Sweet Snacks: McKee Foods Corp. In the midst of COVID-19, McKee Foods recognized the trends of decreased foot traffic and higher spend per trip, and pursued creative solutions to retain a healthy packaged sweet snacks category. The supplier uses Opportunity Gap Analysis with retailers nationwide to show where a retailer can gain market share through a specific brand, subcategory, or even specific products. This has led to


uncovering where retailers can take advantage of the growing trend in take-home products, as consumers are attempting to limit the number of stores they enter during a trip. Having multipack products in the store has led to incremental sales for the category at some convenience retailers that added the product because of the McKee analysis. Another way McKee drove innovation and growth in 2020 was through working with retailers to develop shopper-marketing programs that align with both the supplier’s and the retailer’s opportunity. One initiative that has led to growth for the brand, as well as the whole sweet snacks category, has been collaborating with the foodservice operations of retailers. Co-promotions in partnership with fountain drinks, hot beverages and food have led to high incremental sales and increased household growth. McKee Foods also leveraged the loyalty apps of retailers, unlocking the ability to target lapsed category buyers with promotions. With second-mile delivery service becoming an important part of the consumer’s path to purchase, McKee believes loyalty programs like these will become even more influential in the future.

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category has remained relatively constant over the past year, according to VideoMining data, even though COVID-19 has negatively impacted store traffic. Fifteen out of every 100 people who walk into a c-store shop the salty snacks category.

Salty Snacks: General Mills Convenience & Foodservice General Mills’ category management team wants retailers to think differently about the salty snacks category, broadening it to incorporate a wider assortment of snacks and create destination sets in the store. The team partners with distributors and retailers to build high-impact planograms (POGs). They do this by using the most current shopper behavior data from VideoMining, leveraging custom research, and remaining true to the sales data (both Nielsen and retailer-specific). The percentage of convenience store shoppers who engage in the salty snacks

However, one of the key shopper changes that VideoMining has reported over the past year is the marked decrease in time spent shopping the salty snack set. Prior to the pandemic, salty snack shopping time averaged 22 seconds. In the third quarter of 2020, that dropped to 18 seconds. The nearly 20-percent reduction in shopping time amplifies the need for impactful shelf sets that are both shoppable and meet shopper needs while driving dollar sales. At the same time that shoppers are spending less time in the store, they are buying more per visit — basket size has increased by more than a $1 (from $9.24 to $10.54), and salty snacks gained 27 cents of that increase. The combination of less shopping time and increased willingness to spend more in the store translates into opportunities for the retailer if their POGs are optimal and shoppable across categories. CSN

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CONTACTLESS: Gain consumer trust with a system that includes self-contained coffee. Additionally, retailers can provide optional paper screen protectors which work with Franke’s touchscreen, providing minimal touch points for dispensing. CLEANLINESS: Operate safely and efficiently with an automatic cleaning system. With less labor requirements than traditional units, c-store team members will have minimal contact and more time to focus on consumers.

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Global Trendspotting Consumers seek out new flavors to enjoy in the comfort of their homes the aisles of the grocery store, there are so many globally influenced brands driving innovation forward. According to Datassential’s Global Retail Trendspotting report, 53 percent of consumers are “interested in seeing more globally inspired food and beverage at their local retail store.”


It’s not just independent retailers hopping on this trend, either. Retail leaders including Target and Trader Joe’s have showcased private-label and niche global products handpicked for their shelves. These products range from a hint of spice from Mexican cuisine to complex, Japanese umami flavors, as consumers seek out new flavors to enjoy in the comfort of their homes.

Saucy Selections When we think of convenience store trends, sauce might not be top of mind. But for many Americans, it’s become normal to keep packets of ketchup or even sriracha in the glove department of their car for eating on the go. As younger consumers drive trends forward, more consumers are looking for a spicier option, such as chipotle ketchup or sriracha aioli, which are more loved by millennials and Gen Z, according to Datassential’s FLAVOR database.

Spice Up Your Water Sparkling water continues to capture retail markets as the demand becomes more prevalent for innovative flavors. But with so many options, consumers can become overwhelmed. One company, Sanzo, calls its calamansi sparkling water “the cure for seltzer fatigue.” Calamansi isn’t a common fruit — this tangy citrus is native to the Philippines and used throughout Asian cuisine. Sanzo is the first Asian-inspired sparkling water brand made with real fruit like mango and lychee and zero added sugar.

A Taste That Doesn’t Wafer Stroopwafels are a Dutch treat consisting of two crispy, thin waffles sandwiching caramel syrup, often enjoyed by warming on top of a cup of coffee or tea to soften the caramel until it is perfectly gooey. This dessert earned attention before when it was offered as a complimentary snack on United Airlines and reimagined as an ingredient in ice cream sold at Trader Joe’s. Last year, Burgerville showcased stroopwafels in its Sea Salted Caramel Shake, where it was used as a decoration. This limited-time offer was not only a hit with younger generations, but also skewed toward Gen X for high purchase intent. CSN

OPERATOR: Burgerville DATE: January 2020 PRICE: $5.89 ITEM TYPE: Limited-Time Offer DESCRIPTION: The Sea Salted Caramel Shake starts with Cajetaa goats milk caramel made by our friends at Portland Creamery. We mix it with ice cream and a dash of cherrywood smoked Oregon sea salt. Then we top it with whipped cream and a locally-made stroopwafel for a smooth, sophisticated shake.



definitely or probably would buy

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Datassential, a Chicago-based food and beverage industry research and consulting firm, brings clients real-world insights on flavor trends, foodservice and consumer packaged goods, globally. Learn more at datassential.com.

64 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m





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Elevating & Optimizing Grab-and-Go Changing consumer habits due to COVID-19 put this segment in a strong competitive position By Angela Hanson FOR SOME CONVENIENCE store

operators, graband-go is a reliable segment of their foodservice program that offers the basics, but doesn't generate the same excitement as seasonal, customizable and limited-time made-toorder (MTO) prepared food. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic upending nearly all aspects of the foodservice category, the time has never been better to optimize grab-and-go and build its own appeal. "Grab-and-go has often been treated as a secondary offer to made-to-order options, whether it is in positioning of grab-and-go warmers, packaging, maintaining appearance of freshness," said Megan Sandlin, customer planning and development manager at Tyson Foods. "As consumers have become more time compressed in the mornings and between dayparts, grab-and-go is a good way to appeal to consumers looking for quick or a mini-meal." Pandemic-related safety precautions that have prompted c-stores to suspend self-service offerings, and customers' desire to limit their exposure to the general public, puts grab-andgo in a strong competitive position these days. To make the most of this opportunity, c-store

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operators should use tactics that fit the segment, according to industry experts. "Grab-and-go suffers from getting lost in the mix — poor merchandising or executional issues, both of which can impede sales," Sandlin said. To address this, suggested moves include promoting grab-and-go through point-of-purchase merchandising and strategic positioning; placing grab-and-go items near easily bundled items such as coffee and dispensed beverages; and making sure employees can easily monitor product without having to go out of their way to check for out-of-stock situations. Retailers can also place rolling warmer carts closer to the checkout area for increased visibility to boost impulse purchases. "Suppliers can also help with recommendations on what offers make [the] most sense to be a grab-andgo offer," Sandlin added.

What to Offer & How to Offer It La Crosse, Wis.-based convenience store chain Kwik Trip Inc. is known for its strong grab-and-go program, which has continued to thrive during the pandemic. Foodservice Director Paul Servais says the key to keeping the program compelling is a regular offering of limited-time offers (LTOs) working in tandem with

your shelves. Gratify their cravings.

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Kwik Trip stays true to its internal motto of quality food at a value price.

a great core of breakfast and lunch sandwiches. "We keep sprinkling in LTOs to give our guests different options when they want to 'cheat' on their favorite sandwich once in a while," he said. "LTOs work great for all types of food program. Don’t ever stop believing in them!"

empty food cases at the end of the day. After years of experience, Kwik Trip has settled on the target of 8 percent waste or less on an item, which is factored in during the item development process. "We talk about waste at every meeting and it is predominate on all reports we use," Servais noted. "The food team spends a good deal of their time figuring out how to grow sales and control waste."

When it comes to price points, c-stores don't have to choose between a premium offering or a low-cost selection. Value-tier grab-and-go offerings, particularly merchandised in a warming case, can serve as a counterpoint that allows retailers to focus their made-to-order program on premium offers, while providing a value alternative for those customers who aren't interested in a higher-priced item.

Adjusting to the New Normal

At the same time, programs must not skimp on quality for the sake of a low price.

Digital ordering through mobile apps or websites is the biggest time-saver for customizable made-to-order food, but digitally promoting grab-and-go items is also a smart move, especially products that make unplanned but appealing adds-ons.

"Our internal motto has always been quality food at a value price," Servais said. "We will never change that." As retailers build their grab-and-go programs and set their prices, they must consider the cost of food waste, which is inevitable unless they stock items so cautiously that customers are likely to find 68 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

The drastic shifts driven by COVID-19 in when and how consumers purchase food means that c-store operators need to analyze traffic patterns and sales data to understand the updated status quo, particularly as the embrace of remote work means that commuter foot traffic may never return to what was once thought of as normal. The “new normal” also provides an opportunity to reboot how grab-and-go is promoted.

"Grab-and-go has always been strong for us and continues to be through the pandemic. This being said, we know we need to play in every arena to be successful long-term," Servais said. "Mobile ordering, curbside, MTO, etc., are all on our radar." C-store retailers should also think hot. While the majority of graband-go offerings are typically cold items, which can be stored longer, incorporating more warm items into the lineup can add

FOODSERVICE Retailers should always consider how their packaging can support sales.

impact to a program. With consumers driving fewer miles these days and needing to fuel up less frequently, c-stores need to give them a compelling reason to come inside the store, while allowing them to keep the trip short to limit their exposure. Comparing c-store grab-and-go offerings to those of quick-service restaurants, Marilyn Stapleton, senior director of marketing at Anchor Packaging, said: "It's even more convenient and you can get food that's just as good.” The key, she said, is "picking the right food so that you're doing it at the right time. It used to be pretty historical what peak periods would be — that's all been turned upside down." While Anchor Packaging saw an incredible surge in demand for takeout packaging in 2020, the company didn't need to do any sudden innovation. Packaging that can

keep a hot item crispy and just as tasty as if it were fresh from the fryer for up to three hours already exists. This enables retailers to use it to pre-stock their warming case with grab-and-go items that demand optimal presentation during their busiest hours, before switching to something else. Consumers are also increasingly interested in tamper-evident packaging, especially when they are ordering through third-party delivery services. The good news is that retailers don't need to invest in new takeout packaging; they can repurpose what they already have. For example, printed labels can be placed over the package opening so that it will be obvious if it has been disturbed before reaching the customer. While the onset of the pandemic pushed many c-stores to convert their prepared food items to prepackaged, the more successful

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12:25 PM

"If it doesn't look appealing, it won't drive that impulse sale."

Regardless of how c-store operators choose to optimize and enhance their grab-and-go program, they should keep in mind that in a post-pandemic world, consumers' perception of what even counts as “grab-and-go” may have permanently shifted.

— Marilyn Stapleton, Anchor Packaging

operators are the ones who "employed packaging to do more for them than it did before," said Kurt Richars, director of marketing for Anchor Packaging. The key is to match the packaging to the product in a way that provides a quality meal experience. Certain packaging might be efficient and the right size for takeout, but does it maintain freshness? Does it show off how good the food looks? Does it fog up? Retailers should always consider how their packaging can support sales. "If it doesn't look appealing, it won't drive that impulse sale," Stapleton said.

For example, curbside pickup can include orders for made-toorder food, but as far as the customer is concerned, they grab it and then they're gone. Additionally, take-home meals require extra cooking steps at home, but they offer low-effort convenience. Stapleton noted that while "the new normal" is an overused term, it's an apt one. The pandemic has changed how c-stores offer food and how consumers buy it, and those changes are not going to immediately revert back to how things were once the pandemic is over. The reality is that "normal is gone," she said, so c-stores need to find new ways to draw customers in and get ahead of both other c-stores and other foodservice operators, including quick-service restaurants. "The world is going to open up again," she said. "The question is, are you ready to compete?" CSN


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Packing a Promotional Punch Multipacks and loyalty promotions are two tactics on the rise in tobacco marketing By Renée M. Covino

since the onset of the pandemic has been supported by numerous factors, including government stimulus checks, lower spending on gasoline and entertainment, and the pantry-loading mentality of many consumers. Couple that with the fact that the average tobacco consumer is inherently value-seeking by nature, and the time has been ripe for retailers to make as many marketing/promotional offers as possible — and this is only expected to escalate in the months to come.


“As COVID restrictions ease, more consumers will find their way back into stores and they will be looking for value. Providing value will be important in all product categories, but especially tobacco,” said Gregg Augustine, executive vice president of strategic partnerships and business developments at Koupon, a leading promotion solution in small-format retail. “Those retailers that can quickly execute brand-

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funded tobacco promotion offers and communicate those offers to adult consumers in a variety of ways — in-store, app, mobile, web — will have the greatest chance to impact foot traffic, grow baskets, and build long-term loyalty.” Retailers in the convenience channel report that loyalty programs are a big promotion booster for tobacco lately. Data from Koupon Insights shows that loyalty transactions within c-stores increased by 50 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. “Tobacco brands have created their own loyalty programs to incent repeat purchases and loyalty directly with the brand over time. Retailers have the same opportunity to incent tobacco consumers to make repeat trips in-store and build loyalty with their store brand,” said Augustine. “To do so, retailers must ensure that tobacco is integrated into their own loyalty programs.” ExtraMile Convenience Stores LLC is a believer in this tactic. Ryan Blair, tobacco category manager, said the most significant change that the retailer made around

Tobacco Marketing Tip Sheet tobacco in 2020 was the introduction of tobacco loyalty as part of its ExtraMile Extras loyalty program. “While the program is just getting underway, we’re seeing transactions grow and usage numbers increase month over month,” he reported. Loyalty programs/apps are a big focus of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.’s tobacco marketing these days as well, according to Laura White, category manager. “As the technology gets better, we’re learning more how to advertise [to our tobacco customers], so we’re always gaining users and signing them on to our app,” she said, adding that “stacking” tobacco manufacturer deals on top of RaceTrac loyalty deals is a huge incentive right now. Similarly, South Carolina convenience store chain The Spinx Co. is putting “a huge focus” on loyalty for tobacco in 2021, noted Chris Dillard, category manager. In 2020, the chain ran a promotional test on vapor pods. Spinx stores offered significant savings to customers purchasing two pods in October of last year. “No one in our market was running multi-pod promotions, and we had no idea what the results would be,” Dillard admitted. The result was close to a 70-percent conversion rate from single to multi pods. “It was very expensive to do it, but incrementally, the gross profit/traffic/extra basket purchases paid for that promotion,” he relayed. Now, the chain is testing a similar pod promotion through its loyalty program.

The Multi Movement The multi-pod promotion is a spinoff of the multipack and multi-can promotions that are also popular tobacco marketing strategies for convenience stores these days. Retailers report that there was a lot of pantry-loading last year driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the multipack promotional focus hasn’t eased up yet. “We ran a multipack strategy across all tobacco to provide the best value for their purchase,” said Dillard, noting that there was “a huge increase from two-packs to three-packs, and from three-packs to cartons. Our carton volume shot through the roof.” Ray Johnson, operations manager for Speedee Mart, which operates convenience stores in Nevada, shared with Convenience Store News that when the

Want to drive more tobacco sales in your convenience stores this year? Consider these recommendations from c-store retailers and tobacco industry experts: • Integrate tobacco promotional offers into all of your retail digital properties — app, website, mobile, web — to create an omnichannel approach. • Make sure you have clear tobacco discount communication displayed for customers on your lots and in-store. • Offer some type of multipack and multi-can pricing. • Promote one value cigarette brand to pacify consumers upset over constant major manufacturer price increases. • Invest in a loyalty offer that can unlock all manufacturer funding. • Stack your everyday offers with manufacturer offers to provide your tobacco customers with the best savings through loyalty programs and apps. • Stock an extensive array of oral nicotine pouches and market them visibly. • Be flexible with out-of-stock situations, especially in cigars; replace hard-to-get cigars with what’s available and let customers know what’s going on. • Test-market new items and try to be first-to-market with new innovations. • Get out of your comfort zone from a marketing/discount perspective. • Expand your vapor assortment and market these items, as recent legislation makes it more difficult for them to be sold online and delivered directly to consumers. • Implement frictionless age-verified solutions for tobacco consumers to make purchases — mobile ordering, contactless pickup, delivery, etc. • Unhinge your tobacco space from items that don’t benefit sales in the category; get rid of products that aren’t driving volume or share, despite push from manufacturers. MARCH

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Convenience Store News



non-essential liquor stores, vape stores and smoke shops closed temporarily due to COVID, he promoted multipacks and cartons and attracted lots of customers that weren’t normally c-store shoppers. “My sales of cartons doubled — up 52 percent,” he said. Now, he’s trying to keep those customers through continued multi promotions, particularly on the premium side of tobacco around brands such as Marlboro. “As other businesses started opening back up, we still had a net gain of tobacco consumers. So, we don’t want to change what we’re doing because that’s how we got them,” he said. On the flip side, Johnson also promotes “one cheap cigarette” for the price-driven consumer. “RJR [R.J. Reynolds] did four price increases last year and every time this happens, premium tobacco consumers start looking around for cheaper. Chances are they don’t stick with it, but you don’t want to lose them while they’re mad and looking around,” he said. “You have to be ready for that — you have to take care of them while they’re upset. I try to do everything I can to not give


“As COVID restrictions ease, more consumers will find their way back into stores and they will be looking for value. Providing value will be important in all product categories, but especially tobacco.” — Gregg Augustine, Koupon these customers an excuse to go somewhere else for cigarettes.” Beyond loyalty promotions and multipacks, Energy North Group, which operates c-stores throughout New England and New York State, has recently reset all of its tobacco backbars to maximize visibility and current trends. The retailer is working with Swedish Match to optimize its

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We will continue to take advantage of all introductory and twofer deals that we are presented; however, we have scaled back on most price-centric deals.” Promotion management software, such as Koupon’s platform, is one way that c-store retailers can manage the lifecycle of tobacco promotions from setup to postprogram recap. Such platforms enable retailers to choose which brand-funded promotions to run and then let a third party manage the setup, implementation, monitor redemptions, manage budgets, reconcile payments, and provide post-program analysis and insights. These platforms also include multi-layer fraud protection to limit retailers’ financial liability with high-dollar items like tobacco. planograms and go-to-market strategy. It’s also inked an annual promotional program with Juul to increase sales and marketing opportunities. “We have shied away from any in-house promotions this past year,” said Jonathan Ketchum, vice president of retail. “With decreased foot traffic and fewer tobacco sales overall, we have opted for a full-margin strategy.

“These platforms have traditionally supported promotion offers in candy, snacks, beverages and general merchandise, but offers in tobacco or other agerestricted product categories have been limited,” explained Augustine. “Koupon has recently launched an age-restricted platform that will make offers in tobacco, alcohol, CBD and other age-restricted categories more accessible.” CSN


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Convenience Store News



Kwik Trip’s newest proprietary brew draws its inspiration from one of the retailer’s privatelabel ice cream varieties.

Exclusive Brews C-stores are gaining customers by offering them beers they can’t get elsewhere By Renée M. Covino INSPIRED BY EVERYTHING from

hot dogs to doughnuts, ice cream to watermelon gummy rings, several convenience store retailers are tapping into the local trend and partnering with area breweries to develop unique proprietary beers.

“Today’s consumer has ever-changing tastes and craves something new and fresh,” Baker added. “Convenience stores are not immune to this trend. They recognize the need to offer their customers a brand that is produced locally, and beer is the perfect commodity to fill this need.”

“With online beer sales exploding during the pandemic, it’s even more critical for c-stores to produce their own brand to gain market share. In other words, their own beer brand becomes the moat around their business,” said Andrew Baker, CEO of Cary, N.C.-based EZBrew, maker of Brewpub Systems and Brewpub Equipment.

Amidst today’s era of “online everything” shopping, online alcohol sales are ramping up considerably. Experts say the convenience channel cannot afford to take a back seat.

76 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

“It’s important to tap into regional trends. At the market level, local beer brands often hold significant share among the top sellers in their region,” noted Liz

Paquette, head of consumer insights for Drizly. The alcohol e-commerce platform, which operates in more than 100 markets across the United States and Canada, is known as “the Amazon for liquor” and is slated to be acquired this year by Uber. Paquette pointed out that in Denver, local brewers Odell Brewing Co. and Upslope Brewing are among the top 10 best-selling brands, while in New York City, Sixpoint Brewery, Montauk Brewing Co. and Brooklyn Brewery are top sellers. Keeping abreast of local top-sellers is important for c-store operators, but some chains are taking the trend a step further by partnering with breweries for their own special, limited-edition blends that consumers can’t find anywhere else but in their stores. OnCue, based in Stillwater, Okla., kicked off a brewery collaboration series in August 2020, announcing it would be teaming up with several local breweries in the months to come. The first offering released in the series was a limited-edition craft beer from Roughtail Brewing Co. — Summer of 66 blonde ale was crafted to honor OnCue’s long history in Oklahoma. The company was founded in 1966. Six-packs of the “light, crisp and undoubtedly groovy” beer rolled out to all of the chain’s 75-plus stores.

“The most exciting part of the process was definitely the can art,” relayed Tristian Torres, vice president of sales and marketing for Roughtail Brewing Co. “We were able to hear the back story of OnCue’s beginnings and Blake Behrens, the local artist responsible for all of our labels, was able to incorporate so many great details into the can.” A few months later, in December, OnCue released the second installment in its brewery collaboration series — a light-body lager named Hometown Hero. The retailer this time teamed up with Iron Monk Brewing Co. to launch the limited-edition craft beer. “This new collaboration holds a special place in all of our hearts as we face insurmountably hard times across our country,” Kim Cuellar, OnCue’s category manager of beer and wine, said at the time of the release. “Everyone has someone they think of when they hear ‘hometown hero,’ and the holidays make this the perfect time to recognize those individuals as we give thanks.” Sam Mosle, head brewer at Iron Monk, spoke with Convenience Store News about the forethought behind the partnership. He explained that OnCue knew it wanted a light beer, a Mexican-style lager, but that the specific flavor was left up to him to create. The first offering released in OnCue’s brewery collaboration series was Summer of 66 blonde ale.

The Top-Selling Beer Styles Drizly, an alcohol e-commerce platform operating in more 100 markets across the United States and Canada, allows users to order directly from local retailers through a mobile app or website. Convenience store retailers would be wise to keep abreast of the platform’s topselling beer styles as of late — perhaps for new exclusive-brew ideas. 1. Hard seltzer (overtook light lager in 2020) 2. Light lager 3. IPA 4. American-style lager 5. Pale lager While hard seltzer is expected to hold onto its lead, the five fastest-growing beer subcategories currently are hard kombucha, stout, New England/hazy IPA, American strong ale and doppelbock, according to Drizly.


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Convenience Store News


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“The lager phase — cold-aging the beer to help it clarify and mellow the flavors — takes three months from brew day to packaging day, so we had to plan farther out than say with an ale, which only takes three weeks. But we knew here in Oklahoma, our demographic consists mostly of Coors Light and Bud Light customers and it’s not as crazy for them to go from that to a lager/cerveza. We put a lot of thought into this,” he said. Mosle also shared some thoughts about the current popularity of local products. “Customers like me, I’m an environmentalist, so in our view, local is better,” he said. “It may not be a better product necessarily, but by being created locally, it keeps the business in your town. It cuts down on shipping costs and on the use of fuels to get the product delivered. This is very important to a lot of consumers today.” Another c-store chain that’s getting the hang of the local brewery team-up is La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc., operator of 700-plus convenience stores in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The retailer is on its third beer in a little over a year created in collaboration with Wisconsin brewery Karben4 Brewing. A chocolate coffee stout named Glazer Bean was Kwik Trip’s first collaboration with the Madison, Wis.-based brewery in November 2019. The c-store chain is wellknown locally for its Glazer doughnuts, which even have a candle scented like them. Next came Hot Spot Hazy IPA in May of last year. And most recently, the partnership released Urge Tracker Peanut Butter Cup Flavored Milk Stout, inspired by the Urge Tracks ice cream produced by Kwik Trip’s own dairy and sold under its proprietary Nature’s Touch brand. The vanilla ice cream is packed with chocolate fudge and peanut butter cups. Urge Tracker started being stocked in the retailer’s Kwik Trip and Stop-N-Go locations across Wisconsin beginning on Feb. 8. A unique element of this beer is a production technique called nitrogenation, which incorporates nitrogen gas into the beer, creating a creamy finish. The Kwik Trip limited beers have become so popular locally — and sell out so quickly — that Karben4 has now made a delivery schedule available on its blog. “Please use the delivery schedule to responsibly seek out this beer and limit your time in close proximity with all of your neighbors,” the brewer encourages on its blog. OnCue and Kwik Trip are not the only c-store retailers tapping into the benefits of exclusive brews. Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc., Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. and Baltimore-based Royal Farms have all recently partnered with local breweries in their operating area, with no signs of this trend stopping.

The Newest Beer Competitor: Uber Competition from the online alcohol space is expected to heat up even more this year. In early February, Uber Technologies Inc. announced that it will acquire alcohol e-commerce platform Drizly for approximately $1.1 billion in stock and cash. Once the transaction is completed (expected within the first half of 2021), Drizly will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber. Drizly’s marketplace will eventually be integrated with the Uber Eats app, while also maintaining a separate Drizly app. “Wherever you want to go and whatever you need to get, our goal at Uber is to make people’s lives a little bit easier,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve been branching into new categories like groceries, prescriptions and, now, alcohol.” Through this acquisition, the chief executive said Uber plans to accelerate Drizly’s “trajectory” by exposing it to the Uber audience and “expanding its geographic presence into our global footprint in the years ahead.” Drizly, meanwhile, said it plans to innovate and expand independently in the fast-growing and competitive online sector, while also gaining access to the advanced mobile marketplace technologies of Uber. Once the deal is completed, merchants on Drizly will benefit from Uber’s routing technology and significant consumer base; delivery drivers will have even more ways to earn; and Uber’s rewards and subscription programs will be able to deliver greater value to consumers with new benefits and perks on Drizly.

Parker at EZBrew challenges c-store operators to consider taking the concept even further by becoming their own brewers. “When stores make their own beer, they can control the entire process, [it] becomes more authentic, and can create an even bigger following,” he said. CSN


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Convenience Store News



Is the Industry EMV Ready? With the April 2021 deadline looming for compliance at the pump, c-store retailers are making progress toward compliance, but still face challenges By Tammy Mastroberte THE CONVENIENCE STORE industry

originally had a deadline of October 2015 to get their locations EMV compliant at the pump. That date was then moved to October 2017 when it became obvious the deadline would not be met. It was pushed again to October 2020, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which added more delays to the process. As a result, the date moved out by another six months to April 2021, where it stands now. With this deadline fast approaching — and most experts believing the date will stick this time — is the industry ready, and what happens if a store is not compliant by that date? “If you go back to September 2020, data pointed to 14 percent of all stores being EMV compliant at the pump. However, recent data from our members in the U.S. Payments Forum now points to that being closer to 45 percent as of January 2021,” said Jason Bohrer, executive director of the Secure Technology Alliance and U.S. Payments Forum. “We are projecting about 61 percent compliance by the due date in April.” The bulk of the larger U.S. c-store chains are closer to being compliant than the industry’s medium to small chains and single-store operators. Although the larger chains usually face more complexity when it comes to configurations, they

80 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

also have more resources to get the transitions done, and are more aware of the challenges, so they can mitigate them easier, Bohrer noted. For those stores not compliant by the due date in mid-April 2021, they will be liable for any fraud related to the card portion of a transaction at their location, rather than the card manufacturers taking on this burden — and this can easily become a significant number depending on the amount of fraud that takes place. “In some locations, they may not see anything in terms of fraud, but as the year goes on, and especially next year, you will see the fraud hotspots shift,” explained Paul Kern, executive director of product management at NCR Global, a hardware and software provider based in Atlanta. “Those who are now impacted by fraud in Florida or Texas, for example; if they don’t convert, they will get destroyed by the amount of fraud, but then as they become compliant, you will see fraud move to the retailers who were not impacted before.” The industry will likely continue to increase compliance numbers as time goes on, but there are still challenges with solutions being not yet available, hardware production backed up, as well as a backlog of technician appointments to get the equipment installed, said Linda Toth, managing

director of Conexxus, an Alexandria, Va.based nonprofit technology organization dedicated to the development of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the c-store and petroleum market. “We have encouraged merchants to look at which sites could potentially have the most fraud and prioritize those sites,” Toth said. “Not to say something with zero [fraud] today will be zero tomorrow, but we know certain geographical locations are more fraud-prone. Attacking it that way seems to be what a lot of merchants are doing.” While the deadline has been shifted in the past, most experts believe April 2021 will remain the end date. In the beginning of December 2020, Connexus held a webinar during which a representative from Visa said the company would not extend its deadline because they felt six months was enough time to allow for the impact from COVID, Toth relayed.

Current Challenges

Also, COVID complicated the situation even more because offices where retailers needed to reach out for permits were on reduced capacity schedules and, in some cases, especially the first few months of COVID, hardware manufacturing facilities in Asia and Europe, which were impacted by the coronavirus first, created longer lead times on parts, Toth said. “Even with software, as businesses transitioned to workfrom-home solutions, the development and testing for the dispensers needed to be done in the labs at vendor locations,” she noted. “Lockdowns, reduced capacity and social distancing affected all of that. The certifications by processors were all impacted as well.” In fact, there is still a backlog of certifications waiting for approval before a rollout can even take place, and the same is true with getting authorized technicians to do the installations, according to Kern. “There is still a challenge with authorized service technicians working at full capacity, and I do suspect the people getting hurt are smaller retailers because they have less leverage to get into the queue and some larger retailers may have their own fleet of technicians,” he said.

There’s been many challenges retailers have encountered along the path to becoming EMV compliant at the pump, and although some of them have improved with time, issues still remain — some outside of a retailer’s control.

How to Reach Compliance

“There is a lead time associated with this process and it will take time for those who have not started yet,” Bohrer pointed out. “Retailers need to schedule both hardware and software upgrades, and also add in the time and labor of getting the pumps upgraded. It could be a multimonth process.”

The new EMV chip cards require a different type of reader to interface with the chip and get the data in and out, so most retailers are looking at replacing or retrofitting hardware payment terminals at the pump. For those who have not upgraded or purchased new equipment in the last four or five years, they will have to either buy some components or a whole retrofit kit in order to comply with their piece of it, Kern noted. There are thirdparty retrofit kits available, but retailers should start by contacting their pump dispenser manufacturer.

Becoming compliant can be an expensive process, too, especially for smaller operators with five or fewer stores. Even when the budget allows, the process of becoming compliant is “very complex and realistically you are looking at four to six months from the time you start until it’s installed,” Toth said. Some retailers are still waiting on solutions from their software or hardware vendors, and some vendors are still waiting on certifications for certain configurations of hardware, software and payment systems, the Conexxus executive noted. “There have been some hardware delays along the line. As more and more solutions are rolled out and things start to be deployed, there are times when an issue is found in the field and then it’s put on hold until fixes can be released,” she explained.

The first step in the roadmap for EMV compliance at the pump is doing a site survey to see what a location currently has in place, and what is needed in order to reach compliance. This is how a store or chain can begin to form a game plan, Toth advised.

Additionally, each location needs a solution to run a network connection from indoors to outdoors as the amount of data exchanged for a chip card transaction is significantly higher than before. “Most suppliers have some form of technology that can run the information over existing wires in the ground,” Kern said. “Some have installed Internet cable through the ground, and others are doing wireless.” Another piece of the puzzle is the software needed to interface with the dispenser and also talk to the payment acquirer that authorizes the transaction. It’s up to the vendors to get the different components certified with Visa and Mastercard to work together. “All of the vendors have some certified solutions, but there are still some combinations in the process of getting certified,” said Kern. “You end up with a matrix of payment processor, POS software, and then the


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Convenience Store News 81

When it comes to outdoor EMV payment systems

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SOLVE OUTDOOR EMV WITH AN AFFORDABLE SINGLE SOLUTION Speaking with…Craig Panter, Chief Business Development Officer, Invenco Convenience Store News: April 17—the

each four-year contract. When contracts

anti-skimming technology. Invenco has

deadline for EMV compliance—is right

are up, sites can upgrade to Invenco’s

UL© certified retrofit kits for all major

around the corner. And many c-store fuel

latest terminal model on re-signing.

pump types.

Another plus: Invenco’s terminals

retailers are wondering how they can meet that deadline in a fast yet afford-

are set up pump by pump, so site

CSN: Won’t this system eventually

able way. How can Invenco help stores

interruption is limited on install.

need to be overhauled due to

avoid charge backs for fraud that occurs

technology that is sure to emerge?

at their sites by upgrading their pay-

CSN: What is unique about the

CP: That’s the real beauty of the rental

at-pump systems to EMV compliance?

Invenco-i2 program?

model. Every four years after contract

Craig Panter: Invenco-i2 was created so

CP: The biggest differentiator is the

renewal, sites can upgrade to Invenco’s

fuel retailers have an affordable, easy-to-

quality of product relative to cost. With

latest terminal model. This means sites

manage solution for outdoor payment

“quick fix” programs, retailers may

will stay on top of the latest customer

systems. As the outdoor EMV deadline

expect to have to readdress their outdoor

engagement features while staying up to

has approached, the slow uptake in com-

EMV “solution” relatively quickly after

date on compliance mandates. Invenco

pliance has illustrated retailers’ struggle

installation. With proprietary offerings, in

has been a leader in forecourt technolo-

to find the capital needed for the huge

addition to a huge up-front cost, retailers

gy (and was the first globally to develop

up-front equipment costs associated

must consider the service, parts and labor

EMV technology), and our engineers

with the industry’s historical offerings.

charges that generally start to incur three

stay on top of payment industry trends

to four years down the road when pay-

and how to best implement them onto

at-pump terminals start to wear and tear.

the forecourt.

With Invenco-i2, there are no up-front equipment costs. Sites can protect themselves from fraud by renting Invenco’s

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an open platform architecture. So, each

payment terminals in a package that in-

bundle on up-front costs, but they may

site’s currently installed terminals can

cludes all equipment and services need-

save even more moving forward. The

implement third-party applications for

ed for outdoor EMV-compliant payments.

reason is the warranty covering parts,

customer engagement and revenue

The only up-front cost for the program is

labor and travel, which lasts the duration

generating opportunities. The system

a reasonable installation fee. From there,

of each Invenco-i2 contract. With the

architecture and upgrade structure

the outdoor payment system is covered

warranty, retailers don’t have to worry

position retailers to keep their sites

from $132 per pump/per month.

about “surprise” charges for things like

modern and digitally agile, now and

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a replacement keypad, broken screen

moving forward!

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Pump Mfg. Retrofit





Chart is based on average prices for site with four dispensers. Comparison prices are on average and may change. 2 $7000 installation fee is the average quote for a site with four dispensers. Actual fee is quoted separately and varies according to pump qty, pump type(s), site setup and logistics. Internet connection is not included and will need to be in place prior to install.

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hardware terminals. And each combination has to be certified, which leads to a lot of certifications. At NCR, we have done over 70-plus certifications already.” While the majority of software upgrades can be done remotely, the hardware piece requires in-person installation and must be done by a certified technician, Toth said. While the time to get though the entire process can vary, the two components that take the longest are hardware availability — there can be long lead times depending on the manufacturer — and then getting an appointment with a thirdparty technician for installation.

A Roadmap to EMV Compliance at the Pump STEP 1: Complete a Site Survey for Your Location

“Once they get those pieces in place, the upgrades would take a day at most unless they have to replace an entire dispenser, but that is pretty rare,” Kern said. “It’s getting everything lined up and at your location to get that one day done that takes time.” The other point a lot of retailers may not realize is that once the upgrade is done, the work isn’t really over. There are a lot of fleet cards that will be releasing as EMV in the next year and they will require some tweaks and changes, primarily to software, Kern advised. “Before, people could sit on versions of software, but PCI compliance accelerated the change and added cost, and EMV is another level,” he said. “It will be an ongoing added expense to the industry even after this big compliance hump.”

If You Miss the Deadline… While c-store and fuel retailers should prioritize high-fraud or fraud-risk locations, there are a few options to consider if they don’t make the April 2021 deadline. One of those is using a fraud monitoring system through Visa or their payment processor to score each transaction at the pump and send the riskiest transactions inside the store to pay, according to Toth.

This includes checking the pumps to see what hardware is needed and if it’s available; checking on the point-of-sale (POS) software upgrades needed; evaluating the wiring from the dispensers to in-store and its ability to handle EMV transactions; checking to see if network upgrades are needed; and evaluating what permits will be required to get the work done.

STEP 2: Contact Your Fuel Dispenser Manufacturer Check what hardware is needed and available, and order it for your location or locations.

STEP 3: Contact Your POS Software Provider


Check if the software upgrades are available, and schedule to have them installed.

STEP 4: Secure Permits

Apply for any permits that might be needed for the work to be done on the pumps, wiring, etc., and perform soil samples if required.

STEP 5: Do the Outdoor Preparation Work

STEP 6: Schedule Technicians to Install

“Most retailers, especially in high-fraud areas, are probably already doing zip code checking, but they can take drastic steps and force people to prepay or only accept certain types of transactions outdoors,” Kern added. However, he cautioned that “the cure could be worse than the problem because it could reduce revenue.”

customers to go into the store to pay for their transactions. If a store is branded with a major oil company, they would need to check with them first, Toth noted.

Another option would be to turn off pay at the pump at certain locations, forcing

“It’s not ideal, but that is one surefire way to have no fraud at the pump,” she said. CSN


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Supporting the LGBTQ+ at Work Where we are and where we must go THE NETWORK OF Executive

Women (NEW) was established in 2001 and over that time, most would say that workplaces have gotten better for LGBTQ+ people. Yet there is still a major disconnect at many organizations between stated progress and the day-to-day experience of being an LGBTQ+ person at work.

By Sarah Alter President & CEO Network of Executive Women

In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) published its A Workplace Divided study, and they were able to say that the number of employees who were closeted at work had dropped. Unfortunately, that number had only dropped by 4 percent — from 50 percent to 46 percent — over the 10 years since its previous study in 2008. As the HRC stated in its report: “LGBTQ workers lack faith in accountability sysems, sometimes with good reason.” They found that workers primarily don’t report hearing their coworkers speak negatively about LGTBQ+ people because they simply don’t think anything will be done to stop it, and fear harming their relationships with coworkers. For LGBTQ+ employees to be their full selves at work, organizations need to prove they are worthy of their employees’ trust. And that starts at the top.

prompt any employer to take swift and decisive action. Allyship can only begin when accountability has been established. LGTBQ+ employees need to hear clearly stated policies from their employer that ban discriminatory language from the workplace, and encourage those who hear it to report it via an unbiased accountability system. Forty-five percent of LGBTQ+ people agreed with the statement that “enforcement of the non-discrimination policy is dependent on their supervisor’s own feelings toward LGBTQ people,” adding to the pressing need for an impartial resource outside their direct supervisor. Fifty percent of LGBTQ+ workers state that they believe they are the only LGBTQ+ person in their workplace. Ensuring that employees who feel isolated are secure in the knowledge that their identity will be respected could not be of more critical importance for their comfort, happiness and retention.

Actions Mean More, But Words Matter Allyship begins with education, and there is no better way to start than with robust education for employees on unconscious bias and the realities of the LGBTQ+ community. Fifty-three percent of LGBTQ+ people reported hearing jokes about their community at work, while just 37 percent of non-LGBTQ+ employees heard them. This gap shows unconscious bias in the minds of many non-LGBTQ+ employees, which, while unintentional, can only change with education.

Zero Tolerance for Intolerance The HRC reported that one in 10 employees has heard a supervisor making negative comments about LGBTQ+ people. This leads to employees who feel excluded from company culture, 31 percent of whom state that they feel depressed at work. Knowing you may have depressed employees who feel denigrated by their supervisors should be enough to

86 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Respecting pronoun use is another way to show your allyship. There are many wonderful resources out there to help explain why this small sign of respect can have outsized impact on the wellbeing of those around you. One I recently discovered, created by the New York City Department of Social Services, does a wonderful job. Remember, educating yourself should be the order of the day, and arranging

for professional education for your team. Relying on LGBTQ+ coworkers to educate you adds additional stress to an already stressful situation. Some wonderful online resources you can lean on instead include the Human Rights Campaign and the University of California San Francisco’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center.

Stand by Your Team & They’ll Stand by You After education, however, comes action! Allies need to be willing to speak up at work when they hear a coworker, fellow supervisor or even fellow board member denigrating LGBTQ+ people. “It’s just a joke” is never an excuse for making members of the LGBTQ+ community feel they don’t belong in your workplace. Twenty percent of LGBTQ+ people working in an unwelcoming environment said they were looking for other jobs, and 17 percent of LGBTQ+ people report being exhausted with trying to hide their identity at work. If nothing else, the cost of replacing employees lost to prejudice — and the strong evidence that diverse workplaces lead to better business outcomes — should motivate businesses to respond. The report cited in this article is from 2018, and there can be no doubt that the COVID-19 epidemic has wrought many changes on our workplaces since. But with our coworkers more involved in our lives than ever — seeing our dogs, our homes and our children over Zoom — everyone deserves to be as open as they would like to be at work. CSN Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a nonprofit learning, leadership and gender equality advocacy organization of 13,500 members (representing nearly 900 organizations), 300-plus national and regional corporate partners, and 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. NEW advances gender equality and diversity in the retail, consumer goods, financial services and technology industries.

Convenience Store News is pleased to continue this series of educational columns by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), coinciding with the annual CSNews Top Women in Convenience awards given out each fall. Fifty-two female managers, executives and directors who work in the convenience store industry were honored in our 2020 program. In addition to being a presentation sponsor for the Top Women in Convenience program, NEW and CSNews have partnered to develop this series of columns directed at helping corporate leaders drive more inclusive company cultures. 2021 SPONSORS Founding & Presenting Sponsor:

Platinum Sponsor:

Gold Sponsors:

Silver Sponsors:

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.


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Convenience Store News 87


Creating a Consistent Brand Road Ranger’s 40th travel center introduces a new look and feel that will roll out across its network By Danielle Romano WHEN ENEX,

At a Glance Road Ranger Location: 2202 N. Main St., Brinkley, Ark. Size: 15,000 square feet Unique features: A modernized store design featuring LED lighting, subway tile and contemporary wayfinding; unified foodservice brands under the R&R Kitchen label; Ben’s Soft Pretzels and Wendy’s QSRs, in addition to two proprietary foodservice concepts; redesigned shopping area designated for professional drivers; expanded general merchandise section

a subsidiary of Chile-based Quiñenco SA, acquired Road Ranger LLC in November 2018, it was as if the company purchased two separate entities. For starters, Road Ranger had travel center sites across the Midwest and in Texas, with no middle ground in between. On top of that, its sites in Illinois had not been remodeled and still featured Road Ranger’s old logo, while Texas new builds boasted a newer look and updated logo. In its vision and planning, Enex decided to make brand consistency and customer experience its No. 1 priority moving forward. With that, CEO Marko Zaro challenged Ryan Arnold, Road Ranger’s vice president of marketing, with coming up with a new concept that would fit the travel center operator’s model no matter where a site was located geographically. For the next eight to 12 months, Arnold worked with multiple departments to make this vision a reality. The efforts for a new design and layout culminated simultaneously as Road Ranger was in the midst of building its 40th location and its first Arkansas site. Located in Brinkley, the 15,000-square-foot travel center held a grand-opening celebration on June 15, 2020. “The driving force behind everything we have done since the acquisition has been based on the customer and the

88 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

experience we’re able to give them when they visit a Road Ranger,” Arnold told Convenience Store News. “The goal was to make sure everyone feels welcome when visiting a Road Ranger. We are trying to appeal to the soccer mom or family driving down the road just as much as the commuter and the professional four-wheel driver.”

A Unifying Design & Offers Aiming for brand consistency across its network of now 41 travel centers, Road Ranger said goodbye to its original “country-themed” design and instead opted for modernization by incorporating neutral colors, LED lighting, white subway tile, and contemporary text and wayfinding. The travel center operator also upgraded all of its store fixtures and displays, moving to digital monitors above the coffee, fountain, food and cigarettes categories. “Upgrading all of our signage gives customers something fun and modern to look at while shopping, helps them explore new items, and promotes sales,” Arnold said. “Our category managers were instrumental in putting these elements together.” Road Ranger also made significant improvements to its shopping area designated for professional drivers. Road Ranger Category Manager Eric Arnold put together a

Road Ranger’s new store design incorporates neutral colors, LED lighting, white subway tile, and contemporary text and wayfinding.

new modular merchandising system that is sleek, modern and easy to shop. The section now features LED lighting, new wayfinding graphics, and improved product lines.

Arnold, this program has been extremely successful, so the travel center operator is looking to expand it to some of its other sites.

“[Eric] wanted to turn Road Ranger into a destination shop for the professional driver. By making the changes he did, he accomplished that,” the marketing VP noted.

Other amenities available at the Brinkley Road Ranger travel center include:

Another important component of the new look and feel for Road Ranger was unifying its independent foodservice brands. The brands — including coffee (Mustang Ridge Coffee Co.), fountain drinks (Cold River Fountain) and a deli program (Roaring Fork Café) — are now streamlined under the R&R Kitchen label, which also encompasses a grab-and-go line. The Brinkley location is the first Road Ranger travel center to include a Ben’s Soft Pretzels quick-service restaurant (QSR). Dubbed “the World’s Greatest Soft Pretzel,” products are made fresh daily and include the legendary nearly half-pound Jumbo Soft Pretzel with imported German salt; Pretzel Bites made for on-the-go snacking; Sweet Dutch Almond Pretzel Bites; and easyto-dip Pretzel Sticks complemented by a variety of sweet and savory sauces. Another new QSR partner for Road Ranger at the Brinkley location is Wendy’s. “The company’s freshness promise aligns with Road Ranger’s fresh food promise,” Arnold expressed.

• An expanded general merchandise and clothing section; • Eight diesel lanes and 16 gas lanes; • Parking for 80 cars and 81 trucks; and • Indoor seating at the Wendy’s.

Riding Into the Future Headquartered in Rockford, Ill., Road Ranger unified its Midwest and Texas operations with the Brinkley travel center. Located on Interstate 40, the site is seamlessly situated between a travel center that opened eight months prior in New Boston, Texas, and its 41st site in Marion, Ill. The three sites now connect the Road Ranger network, making it a full-service fleet. Moving forward, the retailer’s goal is to bring all of its Road Ranger locations up to the same standard and feel as the Brinkley site, including high-rise signs, gas canopies, ID signs, interior and exterior images, and more. “A lot of this work is underway or completed at a handful of stores,” Arnold told CSNews.

In addition to these offers, the Brinkley site features two proprietary foodservice concepts.

By the end of 2020, the retailer had completely remodeled five of its locations inside and out.

The first is Dan’s Big Slice, which offers two slices of pizza from a 16-inch pizza for $6.

The company is looking at organic growth, too, with plans to expand by three to five new sites per year for the foreseeable future. The next three to five sites will be in Texas, aside from the Marion location, which opened Nov. 18, 2020. Road Ranger’s growth strategy is to expand east and west rather than north and south, the marketing executive said. CSN

The second is Tejas Taco Co., where all items are made from scratch daily, including taco shells that are pressed to order. Customers can make a taco plate with rice and beans, or simply order individual tacos. According to


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Age Verifier

ADINDEX Altria Group Distribution...2 Anheuser Busch...................49 BIC USA Inc...........................13 Buc-ee’s Ltd.......................... Front Cover Buzzballz LLC.......................27 Calico Brands........................16 CB Distributors Inc..............11 Chevron Corporation..........33 Chicago Industries Group......................................75 E-Alternative Solutions......57 Eby-Brown LLC.....................53, 71 E&J Gallo Winery.................15 Epiq Systems........................21 Forte Products......................18 Franke Coffee Systems.......63 GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health Care........7, 35 Goya Foods Inc....................17 Invenco...................................82–83 Kooler Ice Inc........................37


Wholesale Refrigeration

Krispy Krunchy Chicken.....69 Liggett Vector Brands........19 Living Essentials LLC..........9 Mars Wrigley Confectionery.......................5 National Confectioners Association............................45 Perfetti Van Melle USA.......39 Prairie City Bakery...............14 Premier Manufacturing.......43 Procter & Gamble................41 Swedish Match North America LLC..............23, Back Cover Swisher International Inc...25, 61 Tessemae’s.............................65 The Hershey Company.......51 The Icee Company...............55 Tyson Foods..........................67 United Sign Co......................Outsert Universal Merchants............Outsert 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60631 Phone 773-992-4450 Fax 773-992-4455 www.ensembleiq.com


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A Slow Climb Consumers are returning to c-stores little by little, but they come with new demands Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, daily convenience store transactions have declined between 10 percent and 25 percent year over year, according to the newly released AlixPartners 2021 Convenience Store Industry Outlook. In this study of 1,001 U.S. adult consumers across all regions, demographics and income levels, 29 percent of respondents said they didn’t make even one visit to a c-store in the past week. And when asked about the next six months, 26 percent said they will stay away from c-stores for the time being. There is some good news for c-store operators, however: visit frequency overall is expected to increase in the near-term, and consumers say there are some things retailers can do to entice them back. 30%

Increased basket size has balanced the decline in trips.


25% 23%






YOY % Change


Avg. Store Sales $ Avg. Basket $ Avg. Per Store Transactions (Trips)






5% 1%


-5% -10%










Source: AlixPartners 2021 Convenience Store Industry Outlook; PDI Insights

-24% -30%





5/17 5/31

6/ 1 4

6/ 28


7 / 26

8/ 9

8/ 23




Week Ending

When asked about the next six months, the highest percentage of consumers — about 39% — said they will make one to two c-store visits per week.



38.56% 29.17%










There is nothing they could do



Improve cleanliness of the stores

Improve health safety protocols


Provide drive-thru and/or curbside pickup



Offer outdoor food and merchandise kiosks for purchasing products

Offer outdoor seating

15% Offer autonomous checkout

Source: AlixPartners 2021 Convenience Store Industry Outlook

Note: Percentage totals exceed 100% due to respondents being able to select multiple options 102 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m





Source: AlixPartners 2021 Convenience Store Industry Outlook

What could convenience stores and gas stations do regarding format and ambiance to entice you to visit them more frequently during these times? 39%


A large portion of consumers are still hesitant to return to c-stores, but 61% believe there are actions brands can take to get them to increase their visit frequency.

Caetlyn Roberts Giant Food

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ntry and mid-level women are leaving our industry at nearly twice the rate of men — senior-level women are leaving at nearly four times the rate of men.* NEW provides solutions that retain and develop great women leaders. Our learning programs, career development, conferences and local events help tens of thousands of women advance each year. Our insights, best practices and advocacy help transform organizations and create a better industry workplace for all. Join our movement today at newonline.org. * Download our report

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