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Convenience Store News April 2022

W H AT ’ S N E X T I N C O N V E N I E N C E A N D F U E L R E TA I L I N G

BUILDING A BETTER EXPERIENCE As the retail industry continues to recover from the pandemic, it is more important than ever for convenience stores to meet the evolving needs of shoppers.

THE RISE OF CONTACTLESS CONVENIENCE

Volume 58, Number 4

APRIL 2022

CSNEWS.COM


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VIEWPOINT

Gas Prices Just One Impact of Russia’s Ukraine Invasion U.S. c-store industry will feel the pain on many fronts IN THE 30 YEARS since the fall of the USSR, there has never been a more serious international crisis than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

This unwarranted act of war against a sovereign nation has created a humanitarian crisis and moved the world closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. A week into March, crude oil prices hit a 13-year high of more than $130 per barrel, and the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline exceeded $4. Some stations were selling gas at more than $6 per gallon. After two years of pandemic-caused demand destruction, it remains to be seen how long before these astronomical fuel prices result in a sharp downward demand for gasoline, or hit consumers’ pockets enough to cause another recession. Skyrocketing fuel prices are already adding to the highest U.S. inflation rate in 40 years.

like Apple, Microsoft and Nike in halting its Russian operations. Visa and Mastercard cut off their payment systems in Russia, although NACS Chairman Jared Scheeler pointed out that “while admirable, it only accounts for foreign transactions. If they really wanted to make an impact, they’d have completely shut them down.” • Russian brands and products, like Russian vodka and Lukoil gas stations, are being boycotted. In New Jersey, the Newark City Council suspended the licenses of local Lukoil gas stations and convenience stores, even though most U.S. Lukoil stations are owned by individual American franchisees. Reminds me of the unfortunate backlash against BP stations after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. • The food sector also will be heavily affected. Russia and Ukraine are major food producers for Europe and some Third World nations, and the potential shortages are sure to impact the U.S.

Other impacts of the Russian invasion on the U.S. convenience store industry include:

It almost feels ridiculous to be worrying about high gas prices, inflation and recession when one wrong move by our elected leaders could spark World War III. Which reminds me of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “I know not what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

• Many U.S. companies suspended operations and service in Russia. Alimentation CoucheTard/Circle K joined with other western firms

For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editorial Director, at (201) 855-7606 or dlongo@ensembleiq.com.

EDITORIAL EXCELLENCE AWARDS (2013-2022)

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD

2021 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Infographics, June 2021

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 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 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 2014 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2013 Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2013 2013 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2012

Laura Aufleger OnCue Express

Ray Johnson Speedee Mart

Chad Beck Core-Mark

Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments LLC

Edward Davidson Ed Davidson & Associates (7-Eleven Inc., retired) Robert Falciani ExtraMile Convenience Stores Jim Hachtel Eby-Brown Co. Chris Hartman Rutter’s

Vito Maurici McLane Co. Inc. Matt Paduano Lakeport Markets Jonathan Polansky Plaid Pantries Inc. Greg Scriver Kwik Trip Inc. Roy Strasburger StrasGlobal

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

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

AP RIL

20 22

Convenience Store News 3


CONTENTS APRIL 22

VOLUME 58 N UMB ER 4

COVER STORY

28 36

71

FEATURES

DEPARTMENTS

COVER STORY

VIEWPOINT

SMALL OPERATOR

3 Gas Prices Just One Impact of Russia’s Ukraine Invasion U.S. c-store industry will feel the pain on many fronts.

28 It’s Time to Step Up New NACS Chairman Jared Scheeler hopes to inspire the industry’s small operators to take their stores to the next level and get involved in government advocacy.

8 CSNews Online

AN EYE ON D&I

24 New Products

69 Grading the C-store Industry on DEI The channel is doing many things right, but there’s still much work to be done.

36 Building a Better Experience As the retail industry continues to recover from the pandemic, it is more important than ever for convenience stores to meet the evolving needs of shoppers. FEATURE

46 A Healthy Opportunity As health and wellness goes mainstream, c-stores should respond with choice.

STORE SPOTLIGHT

71 The Sky’s the Limit Victron Energy debuts a new flagship store at DFW Airport to serve commuters and travelers. INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

24 4 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

90 Honing the Craft of Convenience Shoppers give c-stores solid performance ratings, but there is room for improvement.



CONTENTS APRIL 22

VOLUME 58 N UMB ER 4

14

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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

Senior Editor (201) 855-7619

INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

CATEGORY MANAGEMENT

12 Pilot Co. Bets $1B on the Future of Travel

FOODSERVICE

Angela Hanson ahanson@ensembleiq.com

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

14 Arko Corp. Puts First Year as a Public Company in the Books

52 New Responsibilities in Food Safety This already-important aspect of foodservice is now paramount in the pandemic’s wake.

16 Eye on Growth

TOBACCO

Associate Publisher & Midwest Sales Manager Kelly Fischer (773) 992-4464 kfischer@ensembleiq.com

16 Retailer Tidbits 18 Supplier Tidbits TECHNOLOGY

56 Synthetic Nicotine in the Spotlight Regulation looms as manufacturers, retailers and consumers embrace lab-derived nicotine. SNACKS

62 No-Touch & Go Contactless convenience is becoming the new norm in the convenience channel.

59

59 Get to Know the Snackers Consumers who snack often are motivated by a variety of different reasons.

Associate Brand Director & Northeast Sales Manager (774) 212-6455

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CORPORATE OFFICERS Chief Executive Officer

Jennifer Litterick

Chief Financial Officer

Jane Volland

Chief Human Resources Officer

Ann Jadown

Executive Vice President, Content

Joe Territo

Executive Vice President, Production

Derek Estey

CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS AFFILIATIONS Premier Trade Press Exhibitor

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 2022 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


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CSNEWS ONLINE

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

TOP VIEWED STORIES

1

Buc-ee’s First Tennessee Location Will Be Its Biggest to Date

2

IQOS Will Not Return to U.S. Market in 2022

3

More Circle K Stores Sold as Part of Network Optimization Effort

4

EG Group Launches $50M Rebranding Initiative for Tom Thumb Stores

5

Parker’s & Enmarket Make Savannah One of Country’s Most Progressive C-store Markets

The retailer will open a 74,000-square-foot flagship Buc-ee’s Family Travel Center in Sevierville. The location, close to Knoxville, will surpass the 66,335-square-foot Buc-ee’s that currently operates in New Braunfels, Texas. Philip Morris International CEO Jacek Olczak said the company is going to begin manufacturing IQOS in the U.S. in an attempt to get the product back on the nation’s shelves next year.

Majors Management LLC and its affiliates took ownership of 69 convenience stores from Circle K Stores Inc. in a fourth-quarter 2021 deal. Thirty-four of the sites will convert to franchised Kangaroo Express locations.

The Cumberland Farms rebranding project is expected to take two years and include new locations in Florida and Alabama. According to EG Group, the rebranded locations will position the stores to lead the company in organic organizational growth.

The convenience hotbed will be the host city for Convenience Store News’ 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange event. Taking place June 21-22, the event will feature store tours, food tours, education sessions, networking opportunities, and more.

BP Leans Into Convenience Retailing Following Thorntons Deal Convenience Store News got an inside look at new programs at the recent BP Amoco Marketers Association convention. Greg Franks, senior vice president of mobility and convenience, Americas, explained that BP will always sell fuel, but the company also wants to grow its convenience store network and embrace the coming changes in the mobility landscape as it looks to diversify its business. “If you have a strong backcourt and a strong forecourt, you will have a strong business,” he said.

For more exclusive content, visit the Special Features section of csnews.com.

MOST VIEWED NEW PRODUCT EXPERT VIEWPOINT

Sustainability & Convenience Stores: An Opportunity for the Industry The newest study from the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, Convenience Store Customers and Sustainability: The Journey to Creating Brand Ambassadors, demonstrates that shopper loyalty can be built and reinforced by progressive action on a range of social issues, including sustainability, writes Michael Sansolo, research director. In fact, many shoppers say their loyalty, and their willingness to promote or recommend specific stores to others, could be improved or diminished depending on how their local stores address these issues. Consumers surveyed for the report indicated they would like to see their local convenience stores create incentives for shoppers to be more sustainable by encouraging reusable and recyclable drink containers. They would also like stores to offer environmentally friendly options such as paper straws. Other initiatives such as the use of energy-efficient light bulbs and electric vehicle charging stations are viewed favorably.

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

Coca-Cola Flavors Portfolio Packaging Redesign The Coca-Cola Co. rolled out a new look for its Coca-Cola Flavors Portfolio. The modern design features vibrant, colorful cans to quickly communicate flavors and a bold, dominant script to hero the Coca-Cola branding. Full-color cans designate single flavors, while stacked colors communicate dual flavors, such as Cherry Vanilla. Black script is used for zero-sugar and zero-calorie drinks. Gold tops designate caffeine-free drinks. The rollout encompasses all Coca-Cola and Coke Zero Sugar flavors and variants.

The Coca-Cola Co. Atlanta (800) 520-2653 coca-colacompany.com



Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology Makes C-stores Even More Convenient Face it, no one likes waiting in lines. The C-stores that win shoppers’ loyalty are those that offer quick in-and-out shopping trips. Listening to what shoppers want, Amazon set out to build Just Walk Out technology for Amazon Go

what they want and leave without stopping to check out. Convenience Store News connected with Jennifer Maul, Director at Amazon, to learn more about Just Walk Out technology.

stores several years ago by starting to work backward from the customer to offer a new shopping experience that was easier and faster. The question: could Amazon build a way to skip the line? The answer was Amazon Go which ushered in shop-

CSNews: What is Just Walk Out technology? Jennifer Maul: Just Walk Out technology leverages the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Retailers can

ping without checkout lines back in 2018. With great feedback on the experience from shoppers, Amazon considered how to apply its technology beyond Amazon Go stores. At the time, retailers were expressing interest in offering similar checkout-free shopping experiences to their customers. Amazon decided to offer other retailers the ability to leverage Just Walk Out technology for use in their own stores. By extending the technology to other retailers, more shoppers will be able to use it to take

of course customize what they sell in their stores. But when it comes to the core technology, we’re offering retailers the same Just Walk Out Shopping experience that people have come to know and love at Amazon Go. CSNews: Where and how is the technology currently being used? JM: At Amazon, we invent and test in our own store environments. Just Walk Out technology was first implemented in our own C-stores, Amazon Go. We’ve applied the technology in larger, grocery formats like at select Amazon Fresh locations and now in two Whole Foods Market stores. Further, we offer the same technology to retailers in new verticals — including travel retail, sports stadiums, and live event venues. Some of our customers include Hudson, Sainsbury’s, TD Garden, WHSmith, and the Climate Pledge Arena. Across all use cases, the benefits for shoppers remain consistent: fast, frictionless, and convenient.

CSN_Amazon Spread.indd All Pages


ADVERTORIAL

CSNews: How do customers shop in a Just Walk Out technology-enabled store? JM: Retailers have the flexibility to define most retail functions in a Just Walk Out technology-enabled store, spanning the entry /exit experience, post-purchase customer experience, pricing and payment method. Depending on the customization by the retailer, shoppers have a few ways to enter a store using Just Walk Out technology. Shoppers can insert a credit card, use an app, or enter with Amazon One. Once inside the store, they shop like normal. Anything the shopper takes off the shelf is automatically added to their virtual cart. Anything they put back on the shelf comes out of their virtual cart. For example, if they take a soda off a shelf, it’s in their virtual cart, but they won’t be charged for it until they’re done shopping and leave the store. CSNews: What is Amazon One? JM: Amazon One is a palm recognition service that allows

CSNews: How hard is it to retrofit a store? What is the time commitment? JM: Our technology can accommodate new store builds, retrofits, and pre-fab environments. We work closely with our retail customers and collaborate with them

customers to use their palm to enter, identify, and pay. In a C-store environment with Just Walk Out technology, Amazon One can be used to both enter and pay. Since Amazon One is linked to a shopper’s assigned credit card, once a shopper has completed their trip, the credit card linked

on store design, store development and deployment.

to their Amazon One ID will be charged for items they took after they leave the store.

tion options based on your vision for the end-to-end shopper journey. We leverage our expertise to understand your vision, and then we design and build a solution with you. We provide a mix of tools, training, and expertise to help retailers run their Just Walk Out technology-enabled stores smoothly. Our support team consists of Just Walk Out tech-

CSNews: What are the advantages of checkout-free technology? JM: Shoppers have described the Just Walk Out Shopping experience as magical. The technology has broad applicability across store sizes and industries because it’s great in places that have high demand, long lines, or wherever shoppers are pressed for time. C-store shoppers expect convenience and retailers don’t want to lose a sale because a shopper sees a line and decides not to wait. For retailers, the technology scales with no limit on shoppers in-store or number of products. It’s easy to manage, using intuitive visual tools for restocking, and its flexible in terms of retail integration, payment, fixtures, merchandising, and store formats. CSNews: What makes this technology a good fit for convenience stores? JM: We know this technology works well in C-stores as because use it in our own — Amazon Go. In a retail setting where you fundamentally want to get in, out, and go, Just Walk Out technology enhances the shopper experience and reduces friction from the moment the shopper enters.

CSNews: How does Amazon support retailers/C-stores that use Just Walk Out technology? JM: The flexibility of our technology allows for retail integra-

nology experts who are available 24/7 to address any questions. We provide training materials and sessions for retailers so that their associates are prepared to help shoppers who are new to the experience shop with ease. The technology is backed by Amazon’s security, reliability, and technical support. CSNews: How does a Just Walk Out store improve the customer experience? The store associate experience? JM: Getting rid of checkout lines is great for shoppers and allows store teams to focus on tasks that will make the biggest impact in helping to deliver a great experience for their customers. With Just Walk Out technology-enabled stores, the way the employee spends their time is simply shifting — they now spend more time assisting customers, answering questions, helping them find items, and stocking shelves as needed, rather than operating checkouts and manually processing payments. › TO LEARN MORE, VISIT justwalkout.com

3/28/22 12:05 PM


INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Pilot Co. Bets $1B on the Future of Travel The company unveils a “New Horizons” initiative to overhaul its travel centers By Angela Hanson

is embarking on a three-year, $1-billion initiative to overhaul hundreds of its travel centers across the country and improve the Pilot experience for customers and employees alike.

PILOT CO.

Known as New Horizons, the project will include full remodels of more than 400 Pilot and Flying J locations and upgrades at several more locations as part of the company’s largest investment in store modernization yet. “It is a tremendous mile-marker forward for our company in providing a consistently exceptional experience for our team members and our guests,” said Whitney Johnson, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based company’s chief experience officer. To plan New Horizons, Pilot sought out feedback from customers and team members. Based on their responses, the company designed complete store overhauls that will include remodeled showers and restrooms, improved driver-focused amenities, expanded kitchen and dining areas, expanded digital

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

engagement, and installation of the latest in fueling and retail technology. “For 63 years, we’ve been proud to fuel millions of journeys and as we have done since our founding, we will continue to evolve the travel center experience to meet the changing needs of our guests and team members,” said CEO Shameek Konar. “We are listening to what our guests want most at our locations and how we can improve our offerings to make their travels easier and more enjoyable. New Horizons will incorporate this feedback as we overhaul our entire network to deliver on what our guests value today and prepare our stores for the future.” The first phase of the project is already underway, with 50-plus Pilot and Flying J travel centers slated for renovation in 2022. Multiple phases will follow as the company progresses its store design and incorporates new innovations. The retailer also plans to add 34 new locations to its network this year, as well as 40 new Southern Tire Mart sites as part of its goal of having more than 200 maintenance locations.


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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Arko Corp. Puts First Year as a Public Company in the Books Investments in food, electric vehicle charging and loyalty are on the agenda for year two By Angela Hanson

ARKO CORP., parent company of GPM Investments LLC, closed out its first full year as a public company with positive financial results and growth in both store count and in-store initiatives, which it intends to continue through 2022.

The Richmond, Va.-based company made significant additions to its portfolio last year through GPM, including its acquisition of the 60-store, Midwest-based Express Stop chain in May, and its purchase of 36 Handy Mart stores in November. GPM acquired a total of 97 sites in 2021. Throughout the year, Arko also saw positive results stemming from its acquisition of Empire Petroleum Partners’ fuel distribution and retail locations, which closed in October 2020. As of Dec. 31, 2021, Arko had 1,406 retail sites and 1,628 wholesale sites. The company’s dual convenience and wholesale model is delivering excellent results, according to Arko Chairman, President and CEO Arie Kotler. “Our in-store initiatives, merchandising strategy, scale at wholesale and M&A capabilities are working together as an engine for growth in this environment,” Kotler said during Arko’s

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

fourth-quarter 2021 earnings call, held Feb. 23. “The rapid integration of Empire exceeded our expectations, with notable cost synergies and incremental growth, showing once again we are capable of dealmaking at any scale.” Successful moves last year included a strategic pivot into grab-and-go and frozen foods, which was “a hit” with customers and saw considerable margin growth. Arko also grew its retail fuel margin during the fourth quarter, despite rising fuel prices. The company is already on a growth path for 2022 with its pending acquisition of Quarles Petroleum Inc.’s fueling cardlock and fuel distribution business. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter of this year. Arko’s 2022 agenda also includes several store remodels, a new-to-industry store in Atlanta late in the year, and the opening of more Dunkin’ locations. Additional areas of focus are pizza, based on extremely positive feedback to the company’s partnership with Sbarro; bean-to-cup coffee; and its fas REWARDS loyalty program, which will see the launch of a redesigned mobile app.


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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Eye on Growth MAS Capital is a new company established by the principals of Gas Express LLC and Synergy Capital Investments.

move marks the completion of the acquisitions of Sinclair Oil Corp. and Sinclair Transportation Co. from The Sinclair Cos.

MAS Capital LLC closed on an acquisition of 25 Circle K, Kangaroo Express and Flash Food branded stores in Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. The sites were formerly owned and/or controlled by Circle K Stores Inc. QuikTrip Corp. opened a remote travel center in Cottondale, Ala., marking the retailer’s first site in the state. The travel center features a larger lot and has room to service 20 cars for gas and six diesel bays for trucks. The Wills Group is adding six convenience store and gas station sites in Virginia to its network. Its subsidiary SMO Inc. picked up the sites from MAPCO.

Retailer Tidbits

Chevron Corp. is acquiring the outstanding shares of Renewable Energy Group Inc. for $3.15 billion in an all-cash transaction. The deal will help it grow renewable fuels production capacity to 100,000 barrels per day by 2030.

HollyFrontier Corp. and Holly Energy Partners L.P. created HF Sinclair Corp. as a new parent holding company. This

GPM Investments LLC is acquiring the fueling cardlock and fuel distribution business of Quarles Petroleum Inc. Assets included in the deal are 121 branded and 64 contracted cardlock sites along high-traffic corridors in the Mid-Atlantic.

7-Eleven Inc. is partnering with same-day delivery service Shipt to give consumers access to 3,000 of the retailer’s products, including snacks, drinks and household essentials. Nearly 6,450 7-Eleven stores were on the Shipt marketplace at launch.

Sheetz Inc. hosted several hiring days in March in an attempt to hire 3,500 employees companywide. The retailer is providing an additional $1.50 per hour for store employees who work the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift.

Its most recent investments were in Food Rocket and Farmstead, U.S.-based companies that offer delivery and distribution for urban and suburban customers.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. has invested nearly $55 million of its Circle K Venture Fund’s initial $100-million pot. The funds went to companies that are developing forward-looking solutions that enhance the customer experience in stores and beyond, and improve efficiency.

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

Nouria Energy Corp. expanded its private label brand, My Nouria, to include packaged baked goods. The brand now features cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies and Danish. ATMs at Murphy USA locations in 26 states have been replaced or converted to premier units by Dolphin Debit, a wholly owned subsidiary of Euronet Worldwide. The update comprised a total of 450 ATMs. Pilot Co. set a goal to fill 300 new positions at several Pilot and Flying J travel centers in peak travel areas across the Southeast, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The company offers flexible schedules and training programs.


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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Supplier Tidbits

An administrative law judge dismissed a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Altria Group Inc.’s investment in Juul Labs Inc. The FTC alleged the deal eliminated competition in violation of federal antitrust laws.

The company said this is a “critical next step” in its Racial Equality Journey. As part of its U.S. sustainability initiative, Perfetti Van Melle’s Mentos Pure Fresh Gum unveiled a recyclable, 90-percent paperboard bottle. Consumers will find recycling instructions on the paperboard bottle. U.S. Tobacco Cooperative Inc. plans to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy this summer. The cooperative filed for protection to satisfy obligations to its member-growers, employees, suppliers and customers in July 2021.

Participating startups in the two-year-old program also receive $20,000 grants.

Mondeléz International’s SnackFutures hub selected 10 startups for its new collaboration class. The 2022 CoLab class kicks off its 12-week curriculum in April. PepsiCo created a new North American organization to help address inequalities for historically excluded people and underserved businesses and communities.

Frito-Lay North America’s Fritos brand launched its first TV commercial in 20 years, featuring country music star Thomas Rhett. “Down for Everything” is intended to deliver an uplifting message focused on tradition. Hostess Brands Inc. redesigned and modernized its corporate brand identity in collaboration with brand design agency CBX. There is no change to the Hostess consumer brand design mark.

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The Impact of Inflation: C-store Execs Weigh In Consumers are willing to spend more, but for how long? By Kathleen Furore INFLATION.

It’s the word on everyone’s minds — and that includes convenience store operators trying to navigate skyrocketing prices, labor shortages and supply chain challenges simultaneously. As National Retail Federation (NRF) Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a March 7 news release: “Inflation... has been making consumers and businesses miserable as prices have picked up dramatically over the past year. However you measure it, inflation has become a powerful force and plays a key role in the nation’s economic outlook.” Just how much power is inflation wielding? The March issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review cited a 7.5 percent year-over-year increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index in January, along with the core Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index, which is the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, rising 5.2 percent. David Nelson, a professor of economics at Western Washington University and founder and president of Study Groups, a company that conducts study groups for c-store retailers and petroleum marketers, describes inflation as being “at the highest level it has been in 40 years.” And Gus Olympidis, president and CEO of Valparaiso, Ind.-based convenience store chain Family Express Corp., believes inflation will continue to rise. “The most concerning thing in the c-store space, espe-

Jonathan Polonsky Plaid Pantry

Gus Olympidis Family Express Corp.

Scott E. Hartman Rutter’s Holdings Inc.

cially since the recent Ukraine geopolitical disturbance, is that we’re looking at inflation that likely will be in excess of 10 percent,” Olympidis said. “We’re flirting with 1 percent inflation per month, 20 to 25 points of inflation per week, which creates an entirely different dynamic than anything the industry is used to.” That dynamic isn’t limited to just one or two areas of the store, either. “It isn’t a question of category or segment,” Olympidis noted. “The lack of stability all over is migrating from subcategory to subcategory, not to just a certain part of the business.” That is exactly what Jonathan Polonsky, president and CEO of Portland, Ore.-based convenience retailer Plaid Pantry, is also experiencing. “Inflation is impacting every level of our business, from the cost of goods [to] rents we are asked to pay, cost of repairs and maintenance, and the wages we need to offer to remain competitive,” he reports. AP RIL

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SPECIAL REPORT: REAL TALK, REAL ISSUES

Addressing Labor Shortages As inflation continues to rise, finding and keeping good employees is one of the most significant challenges the convenience channel faces, according to Nelson. “The biggest issue c-store guys are having is the extremely tight labor market,” said Nelson, who notes that the wage increases employees are demanding — especially the lower-level earners c-stores typically rely on — are creating “severe pressure” for retailers. His take, however, is that increasing employees’ pay has a silver lining that is often overlooked. “One thing I would say to c-store operators is that to the extent these lower-income employees are now making more money, that is actually good for your shoppers,” he pointed out. “They have more money to spend, so I don’t view that as a negative for the c-store industry at all.” Olympidis agrees that labor issues are challenging, but says it goes beyond the employees staffing store counters. “Now, there is monumental competition for middle- and senior-level management,” he said. “It is everywhere, not only in the candy aisle and store-level personnel.” As much as it might hurt, Nelson stresses the importance of keeping up with wage trends and demands. “You don’t want to get behind the 8 Ball in terms of what you’re paying — you have to be competitive in your market,” he says. “If I was running a store, I would want to be a bit more than competitive, so my employee isn’t going to quit and run to the store down the street.”

Demographics Drive Consumer Response to Inflation As challenging as inflation is for convenience store operators, data shows that U.S. consumers are not being affected equally by the rising prices of goods. A January 2022 Gallup survey found that 9 percent of U.S. adults have been caused severe financial hardship by the latest surge in inflation; severe meaning that it might affect their ability to maintain their current standard of living. Another 40 percent face moderate hardship, meaning that price increases affect them but don’t threaten their standard of living. “While 66 percent of those living in households with an annual income of less than $40,000 experience some kind of financial hardship these days, just 32 percent of those earning $100,000 or more claim to do so,” reports Statista, which specializes in consumer data. Information from the National Retail Federation (NRF) echoes this finding. As NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a March 7 news release: “Inflation is at a 40-year high, but isn’t hitting all consumers as hard as topline numbers might suggest.”

ing prices as inflation raises the cost of store operations not only on products, but also on everything from labor costs to credit card fees. “If we did not raise prices, it would be difficult to run a profitable store, so the goal is to raise prices enough to allow our gross margin dollars to cover the cost increases,” Hartman explained. “Most product categories have seen significant price increases; some 10 percent plus at one time, while others have seen multiple smaller increases.” Plaid Pantry also has been passing price increases along to consumers, due in part to the fact that manufacturers are offering fewer promotions right now as they struggle with supply chain issues in addition to inflation, according to Polonsky.

Boosting Prices, Maintaining Margins “Examples by category would be candy up 10 percent, With inflation affecting virtually every aspect of convenience retailing these days, price increases are a fact of life that everyone — retailers and their customers — must accept.

jerky up 10 percent, and nonalcoholic beverages up 8 to 12 percent,” he cited. One interesting development — and a positive one so far — is that consumers aren’t substantially pulling back on making purchases.

“We’re going to see adjustments to margins that are necessary to meet shareholder expectations. That applies to fuel margins and to every category in the store,” said Olympidis.

“The consumer on the other side of the counter is totally sensitized and understands what is necessary to keep up with inflation,” Olympidis said. “They see it when they go to Burger King and see the increase in prices there.”

Scott E. Hartman, president and CEO of York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Holdings Inc., acknowledges that the company is increas-

“Based on what I’ve seen, [stores] have been pretty much able to make price adjustments to maintain their margins,” Nelson echoed. “No one is balking at paying 10 cents more

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for an item. They just want the item.”

on what they believe the future might hold.

Polonsky, too, reports little pushback. “Customers are still willing to spend, but a slight decrease in lottery sales tells me they have a little less than they did this time last year,” he shared. “We have not seen folks trading down yet.”

“I think inflation will ease somewhat by the end of the year, but we will likely see the new ‘normal’ at 3-4 percent for the next several years, not the 2 percent we saw pre-pandemic,” Plaid Pantry’s Polonsky predicts. “I think this will be due to persistent wage inflation.”

Hartman also sees consumers accepting higher prices — but he isn’t confident it will last.

Hartman of Rutter’s believes the pendulum will swing back, but admits that it is hard to predict because it will depend on the federal government’s monetary policies, which he says are “always out of sync with the real world.”

“Customers are not happy with it, but they’re coping,” he said. “As their wallet gets squeezed more, the unhappiness will percolate more. They’re not buying less yet. But if it continues, they will begin to pare back purchases. I think we are at the beginning of when consumers begin to test less expensive options — not everyone, but the more pinched customer first and then a domino [effect] as it pinches more people.” Some of the biggest question marks, of course, revolve around fuel costs. The national average for a gallon of gasoline hit a record of $4.33 on March 11, according to AAA. How high will prices go, and how will retailers and the driving public respond? “With the war and its impact on oil and gas prices, c-stores are having a terrible time getting the retail price up as fast and as far as the wholesale prices they’re paying, so there is big margin compression,” Nelson said. “When everyone is screaming about the price [of gas], the stores aren’t doing well.” Olympidis does not think the situation is going to change anytime soon. “I predict that individual fuel margins over the next four to five years will exceed 50 cents a gallon. That is particularly relevant because the industry is currently enjoying what I think people naively interpret as very good fuel margins,” he said. “But by today’s standards of what’s appropriate — driven by shareholder expectations — I think these margins we’re currently enjoying are anemic compared to what they will be in four to five years on fuel.” The hard fact is that raising prices is the only way to stay ahead. “When faced with cost pressures on products you’re buying, raise prices as much as you have to and don’t worry about what other stores are doing,” Nelson advises. “Everyone is facing these pressures and you have to maintain your margins or you’ll go out of business.”

Predicting the Future What will happen over the next several weeks, months and, let alone, the next year or more is impossible to predict. However, the pros on the frontlines of the industry are willing to weigh in

He cites interest rates as one example. “Raising interest rates is a terrible idea since we are experiencing a shortage on the supply side, not an overabundance. That will not cure the supply problem — it has to cure itself,” Hartman maintains. Without government interference, he anticipates the supply chain will be fixed in about nine months, or by year-end. “If they raise rates and pass government spending bills at the same time, lord help us. They’ll make things worse, not better for most,” he continued. “In an election year, hands-off policy is not likely, so expect some bad economic years from 2023 to 2025.”

Getting Ahead of It Whatever the future (immediate or long-term) holds, Olympidis says c-stores must change the way they operate to successfully clear the hurdles inflation has placed in their path. “This industry hasn’t experienced hyper-inflation since the 1970s, and the industry’s systems and processes are not designed for this level of inflation,” he explains. “The challenge is that we must find ways to preemptively get ahead of it — nothing in the previous system has prepared you systemically!” The key, the Family Express founder says, is to create an immediate culture of managing inflation almost daily and not allowing it to outpace you. “We’re telling the management teams of the company to look at inflation as a different animal than before — same work, different animal,” he added. “Stores have to manage inflation on an ongoing basis, not just every quarter or six months. In the past, when there was 2.5 percent inflation, the process was to manage it incrementally and periodically. If you stay with that model, you will fall behind.” As challenging as the current economic climate might be, maintaining a positive attitude while moving forward as best you can remains an important approach. That is what Hartman says the Rutter’s team is doing. “We try not to let the inflation static cause us to stray from our long-term growth strategies. We continue to keep our head down, are building new stores and remodeling stores. We grow in good and bad years — it’s just part of a multigeneration family philosophy,” he said. CSN

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1. Rockstar Unplugged Rockstar Unplugged is a new kind of energy drink that focuses less on providing a big hit of energy and more on enhancing good vibes with innovative ingredients such as hemp seed oil and B vitamins. Combined with a fruit-forward energy boost, these elements help maintain an easygoing, freeflowing and soul-fueling attitude for any mood or occasion, according to Rockstar Energy. Each 12-ounce can of Rockstar Unplugged contains 80 milligrams of caffeine. Three sugar-free flavors are available: Blueberry, Passionfruit, and Raspberry Cucumber.

2. Cheez-It Puff’d The Cheez-It brand introduces a new variety to its line of cheesy baked snacks. Cheez-It Puff’d deliver a poppable, puffy and airy bite with 100 percent real cheese baked inside and out. The new product starts with a crunchy outside layer and then transforms into “a melt-in-your-mouth indulgent taste,” according to the maker. Packaged in 5.75-ounce bags, Cheez-It Puff’d are available in two flavors: Double Cheese and White Cheddar. Kellogg Co. Chicago kelloggs.com

PepsiCo Purchase, N.Y. unplugged.rockstar energy.com

3. f’real SNICKERS Milkshake The f’real SNICKERS Milkshake marks the first partnership between f’real and Mars Wrigley, maker of the iconic SNICKERS bar. The new flavor variety brings together two widely popular convenience store treats — milkshakes and SNICKERS bars — in a single, tasty frozen dessert. The f’real SNICKERS Milkshake will be available at all f’real locations in the United States. The launch is being supported by an advertising campaign across online, mobile, paid social media, influencers and owned channels, including f’real machine screens in retail locations. f’real Emeryville, Calif. freal.com

5. MasonWays Commercial Grade Rhino Amenity Center MasonWays’ newest windshield washer refuse unit, the Commercial Grade Rhino Amenity Center, requires less servicing by the retailer due to its larger capacity for both washer fluid and trash than traditional units. Two 10-gallon washer buckets provide a total of 20 gallons of washer fluid at the pump. A separate 55-gallon inner refuse liner means fewer trips to the dumpster. The unit has an optional hand sanitizer, glove or towel dispenser built in. MasonWays Indestructible Plastics LLC West Palm Beach, Fla. (800) 837-2881 info@masonways.com masonways.com

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

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4. Alto-Shaam Top Heat Shelf Merchandisers Alto-Shaam expands its range of heated shelf merchandisers with the addition of two more models featuring top heat. Its 24-inch and 48-inch models are now available with top heat, joining its countertop and floor-standing 36-inch models. The layer of top heat, paired with Halo Heat technology, provides the highest quality extended holding of the most delicate food items, such as burritos, sandwiches and pastries, without compromising food quality, according to the company. Alto-Shaam Inc. Menomonee Falls, Wis. alto-shaam.com



NEW PRODUCTS

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6. BIC Psychedelic Patterns Lighter Series BIC’s newest special edition lighter series delivers vibrant colors and mesmerizing designs to captivate consumers. The Psychedelic Patterns series brings classic tie-dye and kaleidoscopic patterns to life in a whole new way, according to the company. Each lighter in the series has a suggested retail price of $2.09. All BIC Maxi Lighters are long-lasting, reliable, and 100 percent quality inspected. BIC USA Inc. Shelton, Conn. us.bic.com/en_us

7. Coca-Cola With Coffee Mocha The Coca-Cola Co. added a new variety to its Coca-Cola With Coffee line. Mocha now joins the existing Dark Blend, Vanilla, Caramel and Vanilla Zero Sugar offerings. This flavor expansion is aimed at fulfilling consumers’ cravings as mocha is the No. 1 flavor in ready-todrink coffee, the company noted. Each 12-ounce can has 70 calories and 69 milligrams of caffeine. Coca-Cola With Coffee fuses the familiar, authentic taste of Coca-Cola with the rich, luxurious flavor of 100 percent Brazilian coffee. The Coca-Cola Co. Atlanta coca-colacompany.com

8. Pop-Tarts Bites Frosted Confetti Cake

9. Rich’s Plant-Based Savory Vegetable Spreads

Pop-Tarts Bites Frosted Confetti Cake are sweet mini toaster pastries filled with vanilla cakeflavored filling and topped with white icing and colorful edible confetti. Kellogg’s is introducing this fan-favorite variety to convenience stores following its success in the grocery channel, where it is the No. 2 top-selling flavor. According to the company, Pop-Tarts Bites Frosted Confetti Cake are “a hit” among all age groups (teens, young adults, and parents of kids aged 6 to 12) for a wide variety of snacking occasions.

Rich’s Savory Vegetable Spreads are made from fresh and roasted vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices. Offered in three varieties — Savory Italian Style Spread, Savory Southwest Style Spread, and Savory Mediterranean Style Spread — they are a thaw-and-serve solution that requires no chopping, blending or mixing. The product comes 10 pouches per case, 2 pounds per pouch. These spreads can be used as a sauce, dip or topper, and can elevate dishes by providing ontrend ethnic flavors, the company stated.

Kellogg Co. Chicago kelloggs.com

Rich Products Corp. Buffalo, N.Y. richsusa.com/plant-basedsolutions

10. Martha Stewart CBD Wellness Topicals The Martha Stewart CBD brand introduces a new line of CBD Wellness Topicals. Designed to improve daily well-being in specific ways, the line includes three products: Super Strength CBD Cream, designed for muscle recovery; Sleep Science CBD Cream, designed for better sleep; and Daily De-Stress CBD Cream, designed for stress management. Each product is formulated with market-leading levels of CBD, powerful co-actives and aroma technology formulated specifically for each need. Each SKU is initially available in 20-milliliter, 50-milliliter and 150-milliliter package sizes. Canopy Growth Corp. Smiths Falls, Ontario marthastewartcbd.com

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

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SMALL OPERATOR

It’s Time to Step Up New NACS Chairman Jared Scheeler hopes to inspire the industry’s small operators to take their stores to the next level and get involved in government advocacy By Danielle Romano NEW NACS CHAIRMAN Jared Scheeler didn’t intentionally set out to be a part of the convenience store industry. A walk into the job placement center while attending the University of MinnesotaTwin Cities altered his career path.

in awe of what the company had built and its business model, which combined a large-scale convenience store with a proprietary restaurant, auto repair, eight service bays, tow trucks, and a car wash. Describing Bobby & Steve’s as a “c-store on steroids,” Scheeler applied for the opening as a cashier and started shortly after.

As a business major, Scheeler envisioned himself working for corporate America and had his eye on the airline industry. But on that day in 1998 when he walked into the job placement center looking for parttime work, he saw a posting for Bobby & Steve’s Auto World, a new-age, modern convenience store/service station on the edge of downtown Minneapolis.

“As I started working at Bobby & Steve’s and started taking on more responsibilities, I soon realized I really, really loved the entrepreneurial spirit of the ownership of that company and how they made decisions for themselves and for their business every day, and just fell in love with the industry,” the 2021-2022 NACS chairman told Convenience Store News. “I quickly decided I didn’t want to work in corporate America and wear a suit and tie every day. I wanted to be in a business where I’m calling the shots and can use my creativity, where the success of the business lives and dies with me. From a business standpoint, I don’t think there’s anything better than that.”

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Gaining Momentum Scheeler moved up the ladder at Bobby & Steve’s, running its flagship store before being promoted to director of retail operations in 2010. He held this role until 2013. During this time, the company decided, at Scheeler’s encouragement, to start a corporate entity to bring oversight to all of its locations. Bobby & Steve’s business model at the time was formulated as eight stores operating independently. Scheeler thought the company was missing out on synergistic opportunities and buying power between the stores and wanted to bring unity and consistency across the organization.

ness was born with a single location. Today, The Hub has five locations throughout the state and Scheeler heads the company as CEO, overseeing everything outside of the intricate day-to-day operations — from sales and marketing to human resources, accounting, purchasing, supplier relations, and facilities management. Future goals for The Hub include expanding to 10 stores and gaining corporate support. “When the first store was built, there were a lot of old-school gas stations that hadn’t embraced the future and hadn’t built a model around food. If they had, it was ‘gas station food’ and, as we know, the best operators in our industry have moved well beyond that,” Scheeler told CSNews. “It was my objective to begin that process in North Dakota, so we built a business model heavily built around food — foodservice, fresh food, healthy and indulgent. More than the store model, we take the time to develop our people and hire the right people so that we can offer an experience that customers in our area don’t really expect.”

Representation Matters

“I encourage retailers, especially small retailers, to move faster when it comes to keeping up with changes in the industry. Things are moving quickly across foodservice, technology and fueling — areas that are very difficult to be late to the game in.” — Jared Scheeler, The Hub Convenience Stores Inc. By 2013, however, a mixture of events pulled Scheeler and his family in the direction of setting up a home in Dickinson, N.D. And from a business standpoint, he wanted to start his own business and felt that if he was going to make the leap, he had to do it then. At the same time, he and his wife Deann had a desire to raise their children where they grew up and where they would be surrounded by family. That combination of factors compelled Scheeler to start The Hub Convenience Stores Inc. The Dickinson-based busi30 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Scheeler attended his first NACS Show in 2001, which first opened his eyes to the enormity and scope of the industry. Fast forward to 2009 and NACS President and CEO Henry Armour was in Minneapolis for an industry luncheon, which Scheeler attended. He seized the opportunity to express his interest in the association to Armour. It paid off because he was asked to join the Service Membership Committee and a year later, the board of directors. “...I wanted to stay ahead of the game, be in the know, and become a trailblazer. As a small retailer in Minneapolis, I felt that NACS was going to provide the resources for me to do that. Therefore, I wanted to get involved with NACS,” Scheeler recalled. Now, as The Hub CEO settles into his role as NACS chairman, he aims to encourage fellow small operators to embrace who they are to this industry. “It seems multiple times a week, we’re hearing or reading about another merger and acquisition, but the interesting part of that is that small operators are remaining,” he said, noting that there are currently more than 90,000 small operators in the industry. “We play such a vital role in the industry and across the country, so even though the big are getting bigger around us, we need to embrace that. If there’s anything I can accomplish in the next year, it is to inspire the small operators across the country.” Three ways Scheeler hopes to encourage small operators across the U.S. are: 1. Encourage small operators to take their older, tired stores to the next level. “There are opportunities to enhance our industry’s image and if I can help even a handful of operators in getting the ball rolling when it comes to renovating their stores or enhancing their business model by doing some of the things I’ve done or sharing the learnings I’ve acquired over the years, that would fire me up,” he said. 2. Help small operators understand the role they can play in government advocacy. “If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years in being involved in government relations and advocacy, [it’s that] members of Congress or those elected officials at the state and local levels want to hear real stories of how issues are impacting us, our customers and our families. That’s what really hits home. Small operators don’t understand the power they have in advocating on


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SMALL OPERATOR

behalf of our industry, and it’s something I embraced early on and seen others do. If we can expand the number of voices speaking up, we can expand the number of voices that can build relationships with elected officials.”

There are more than 90,000 small operators in the convenience store industry.

3. Focus on digitizing offers. “Small operators fall behind their bigger competitors in digitizing their offerings and digitizing their stores. We’ve relied so long on our brick-and-mortar locations and our real estate to drive traffic, but consumer expectations are changing and we need to keep up with the times from a technological standpoint to deliver our offers to customers how they want them.”

successful at the last mile, where there are still opportunities.

Moving Into the Future

“I encourage retailers, especially small retailers, to move faster when it comes to keeping up with changes in the industry. Things are moving quickly across foodservice, technology and fueling — areas that are very difficult to be late to the game in,” he told CSNews. “From a strategic standpoint, small operators need to think about those things and research with supplier companies how they can be a part of that new wave, and how they can be a part of the industry’s acceleration into the future. If us small retailers don’t keep up, there’s a chance in 10 years we won’t be around.”CSN

Today’s “convenience store” looks a lot different than it did 23 years ago when Scheeler got his start in the business. The most significant change the veteran says he’s witnessed is the evolution of foodservice technology. He believes these changes are here to stay, so the industry must adapt and learn how to be

At just 41 years old, Scheeler knows he has a lot of years in the convenience channel ahead of him, and he’s excited to be a part of its growth as a constant student of the industry. He is also excited to be a leader among small operators and an advocate for them to get to the next level when it comes to competing with other channels and continuing to own the word “convenience” as the industry moves into the future.

22_0588_Convenience_Store_News_APR Mod: March 30, 2022 10:57 AM Print: 03/30/22 11:10:13 AM page 1 v7

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ADVERTORIAL

Re-thinking the Forecourt With a Microservices Architecture Digital transformation is an imperative for retailers, including c-store operators. CSN sits down with Dan Harrell, Chief Innovation Officer, Invenco, to discuss the why’s of digital transformation and how a microservices software solution supports digital transformation and continued agility.

One advantage here is a cleaner, easier to manage site infrastructure, with no forecourt controller or electronic payment server and no single point of failure. This reduces hardware costs and keeps the business going; provided there’s power, fueling can happen. When a microservice needs tweaking or new business initiatives and capabilities are being introduced, the right ‘block’ is easy to access and there’s no impact on unrelated microservices. As a result, response to change happens more quickly and new initiatives get to market faster. Installing additional capabilities—like loyalty programs and data collection—is simple because of the industrystandard based APIs; the information needed to establish communication between internal ‘blocks’ and third-party functionality blocks is readily available and easy to set up. Integration with other devices is also simple. Finally, you can have a full site system that will work with a flexible cloud-based POS systems, plus a single core system capable of meeting the needs of sites anywhere.

CSN: Multiple disintermediation threats and opportunities mean c-stores must undertake digital transformation and remain agile going forward. What are some of these threats and opportunities? Harrell: Customers’ expectations are changing. They demand a personalized c-store experience. They want to order and pay from their mobile devices and be able to complete transactions in a faster, simpler, more secure way. Payments and security are volving. Payments are being made via contactless/wearable devices, ACH, smartphone, and on apps like Venmo and Zelle®. EMV and point-to-point encryption are here to stay. They will also keep evolving, and retailers will need to be able to keep up with new regulations and standards as they are introduced. Vehicle energy delivery options have expanded with the addition of electric charging, CNG, and hydrogen. That’s not to mention external forces, ranging from the pandemic to autonomous vehicles, shifts in vehicle ownership, the influence of social media, and the advent of cloud technology. It isn’t going to stop here. C-stores must continue to be nimble enough to handle whatever comes, adjusting their business offerings accordingly. A microservices software solution architecture maximizes agility.

CSN: What are some distinctive features of Infx? Harrell: Infx microservices suit myriad use cases. Some of them being outdoor payment terminal engagement, electronic payment server, energy delivery, site system interface, fuel point-of-sale, tank, price sign and fuel price management, carwash and mobile connections. The Infx s global core is configured for full cloud-based remote management, telemetry, and reporting. Plug-ins, configurable task engines, and flexible deployment models support different local and migration needs and setups. Infx’s components can easily become the base of future forecourt and payments offerings, so it’s future-proof.

CSN: What is a microservices solution architecture? What are the benefits of bringing it to the forecourt? Harrell: In a microservices solution architecture, like that of Invenco’s Infx, a set of hardware-agnostic, decoupled software microservices deployed throughout the store and forecourt, including on outdoor payment terminals, replaces a massive, all-encompassing forecourt system. Instead of a spider web of complexity built into one solution that addresses the various forecourt functionalities, you have individual but connected ‘blocks’ of software tied to a specific function—for example, handling payments or monitoring the fuel tank. All ‘blocks’ use open, standards-based APIs that allow them to communicate with other ‘blocks’ needed for that function to take place.

CSN: What advice can you offer to c-store operators as they pursue digital transformation with a microservices software solutions architecture at the forefront? Harrell: Start as soon as possible—or disintermediation will be inevitable. Forget about rip-and-replace. Just identify the most challenging areas or aspects of your forecourt and replace the technology with the appropriate microservice solution. This approach lets you better manage and control your digital transformation, migrating to each solution at your own pace. You can be sure that individual solutions have been successfully implemented before going on to the next one, which makes for a smoother ride and increases the potential for success.

CONTACT US AT

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3/31/22 9:17 AM


COVER STORY

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


BUILDING A BETTER EXPERIENCE AS THE RETAIL INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO RECOVER FROM THE PANDEMIC, IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER FOR CONVENIENCE STORES TO MEET THE EVOLVING NEEDS OF SHOPPERS By Angela Hanson THE CONVENIENCE STORE INDUSTRY has long been lauded for its resilience, endurance and adaptability in times of crisis. More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and over a year since the first vaccines were administered, these qualities are paying off, putting c-store operators in the right position to turn a steady present into a highly successful future.

Although the end of the pandemic may be in sight, it isn’t here yet — a fact supported by data from the exclusive 2022 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study. Many segments of this year’s results are similar to those from the 2021 study, still reflecting notable drops in weekly shoppers and store-attribute ratings compared to pre-pandemic figures. That they have yet to fully rebound shows the industry’s recovery remains a work in progress. But the lack of further year-over-year drops, combined with smaller improvements in certain areas, indicates the c-store industry is holding steady and likely past the worst effects of the pandemic. This year’s findings also highlight how important the very concept of convenience is to consumers, and how the definition of “convenience” continues to evolve. While convenience channel shoppers tend to be creatures of habit, c-store operators cannot take for granted that they will always be a part of shoppers’ regular routines; competing channels are also showing signs of recovery and doing their best to build momentum and gain a larger share of wallet. To emerge victorious in a post-pandemic future, c-store operators need to spend more time than ever considering two key questions: What does a convenient experience mean to their customers? What are they doing to provide it?

The Building Blocks of Shopper Satisfaction Convenience stores remain in a good position with repeat customers. Sixty-seven percent of shoppers say they visit a c-store once a week or more, a 2-point increase from a year ago, which pushes the weekly shopper figure past two-thirds of the total customer base. More than one in five (21 percent) say they make daily c-store shopping trips. Only grocery stores have close to the same number of weekly-or-more frequent shoppers at 66 percent. However, that figure is down 5 points from last year’s study.

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COVER STORY

Year over year, dollar stores, drugstores and discount supermarkets all saw their weekly shopper numbers grow, while the number of shoppers who say they never visit such outlets declined. This indicates an overall more competitive space for weekly shoppers, though c-stores remain far ahead of almost every other store type when it comes to retaining frequent shoppers. The finding that c-stores are seeing their weekly shoppers increase while grocery stores’ percentage of weekly shoppers declines may indicate that it isn’t the result of a pandemic-related shift that applies equally to the retail world as a whole. C-store shoppers want to visit regularly, and operators should focus on giving them reasons to do so. When asked specifically about their shopping frequency today vs. prepandemic, 67 percent say they’re shopping at c-stores at “about the same” frequency as they did previously, up 5 points from last year’s study. A positive shift is even more visible when examining opposite edges of the frequency range: the percentage of shoppers who say they’re visiting c-stores more than pre-pandemic increased 6 points to 20 percent, while the percentage who say they’re visiting c-stores less than prepandemic declined by 10 points. Overall, 87 percent of shoppers say they’re visiting c-stores today at about the same frequency or more often than they did pre-pandemic, compared to 76

Shopping Frequency by Store Type Today vs. Pre-Pandemic More

Online Store

Less

About the Same

30%

55%

14%

Dollar

23%

65%

11%

Mass/Supercenter

23%

64%

13%

Grocery

21%

68%

Convenience

20%

67%

13%

Discount Supermarket

19%

65%

17%

Club

19%

62%

19%

Drug

18%

67%

15%

Specialty/Natural

17%

60%

23%

11%

percent who said the same in the 2021 study. This is good news for the convenience channel, but operators should be aware that other retail channels are seeing a similar trend, including grocery stores and dollar stores. C-stores have a solid foundation of loyalty, but must work to sustain it. To do so, they should consider the kind of shopping experience they offer, and whether it matches consumers’ evolving expectations and demands. Nearly half of c-store shoppers (49 percent) consider the shopping experience to be important or very important when choosing a store to shop at, up 3 points from last year, while 31 percent consider it to be moderately important. Just 20 percent consider the shopping experience to be only slightly important or not important at all. When asked to describe what a positive shopping experience means to them, today’s convenience channel shoppers are most likely to cite the price of products (53 percent), products they need being in stock (41 percent) and variety of products offered (30 percent). General

Frequency of Shopping Store Type Shop Once a Week or More

Grocery

66%

Mass/Supercenter

57%

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

2% 5%

37%

Online Store

35%

Drug Discount Supermarket

5%

49%

Dollar shop at a convenience store once a week or more

Never Shop

29%

Club

19%

Specialty/Natural

18%

14% 5% 21% 31% 36%



COVER STORY

convenience and store cleanliness are also important, cited by 28 percent and 26 percent of shoppers, respectively. Interestingly, the percentage of shoppers who place importance on products being in stock and employee friendliness both declined several percentage points from 2021, which could indicate that consumers have grown more understanding of supply chain struggles and the unique stresses being placed on retail workers over the last two years. At the same time, the percentage of shoppers citing quality of prepared food as being important rose 3 points to 15 percent, highlighting the growing importance of this category. More shoppers in this year’s study also cited the look and feel of a store (10 percent) and being fun to shop (12 percent) as contributing to a positive shopping experience. While these attributes rank fairly low on the list of positive shopping experience descriptors, operators should take note of this trend because in today’s competitive marketplace, delivering on these factors could be the difference in a customer choosing one store over its closest competitor. The shoppers surveyed this year also weighed in on their experience with outof-stock products. The good news is that for most, c-stores are not at great risk of being associated with the inconvenience of product outages, as 60 percent of c-store shoppers feel that the frequency at which they encounter out-of-stock products has not changed compared to a year ago. The bad news is that more than a third of shoppers report seeing more product outages today. While this figure may be a minority, it is a fairly significant figure. And even more important is what shoppers do when faced with a product outage: 35 percent say they purchase a different brand of the same product type, while 33 percent purchase a different product type. However, 34 percent say they go to a different store, and 32 percent report leaving without making a purchase — both options that retailers want to avoid if they can help it. Ultimately, while c-store operators do

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

need to be persistent and work with their supplier and distributor partners to avoid out-of-stocks as much as possible, some outages may be inevitable as supply chain problems persist. When they do occur, offering as positive and convenient a shopping experience as possible is more important than ever.

What Today’s C-store Shoppers Want Most When asked to share what “convenience” means to them, consumers from all age groups focus on speedy trips that lack barriers to getting what they want. Regardless of what they’re buying, shoppers want to get it without having to look around to find it or visit another store. “The word convenience means easy and simple,” said one Generation Z shopper.

Factors That Describe a Positive Shopping Experience Price of products

53%

Products I need are in-stock

41%

Variety of products offered

30%

General convenience

28%

Store cleanliness

26%

Speed of shopping trip

16%

Quality of prepared food

15%

Employee friendliness

15%

Store organization

14%

Employee helpfulness

14%

Loyalty program

14%

Fun to shop

12%

Store look/feel

10%

Availability of contactless options

9%

Embraces cutting-edge tech

3%

Frequency of Out-of-Stock Product Experiences at Convenience Stores vs. Year Ago

Fewer today 7%

About the same 60%

More today 34%



COVER STORY

While ease of in-store navigation and fast checkout times contribute to the perception of convenience, consumers also view the concept as extending beyond the store door. One millennial shopper said she values “being able to get what I need and out of the parking lot in around 10 minutes or less.” Some consumers don’t think of convenience as having a time limit, but do pay attention to whether retailers understand that their time is worth something. “It means that my time is seen as valuable and necessarily respected to gain my business,” explained a Generation X shopper. When asked about specific elements that have influenced their decision to visit a convenience store, shoppers point to loyalty programs (25 percent) and gas price apps (21 percent) as the top motivators. Eighteen percent also cited coupons. Beyond rewards and savings-focused elements, shoppers consider recommendations from people they know and trust; the percentage of shoppers who cited word of mouth as a motivator rose 3 points to tie as the second most-cited motivator at 21 percent. Notably, the percentage of shoppers influenced by the availability of contactless shopping declined 3 points this year to 12 percent, which could indicate that customers who were previously wary of close contact have grown more comfortable with resuming pre-pandemic shopping habits. Additionally, the availability of alternate delivery methods such as drive-thru (12 percent), mobile ordering (10 percent) and curbside pickup (9 percent) remain fairly low-influence. The power of loyalty programs makes it all the more important that convenience retailers fully understand what needs their loyalty program currently satisfies for customers, and in what ways they can do better. Recent months have seen a bevy of c-store chains roll out rewards program revamps and new loyalty program mobile apps on a regular basis. Unsatisfied c-store loyalty program members primarily express frustration with their ability to earn and use their

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

Alternative Action Taken When Product Is Out of Stock at a Convenience Store 35%

34%

33%

32%

6% 1% Purchased same product type, different brand

Went to a different store

Purchased different product type

Left without making purchase

None of the above

Other

Aspects That Influence a Visit to a Convenience Store Loyalty program

25%

Word of mouth

21%

Gas price app

21%

Coupon

18%

Mobile app offer

15%

Availability of drive-thru

12%

Availability of contactless shopping

12%

Email

10%

Social media promotion

10%

Mobile ordering

10%

Radio or TV ad

9%

Availability of curbside pickup

9%

Print circular

8%

Text message

7%

Billboard

5%

Occasion When Typically Shop at Convenience Stores

57%

While running other errands

43%

Special trips from home

34%

While traveling for pleasure

29%

While traveling to/ from work or school

14%

While traveling for business


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rewards. Perceived stinginess is a problem for shoppers who don’t feel their rewards amount to anything they particularly want. So, retailers may want to consider a longer redemption period or open-ended redemption periods for loyalty points, as numerous shoppers complain about too-soon expiration dates — and if they can’t use their points, the program isn’t doing much to draw them back for another visit. Operators should also review whether the process for earning and redeeming loyalty rewards is sufficiently clear, as some shoppers feel uncertain about how to use them. “It’s ... my ability to keep up with the rewards and learn how to use them from the app the store is using to provide the rewards that I think is the problem,” said one millennial.

Time of Day When Typically Shop at Convenience Stores 37%

22%

27% 19% 11%

6 a.m. to

9 a.m. to

11 a.m. to

2 p.m. to

4 p.m. to

7 p.m. to

10 p.m.

8:59 a.m.

10:59 a.m.

1:59 p.m.

3:59 p.m.

6:59 p.m.

9:59 p.m.

or later

Types of Convenience Store Visits Daily

Extra flexibility is also useful, as product outages may have a disproportionate negative effect on otherwise active loyalty program members. “Because they don’t always have what you want, the loyalty program isn’t always the best,” said a Gen Z shopper.

32%

34%

Gasoline Only

Weekly

10%

Monthly

Every 6 Months

54%

Yearly or More

Never

20%

2% 4%

11% 3%

In-Store Only

21%

46%

22%

5%

3%

Changing Shopper Routines Given their “convenience” moniker, it’s not surprising that c-store shoppers say they are most likely to make a store visit while running other errands (57 percent). However, they aren’t averse to making a special trip from home to a c-store (43 percent). And the channel remains handy for vacationers, as 34 percent report visiting a c-store while traveling for pleasure. Just under three in 10 c-store shoppers say they typically stop on the way to or from work or school. This is a slight dip from 2021, and still significantly less than two years ago pre-pandemic, when 45 percent said they made such trips. With many workers having adapted to a full work-from-home arrangement or a hybrid home/office situation, retailers should consider that commuter foot traffic patterns may be permanently altered. Currently, c-store visits are highest at midday, according to shoppers’ reports of when they typically visit a c-store. A small peak during the 11 a.m. to 1:59 p.m. daypart (cited by 34 percent of shoppers) is followed by a bump during the 4 p.m. to 6:59 p.m. period (cited by 37 percent) before trending downward for the rest of the day. Year over year, the morning daypart of 44 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

3% Both

11%

46%

24%

6%

11%

9 a.m. to 10:59 a.m. saw a 3-point increase despite the decline in the number of shoppers who say they make c-store visits on the way to work or school. This could mean that even non-commuters who work from home still want to get out of the house for their morning coffee or breakfast meal. Conversely, the percentage of shoppers who say they typically visit in the 4 p.m. to 6:59 p.m. daypart declined 5 points vs. a year ago, adding further difficulty to c-store success in the challenging dinner daypart. In-store-only visits occur more frequently than fuel-only or a combination of the two. Two-thirds of c-store shoppers (67 percent) say they make an in-store-only visit once a week or more, with 46 percent visiting weekly and 21 percent visiting daily. Fuel-only shoppers make up the largest percentage of weekly shoppers, with 54 percent stopping to fill up once a week. More than half of c-store shoppers (57 percent) report making a combination in-store and fuel trip at least once per week. Once on-site, more than a third (36 percent) report buying in-store items almost every time or every time they stop to buy gas from a convenience store, while exactly half (50 percent) say they buy in-store items some of the time. The top factors that shoppers say have influenced them to buy in-store items during a recent trip to purchase fuel are frequent buyer/loyalty programs (cited by 21 percent), mobile app promotions/deals (19 percent) and promotional signage (17 percent). CSN



FEATURE

A HEALTHY OPPORTUNITY As health and wellness goes mainstream, c-stores should respond with choice By Renée M. Covino TWO YEARS of

a pandemic that upended consumers’ lifestyles, routines, eating habits, moods and more have pushed the supersonic button on the importance of health and wellness for individuals across multiple aspects of their daily lives. There’s strong evidence across the retail sector that consumer preferences have recently shifted to include a greater interest in health-conscious products and a lifestyle more focused on wellness. In a recent consumer trends report from consulting and technology services firm Capgemini, 69 percent of shoppers said they will be more conscious of personal health and will look to purchase healthier products postpandemic. “Healthier eating has gone more mainstream, and the general population is more accustomed to embracing new health objectives,” said Sara

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

Watson, principal of consumer products, retail and services for Capgemini Americas. Regarding the convenience channel, in particular, Watson said: “It seems like we’re shifting to a more inclusive model of bringing a range of food selections together in c-stores. No longer do products need to be labeled or grouped by healthy vs. unhealthy. It’s just presenting customers with a selection of grab-and-go foods that can meet their needs.”

The Kid Factor The Capgemini research also pointed to a particular health-conscious consumer group rising above others — consumers with children. In the study, 74 percent of shoppers with children in their households said they will be more cautious about personal health, compared to 67 percent of shoppers without children. In addition to catering to this group moving forward,


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FEATURE

Simple Ways C-stores Can Get Healthy Convenience Store News asked industry experts to offer creative ways for c-stores to tap into today’s health and wellness movement, particularly focusing on “simple things” that don’t require finding more square footage. Here are their suggestions: “C-stores don’t have to convert whole aisles or sections. Place some better-for-you products into the set. Typically, these items have a higher profit margin and a slightly higher ring.” — Jeff Canner, Rule Breaker Snacks “Messaging such as ‘small steps to healthier living’ or ‘convenient healthy options’ are good reminders that convenient doesn’t need to be unhealthy and, to the contrary, can be packed with nutrients that surpass even a cooked meal.” — Karl Zarse, M.D., Idaho Spine & Pain “Offering more grab-and-go items with plant-based proteins is a simple way to adjust inventories and account for consumers’ evolving preferences. Also, the demand for immune support products grew as the pandemic progressed, and this trend is expected to continue. Consumers are looking for ways to boost their natural immunity against infection.” — Sara Watson, Capgemini Americas “Convenience stores that offer gas can provide electric charging stations, bringing in a new demographic, one that will most likely be interested in purchasing products that promote health and wellness.” — Gail Levy, HFactor Water “Cleanliness is key to a c-store’s health and wellness perception. So are cheerful, colorful callouts announcing ‘locally grown fruit’ or ‘fresh salads daily.’” — Randy Rolfe, certified nutritionist & healthy lifestyle author 48 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

c-stores should also plan to target Generation Z consumers, as Gen Z shoppers are willing to pay a premium for healthy, clean and sustainable products more than any other generation, noted Watson. These days, convenience stores are better positioned to cater to the health-conscious crowd as the pandemic initiated a changing consumer profile in c-stores, observed Gail Levy, founder and CEO of HFactor Water, maker of hydrogen water. The channel now attracts “a more affluent, as well as younger, customer,” she said. “These consumers are driving the sales of better-for-you products.” More and more convenience stores are exploring and adding better-for-you products into their merchandise mix, reported Jeff Canner, chief operating officer at Rule Breaker Snacks, whose products are 100 percent vegan and plant-based. “The next generation of c-store customers is coming, and their tastes and styles are different,” Canner added.

A Trusted Destination As consumers take a more proactive role in better managing their health, the time is ripe for the convenience channel to better manage its health and wellness offerings. “There is still room for expansion across the channel, as 69 percent of convenience store shoppers feel it is challenging to find healthy foods, and 41 percent expressed they would like to see healthier prepared foods offered,” cited Tracy DeCarlo, director of category solutions at private brand partner Daymon. “As consumers seek increased product offerings, convenience retailers can become trusted destinations.”


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FEATURE

Words That Resonate According to health and wellness experts, trending product attributes include: • Plant-based foods • Whole foods/ natural foods • Free from • High protein • High fiber • Low sugar • Low/no ABV beverages • Reduced-calorie beverages • Immune support • Prebiotics/probiotics

One of the best ways for c-stores to stay competitive in this arena, according to DeCarlo, is to utilize a private brand portfolio, which she says provides the best opportunity to differentiate and consistently evolve to meet changing health needs. A dedicated internal brand of healthy grab-and-go options, such as precut fresh fruit and vegetables, bento-style boxes offering charcuterie-style highprotein foods, and plant-based snacks such as premium nuts, should be on the radar, she advised. “The delicate balance retailers need to address is that one size does not fit all, and what wellness and healthy eating mean to one consumer is different from another,” she said.

Learning From Other Channels Long known as the place for “Cokes and smokes,” the convenience store industry is somewhat behind other channels in regards to focusing on health and wellness. “C-stores can mimic the quick action of the drug channel to pivot into the health trend. [Drugstores] have done a great job identifying products on shelves and creating modules for these products,” said Levy. She also stressed the importance of education and calling out nutritional information at the point of purchase to attract and engage consumers of a certain mindset. Watson agrees that drugstores have emerged as a “major player” in the health and wellness space. Consumers became very familiar with drugstores

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

• • • • • •

Freshly prepared Food as medicine Functional nutrition Gut health Flexitarian diets Preventative/ protective care • Antioxidants • Environmentally responsible • Low carbon footprint

during the pandemic as primary COVID-19 testing and vaccination centers. “This interaction also led to consumers exploring immune support supplements, which became increasingly popular as the pandemic progressed,” she noted. Watson recommends convenience stores take a page from drugstores and offer immune support products, particularly functional wellness drinks, to “meet the moment and further establish their place in the health and wellness world.” The convenience channel can also take a lesson or two from the restaurant industry. This sector is very good at offering “healthy” products that appeal to a broad audience, such as plant-based, low-carb, no-sugar and gluten-free items. The restaurant industry, as well as the grocery channel, have also become skilled in providing new fulfillment and delivery services throughout the pandemic. Thanks to an overwhelmingly positive response from consumers, these offerings are here to stay. “Shoppers have now come to love and expect services like mobile ordering and curbside pickup, and much like the restaurant industry, convenience stores will need to ramp up offerings to meet demands,” said Watson. “If c-stores aren’t already investing heavily in their digital channels, delivery services, loyalty programs and health-focused marketing campaigns, they will be left behind.” CSN


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FOODSERVICE

New Responsibilities in Food Safety This already-important aspect of foodservice is now paramount in the pandemic’s wake By Renée M. Covino

“STAYING SAFE” has become a new phrase of life since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it’s no wonder that consumers today have a heightened awareness and more stringent standards for food safety at convenience stores.

For many shoppers, c-stores became mini grocery stores that they relied upon more often than usual for fresh food during the pandemic. Having to stock more perishable items opened up a new world of responsibility for c-stores, which now have to guarantee freshness and make sure items are traceable in the event of a recall. “Many stores had to rethink their records management and really evaluate the state of their product data,” said Ryan Richard, vice president of community engagement for GS1 US, the standards body best known for being the administrator of the UPC barcode. GS1 US is working to educate the industry on how to identify products uniquely in the supply chain, capture data about those products, and share product information in a uniform way through GS1 standards, reportedly the most widely used supply chain standards in the world. “These data standards support widespread food traceability, as they help retailers know exactly where food was grown and how

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

it was processed or packaged, which can help c-stores protect consumers,” Richard explained. GS1 US has been working with c-store industry associations Conexxus and NACS to raise awareness of a major transition happening at the point-of-sale (POS) between now and 2027. Brands and retailers have begun to migrate from the traditional UPC barcode to a two-dimensional (2D) barcode on product packaging. “The 2D barcodes, such as a QR code, can hold much more information relevant to what consumers want today and improve transparency,” Richard said. “They want to know about product origins, if it was sustainably made, if it contains any allergens, and other key information that confirms the product is in line with their diets or beliefs.” Convenience stores are starting to understand the importance of embracing technology to track and monitor food delivery and preparation, as well as communicate nutritional and allergen information to consumers, noted Mia Massi, senior marketing manager at Charlotte, N.C.-based SATO America, a provider of food labeling solutions. “As c-stores begin to use more fresh food in their meals, it will be important that they communicate food safety and nutritional information to their customers to ensure confidence,” she said.


At the same time, c-store operators are expanding their hot and cold foodservice offerings to get customers to visit and spend more. These new offerings are forcing retailers “to take a hard look at their food safety procedures and, in many cases, implement new technology that helps them automate and streamline in-store workflows,” said Derek Stangle, vice president of marketing at Squadle Inc., a company focused on streamlining food safety for chains with its digital checklists and new thermal scanner. Convenience stores are starting to adopt standards that have already been proven in restaurants. “Automated food safety and shift management workflows help to ensure operational efficiency, save costs on labor, and can eliminate food waste. Digital checklists are streamlining operations and compliance for c-stores that are beginning to leverage foodservice software,” Stangle relayed. “As the store footprint expands, so does the number of items offered. Operators and staff need to adopt many of the same workflows and safety protocols that have proven successful in QSRs [quick-service restaurants].” Add into the mix curbside pickup and delivery, more prepared food, stay-athome meal kit options and digital grocery carts, it all adds up to higher standards and expectations for a better customer experience that ensures food safety, quality and consistency, according to Jim

Key Trends in Food Safety Technology Experts point to these technologies as leading the way in the food safety arena: • Artificial intelligence (AI) & computerized tracking • Bluetooth low energy (BLe) probes • Digital task management • Digital checklists • Digital traceability • IoT sensors • Remote temperature monitoring systems • Shift management tools • TPHC (Time as a Public Health Control) alerts • Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes

Hardeman, chief marketing officer and chief product officer at CMX, a provider of cloud-based enterprise quality management software. CMX recently partnered with Mojix, a supplier of item-level intelligence solutions, to advance comprehensive end-to-end traceability and food safety. A channel-specific version of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food safety system offers a viable approach for c-stores to address today’s new standards. “For many decades, HACCP has been successfully applied in food processing facilities, helping manufacturers produce safe food for their consumers. Convenience stores should consider implementing a modified ‘Process’ HACCP approach to fit their businesses,” Hardeman advised, detailing that this means looking at the whole flow of food through the establishment — from receiving to sales — and identifying points where food safety is likely to be compromised. The retailer then sets critical limits, which may include pH levels, temperatures or salt concentration, in order to maintain a safe environment and prevent, eliminate or reduce food safety hazards to an acceptable level. It is critical to keep detailed monitoring procedures. Ideally, digital checklists, digital verification and digital operational routines should be set to verify whether the HACCP system is working. “Digitizing this process offers retailers a scalable, trackable and efficient way to adapt to the new safety demands emerging today, including those created by the pandemic,” Hardeman said.

All Aboard For modernized food safety to gain ground in c-stores, store-level staff must be informed and onboard with the new procedures. Education is always key, said Trevor Craig, food scientist and director of corporate consulting at Microbac Laboratories, a large network of privately held testing facilities in the United States. “I am constantly surprised by how many people don’t know basic safety things like the danger zone of food storage and the risks associated with eating undercooked or exposed food,” he said. “A lot of people don’t even know where salmonella and listeria and e.coli come from and how serious those types of infections can really be, especially to those immune-compromised. And not just a c-store manager should know this, but everyone who works [inside the store].” Donald Shindler, a food safety attorney with Clark Hill PLC’s Chicago office, recommends retailers provide bonuses and internal rewards to employees who cooperate and advocate new food safety standards and personal employee safety standards, and penalize those who do not, including with the loss of their job. “Subject to individual health situations, government requirements and possible union labor contracts, mandates for vaccinations and masking as conditions for retention of jobs…appear to have been fully recognized by the courts and within the power of private companies to institute,” Shindler pointed out. C-store operators need to get everyone onboard by providing food safety information, education and training. There should also be communication to all staff to create a team approach and foster a common understanding of the importance of standards, including the benefits to employees, customers and the organization, he explained. AP RIL

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FOODSERVICE

Often, it’s when employees understand how food safety benefits them personally that they will be motivated to adhere. Vann Williams, director of strategic accounts at Steritech, a provider of food safety and operational assessments to c-stores, says retailers should convey to employees how the food safety checklist increases their paycheck or bonus pool, especially at companies where there’s a profit-sharing plan. “Safe food is usually more profitable food,” he said, noting that less waste, less electricity, less money spent on maintenance tickets, etc., all contribute to more profit. Williams advises c-store retailers to keep learning sessions “short, sweet and consistent.” Think in terms of five-minute training courses vs. five hours, he stressed. The Steritech executive also offered a “common-sense” checklist to keep food safe: • Utilize on-site timers and POS systems with alerts to check temperatures and/or dispose of food after certain periods. • Make checking on the safety of food part of the daily routine. There is a correlation between completion of opening and midday checklists and food safety performance. Count on your staff’s “muscle memory.” • Invest in the routine maintenance of equipment. Clean fans and vents regularly, and repair door handles to prevent employees from ripping gaskets just by opening the door the wrong way. • Follow the equipment manufacturer’s instructions on which equipment to use for which task. Do not overload units — they can only maintain temperature if filled at or below the intended capacity. • Stock shelves quickly. Employees will get distracted by customers while on the sales floor, so work in smaller batches to limit the amount of time product is out of a temperature-controlled environment.

Perspectives on the Future “As c-stores develop more ‘kitchen-type environments,’ the food area will take a different shape — you can already see that in some stores that are labeling those areas as kitchens or cafes,” said Craig, who cautions that those stores that do not adopt this way will be seen as having reduced quality/reduced safety in their foodservice ops.

The way Massi sees it, c-stores are becoming the new neighborhood restaurant, replacing restaurants that have closed permanently due to the pandemic. “They will be required to upgrade their offerings to compete with the remaining local restaurants,” she said, citing food preparation areas becoming larger and more like restaurant-quality. Adopting new food safety standards is a matter of c-stores surviving and thriving or not, maintains Shindler. Those stores “wanting” in the area of food safety will likely lose customers, have negative public reputations, suffer reduced revenues, face claims and lawsuits, and eventually go out of business, he stated, while those that embrace, follow and publicize food safety will survive. High-priority areas are, and will continue to be, where checkout/payment occurs, where ready-to-consume food and beverage offerings are available, and where customers access them. Shindler predicts more shields and more automation, especially in drinks. Although it’s been reported that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through food, surfaces will remain a top concern for customers, predicts Susan Flake, global director of business development food and logistics for Avery Dennison Identification Solutions. Post-pandemic, customers will still want continued peace of mind about sanitation and food handling. All of the experts agree that the future of food safety in the convenience channel also will undoubtedly mean digitization. “The years leading up to 2030 will see the food supply chain become digital from the source to the consumer,” Flake said. The pandemic has sped up the process for food operators, including c-stores, to transition to digitization. “Now that companies are understanding the value of the data they have and how IoT, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and automation can dramatically improve their operations, they won’t go back,” she said. Ultimately, the biggest future impact of food safety will be on the consumer and the guest experience, according to CMX’s Hardeman. “By elevating food safety, c-stores will also protect their brand reputation,” he concluded. CSN AP RIL

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TOBACCO

Synthetic Nicotine in the Spotlight Regulation looms as manufacturers, retailers and consumers embrace lab-derived nicotine By Renée M. Covino IN THE TOBACCO WORLD, man-made options are rising to the top. Synthetic nicotine, also known as tobacco-free nicotine, is one of the options gaining traction.

“Scientifically manufactured in state-of-the-art laboratories, synthetic nicotine doesn’t contain any part of the tobacco leaf, stem or waste,” explained Lee Probst, vice president of sales at synthetic nicotine product manufacturer Ignite. “This means that it doesn’t have the tar and other unhealthy components of tobacco. The value to the tobacco industry is that it now gives a cleaner alternative to traditional tobacco.” The use of synthetically made nicotine in vapor, oral and other alternative tobacco products is a direct result of consumer demand, according to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free

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Alternatives Association (CASAA), which maintains that more than 23 million Americans currently use vapor and modern oral products. With this consumer demand, however, comes the threat of regulation. CASAA was founded in 2009 to raise awareness and protect consumer access to reduced harm alternatives to smoking. The nonprofit organization promotes the availability and protection of smoke-free alternatives to combustible tobacco. “Synthetic nicotine presents regulators with an opportunity to optimize the public health benefits of nicotine from smoke-free sources. Namely, allowing the use of synthetic nicotine in products that are attracting and diverting people away from smoking,” the association states.


The Push to Regulate In December, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller spoke about the regulatory challenges regarding the use of synthetic nicotine in electronic cigarettes and vapor products. These challenges are behind the effort to bring synthetic nicotine under the regulatory authority of the FDA, according to Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO). He outlined three main regulatory challenges around synthetic nicotine: definitional, differentiation and claims. The definitional challenge refers to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the federal law that authorized the FDA to regulate tobacco products, which defines a tobacco product as “any product made or derived from tobacco, including a component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product.” Synthetic nicotine is not made or derived from tobacco.

The differentiation challenge revolves around the increasing difficulty in testing and differentiating tobacco-derived nicotine from synthetic nicotine. The difficulty arises because nicotine itself has two isomer forms (an R-nicotine isomer and a S-nicotine isomer), according to Briant. An isomer is two or more compounds with the exact same chemical formula, but the atoms are arranged differently. Nicotine derived from tobacco has an isomer that is made up of 99 percent S-nicotine. Previous synthetic nicotine compounds were made up of approximately 50 percent R-nicotine and 50 percent S-nicotine. However, newer synthetic nicotine compounds can consist of more than 99 percent S-nicotine, making it harder to distinguish synthetic nicotine from tobacco-derived nicotine, Briant explained.

“Consumers, by way of supporting the smoking alternatives industry, are demanding responsible and balanced regulations that optimize the transition away from combustion.” — Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association

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TOBACCO

The final challenge — the claims challenge — revolves around the increasing number of electronic nicotine products using, or claiming to use, synthetic nicotine instead of nicotine derived from tobacco. “As a part of these claims, several manufacturers that were issued Marketing Denial Orders by the FDA for their electronic cigarette products have made public statements that they are using or switching to synthetic nicotine to keep their products on the market,” the NATO director noted.

Closing the Loophole On March 15, President Joe Biden signed a new federal spending bill that includes a section granting the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products that contain nicotine not made or derived from tobacco (e.g., synthetic nicotine). The bill amends the definition of the term “tobacco product” under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to define a tobacco product as “any product made or derived from tobacco or containing nicotine from any source, that is intended for human consumption.” The new authority closes the loophole that allowed some vapor companies to remain on the market despite the FDA's focus on removing flavored electronic cigarettes and vapor cartridges in early 2020. The new legislation sets the effective date as 30 days after the bill is enacted, April 14. Manufacturers marketing a tobacco product that contains lab-made nicotine must file a Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA) with the FDA within 30 days after the effective date — by May 14 — for its product to remain on the market. The manufacturer can continue selling its product for an additional 90 days after the effective date. Once that period ends, the product would need to be removed from the market if the FDA has not approved the PMTA. CASAA’s position is that consumers will benefit the most from regulations that establish clear standards for purity, safe supply chains, manufacturing, marketing and sales. “Consumers, by way of supporting the smoking alternatives industry, are demanding responsible and balanced regulations that optimize the transition away from combustion,” the association 58 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

A new federal bill granted the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products that contain nicotine not made or derived from tobacco. stated, noting that the FDA and state and local governments have thus far proved incapable of regulating nicotine in a way that is appropriate for the protection of public health.

Business as Usual By now, the convenience channel is used to regulation looming in all corners of the tobacco category, and most c-stores are operating “business as usual” until a definitive change is put in place. Ignite’s Probst sees the channel as “the best fit for synthetic nicotine” because of its core business in traditional tobacco products. Synthetic nicotine products offer c-store operators the opportunity to offset the decline in revenue from traditional products, he noted. The company currently offers five different vape devices with puff counts ranging from 300 to 4,000. Ignite plans to launch two additional synthetic nicotine products this year. Other vocal players marketing synthetic nicotine include Bidi Vapor, NIIN, Pacha Mama, Rush and Puff Bar, which pivoted to synthetic nicotine in early 2021 after the FDA ordered it to stop selling its tobacco-derived flavored products. “Government restrictions on advertising certainly limits the ability to educate consumers, which leaves employee education, in-store demos, social media and tradeshows as the most effective ways to educate the synthetic nicotine consumer,” Probst advised. CSN


SNACKS

Get to Know the Snackers Consumers who snack often are motivated by a variety of different reasons By Brian Berk

to the COVID-19 pandemic, snacking trends have changed. Consumers, on average, now consume 2.7 snacks per day, with those snacking five or more times per day increasing by 3 percentage points in 2021 vs. 2016, according to IRI’s State of the Snack Industry report.

THANKS IN LARGE PART

Snacking is primarily an at-home event, with fewer people currently working at offices and needing to travel in cars to get to their jobs. In 2020, 81 percent of snack consumption occurred at a consumer’s home, vs. 75 percent the year before, the most recent data available. More at-home snack consumption has led to an overall increase in snacking due to others in the household (up 8 percent in 2020 vs. 2019), screen-time snack consumption in front of a TV or computer (up 9 percent), and snack consumption while playing games (up 12 percent), according to The NPD Group’s Generational Snacking After COVID-19 report. Research by The Hartman Group reveals that there are four overarching reasons why people snack. The Bellevue, Wash.-based research firm calls these the “Four Pillars of Snacking Drivers:” nourishment, pleasure, distraction and optimization.

Per year, snacking for nourishment accounts for 97.1 billion eatings in the United States; pleasure accounts for 92.9 billion eatings; distraction accounts for 72.6 billion eatings; and optimization accounts for 59.7 billion eatings. Under these snacking drivers, consumers are specifically looking for taste, price, convenience, familiarity with a brand, positive nutrition (snacks free from perceived harmful ingredients), and quality, purity and values (freshness, ingredient simplicity, sustainable, organic), according to The Hartman Group’s Snacking 2020: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted report. Robertson Allen, senior consultant for The Hartman Group, notes that these numbers may shift as distraction snacking — characterized by snacking due to boredom or to fill the time — is likely to decline. As the threat of the pandemic fades, it is still unclear whether snacking for distraction will continue to have the same kind of impact it has in recent years. “Pandemic-related anxieties have diminished, and these anxieties certainly drove some snacking-fordistraction behaviors. But other anxieties remain, such as those that are more economic and political,” Allen told Convenience Store News. “And people are continuing to work from home, which will likely alter how Americans snack to a certain degree, though children returning to school may also alter snacking

NOURISHMENT

Snacking that meets needs for daily sustenance, long-term wellness, and health management

DISTRACTION

Snacking that arises from the need to distract, whether due to stress, boredom, or other reasons

OPTIMIZATION

Snacking that helps one fulfill physical and mental performance demands

THE MODERN SNACKING FRAMEWORK

PLEASURE

Snacking that fulfills emotional desires for enjoyment, reward, discovery

Source: The Hartman Group Inc. AP RIL

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SNACKS

needs as we begin to establish a new kind of post-pandemic normalcy.” Even if distraction snacking does decline, Allen assured that the post-pandemic period will still keep plenty of momentum going for snacking. “In both 2020 and 2021, 48 percent of all food and beverage occasions were snacking occasions, and this has remained relatively consistent in recent years,” he noted. “What will likely shift is the context. For example, moving forward, there will likely be fewer alone snacking occasions vs. the pandemic years, which saw a significant rise in alone snacking.”

The Demographics of Snacking

to many and brought new consumers into the mindset of more intentional snacking choices, the consultant noted. Snacks will be called on to deliver more for consumers in this regard. With consumers wishing to combat the negative health consequences of the pandemic, and some citing weight gain such as the “COVID-15,” messaging that focuses on health-supportive aspects of snacks will help garner attention and exploration. While the pandemic continues to create uncertainty, long-term growth opportunities are strong, especially for more functional, sustainable snacks that can support holistic wellness, according to Chicago-based Mintel’s Salty Snacks 2022 report. “Interest in BFY [better for you] options, as well as more environmentally friendly product, is driving innovation among fast-growing alternative salty snacks,” said Beth Bloom, Mintel’s associate director of U.S. Food and Drink.

Generation X represents the future growth of snacks. NPD refers to this demographic as the “Snacking X Factor” because it focuses most on balancing health and indulgence.

54%

However, this in no way means other demographics should be ignored. Many younger consumers see snacking as a great way to explore different flavors and cuisines through relatively low-risk formats that do not require the time or cost commitment of meals, or the expertise in cooking meals, according to The Hartman Group.

of all snacking reflects some need for

Nourishment

(vs. 63% for meals)

51%

“The impact of children’s snacking on millennial parents’ snacking shouldn’t be discounted, too,” Allen added. “Seventynine percent of parents say that the snacks they give to their children are the same ones that they would eat.”

of all snacking reflects some need for

Pleasure

(vs. 54% for meals)

Convenience store retailers can perhaps deemphasize one demographic when it comes to snacking: older consumers. They are more established in their habits and taste preferences, and more likely to adhere to a “three square meals per day” model that prioritizes meals, said Allen.

33%

of all snacking reflects some need for

Optimization

(vs. 32% for meals)

“Younger generations are more comfortable with eating alone, and snacks are more highly individualized ‘me time’ occasions that cater to specific needs and wants in a more flexible way than meals usually can,” he pointed out. Snack manufacturers should anticipate sustained consumer interest in products that are supportive of generalized wellness, as well as specific health needs. While health and wellness is a longterm food culture trend in the U.S, the pandemic has underscored its importance

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40%

of all snacking reflects some need for

Distraction

(vs. 34% for meals)

Source: The Hartman Group Inc.


Alignment of Snacking Drivers by Daypart Snacking Occasion 63% 51%

51%

63%

49%

50% 40% 42%

Early Morning Snack

56% 53%

52%

43% 39%

Mid-Morning Snack

41% 32% Afternoon Snack

40%

41%

38%

Pleasure Nourishment Distraction Optimization

30%

21% After-Dinner Snack

Late-Night Snack

Source: The Hartman Group Inc.

Allen echoes the desire for environmentally friendly products. Consumers in the future will seek more, wanting both retailers and snack manufacturers to take a stand on other social issues, including those involving public health, he predicts. “Brands and corporations should anticipate rising demand for accountability on issues such as obesity, especially from larger mainstream companies with a strong presence in conventional snack categories,” he stated.

“Younger generations are more comfortable with eating alone, and snacks are more highly individualized ‘me time’ occasions that cater to specific needs and wants in a more flexible way than meals usually can.” — Robertson Allen, The Hartman Group

The Latest in Snack Trends Looking to predict the hottest future trends by identifying ingredients that could lead the way in snacks during the next several years, Mintel released its 2030 Food and Drink Trend, Change, Incorporated report. Ingredients to watch include: • Seeds, which are often underutilized and can be added to a mix containing more common ingredients, such as ancient grains and nuts, to bring taste and texture; • Oats, which are good for both consumers and the environment; • Probiotics that support immune health; • Pulses, such as chickpeas, lentils and fava beans, which can provide a plant-based source of protein and other nutrients; and • Coconut palm sugar, a natural unrefined sugar made from the sap of a coconut tree that satisfies consumer interest in natural and unprocessed ingredients.

Mintel added in its separate Salty Snacks 2022 report that “alternative” salty snacks, such as vegetable puffs and snacks made with diverse grains, enjoy high associations with healthful qualities such as being low calorie, low carb, low sodium and made with organic, non-GMO and natural ingredients. “This may make them an ideal category for snacks with more functional ingredients supporting specific health issues,” the researcher stated. A return to fresh-prepared snacks and global flavors could be other hot snack trends in the future. Global flavors align closely with healthy perceptions because consumers see ingredients in foods abroad as fresh and purer, according to Allen. “Retailers and brands should anticipate the broadening of postpandemic consumer needs for more diverse culinary and snacking experiences, as many look to move beyond the pandemic bubble and stretch their tastebuds to new horizons,” he advised. Zeroing in on specific perceived healthy foods that c-store retailers can stock on their shelves, NPD predicts that in 2023, fruit snacks, fruit, cheese snacks, refrigerated yogurt, hard candy, meal and snack kits, frozen novelties, crackers and ready-to-eat (RTE) popcorn/alternative salty snacks will show the most sales growth, while chewy candy and dips and salsa will experience the biggest sales declines. CSN AP RIL

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TECHNOLOGY

MAPCO is partnering with Grabango to enable its shoppers to skip the checkout line.

No-Touch & Go Contactless convenience is becoming the new norm in the convenience channel By Melissa Kress

TO SAY THAT THE COVID-19 pan-

demic has had a major effect on convenience store technology is an understatement. The global health crisis impacted all areas of life when it struck in early 2020, including changes in how consumers want to shop. Many c-store operators found themselves having to play catchup to meet consumers’ new wants and wishes. “The pandemic accelerated consumer adoption of digital technology and forever shifted how consumers expect to engage with their favorite brands — whether they are restaurants, retailers or convenience stores,” said Chris Abele, vice president of Carat and Digital Commerce at Brookfield,

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Wis.-based Fiserv, a global fintech and payments company. The checkout process and how consumers pay for their purchases is one shift. “Contactless payments are an interesting topic right now. Before COVID, I think it was a project led by technology people, but not moving very quickly in retail. Then, COVID hit and it accelerated a lot of things including contactless payments,” said Will Glaser, CEO and founder of Berkeley, Calif.-based Grabango. Grabango, which offers a contactless checkout solution similar to Amazon's walk-in, walk-out technology, is currently working with industry retailers such as MAPCO, Giant Eagle/GetGo, BP and Circle K, and will soon be adding three more to its platform.

Slow to Change Pre-pandemic, the convenience retail channel was historically known to be a slow adopter of contactless commerce, but that was mostly because consumer adoption of digital solutions was


relatively low and the cost to implement new technologies often outweighed the benefit, Abele explained. "With consumer behavior shifting to digital interactions drastically during the pandemic, c-stores today are being pushed to reimagine purchasing experiences for their customers and implement new omnichannel purchasing options for their customers," he said. The good news is that using digital payment technologies is proving to bring great benefits for businesses by improving the customer experience. These technologies are also enabling businesses to capitalize on the benefits of customer data and streamline customer loyalty, digital marketing and other connected experiences, according to Abele. One challenge in the convenience channel is the degree of segmentation between operators, pointed out Roy Stephenson, senior executive of retail, fuel and convenience at Diebold Nixdorf, a retail technology systems provider. Singlestore owners account for 61 percent of the industry. “Being a single-site owner means that you do not have the proper structure, such as a lab to test new technology, prior to deployment,” Stephenson said. “In the past, several convenience store retailers experienced issues going straight to the deployment of new technologies before staging them in a lab. That’s why they are more hesitant to upgrade/replace technology, and the majority stay with what is currently working.”

form factor. Therefore, the adoption pace is slower than in other industry segments,” he explained. Key to finding success with self-service is choosing the proper equipment, as well as planning and placement, all supported by an advisory service that will actually design the solution based on each retailer’s needs, according to Stephenson. “Otherwise, the chances that the retailer will reach the expected results are low,” he cautioned. Moving forward, Fiserv foresees no slowing down in the adoption of contactless, digital and other omnichannel payment experiences. Carat from Fiserv, an ecosystem of omnichannel commerce solutions for large national and multinational companies, recently conducted in-depth research that combined a study of more than 2,200 American consumers with a look at $3 trillion in payments volume to identify trends in omnichannel payments. According to the study:

“The pandemic accelerated consumer adoption of digital technology and forever shifted how consumers expect to engage with their favorite brands — whether they are restaurants, retailers or convenience stores.”

— Chris Abele, Fiserv

Open to New Ideas The channel’s hesitancy to embrace new technologies, however, has been eased by the pandemic, especially when it comes to contactless options. Solution providers report that there’s been a noticeable uptick in interest. The vast majority of convenience retailers are looking for contactless and self-service solutions to fit into their current infrastructure, but they are struggling with the offerings from their current point-of-sale (POS) providers, Stephenson noted. “POS providers have a ‘self-service’ offering, but they are not a traditional

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Struggling with staff shortage? Automate cash at the Self-Checkout Customers don’t expect to wait in a long checkout line; it defeats the purpose of “convenience.” Up to 50% of convenience store transactions are paid in cash. Don’t leave it out of the fast lane. CPI is a provider of payment solutions with 30 million devices in operation, processing 40 million cash payments and powering 4 billion transactions each week to keep your stores productive and give you piece of mind.

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NowNow youyou needneed to consider to consider Card-only handle all all cashcash payments, payments, increasing increasing the the likelihood likelihood howhow to deploy to deploy youryour self-checkout self-checkout to best to best suit suit the the needs needs handle lineslines will will continue continue to be to long be long at rush at rush hour,hour, andand risk risk of your of your stores stores andand youryour customers; customers; the big the question big question is—is— thatthat customers customers walking walking out out without without purchasing. purchasing. 41%41% of of do you do you automate automate cash, cash, or go or completely go completely cashless? cashless? customers customers will will abandon abandon theirtheir purchase purchase if they if they see see a long a long line,line, andand oneone badbad experience experience cancan soursour customers customers on your on your entire entire business. business. 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No one No one wants wants to lose to lose business business duedue to customer to customer dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction, andand these these lineslines cancan be effectively be effectively eliminated eliminated by deploying by deploying cashcash automation automation withwith self-checkout. self-checkout. 41%41% of customers of customers willwill abandon abandon theirtheir purchase purchase if they if they seesee a long a long lineline YouYou maymay be leaning be leaning toward toward cashless—it’s cashless—it’s lessless costly costly upfront, upfront, andand cardcard payments payments seem seem more more like like “the“the future.” future.” Let’sLet’s examine examine thatthat assumption—can assumption—can youyou get get the the full ROI full ROI youyou expect expect fromfrom youryour self-checkout self-checkout without without adding adding cash? cash? FirstFirst consider consider fromfrom the the perspective perspective of the of the speed speed of of service; service; self-checkout self-checkout will will move move youryour customers customers through through the the line line faster faster andand eliminate eliminate longlong lineslines at peak at peak times times of of day.day. If you’ve If you’ve onlyonly automated automated cashless cashless payments payments youyou haven’t haven’t solved solved the complete the complete problem, problem, andand will will not not be able be able to repurpose to repurpose cashiers cashiers to take to take on additional on additional store store related related tasks, tasks, like like cleaning, cleaning, stocking stocking shelves, shelves, etc.etc. Stores Stores thatthat Lastly, Lastly, cashless cashless processing processing isn’tisn’t always always as cheap as cheap as as struggle struggle withwith staffstaff shortages shortages will will findfind reliefrelief by allowing by allowing it seems it seems to be. to be. There’s There’s a good a good chance chance cashcash payments payments theirtheir customers customers to checkout to checkout without without theirtheir assistance, assistance, costcost lessless as aaspercentage a percentage of your of your revenue revenue thanthan cashless. cashless. ensuring ensuring onlyonly oneone cashier cashier is required is required to ring to ring up ageup age- Driving Driving customers customers to cashless to cashless maymay actually actually increase increase verified verified products. products. costs costs andand negatively negatively impact impact profit profit margins. margins. 47%47% of all of purchase all purchase values values under under $25$25 are are paidpaid in cash in cash In order In order to fully to fully reapreap the the benefits benefits of your of your self-checkout self-checkout deployment deployment youyou needneed to include to include bothboth cashcash andand cashless cashless Next, Next, thinkthink about about youryour customer’s customer’s experience. experience. For For the the payments. payments. Cash Cash automation automation makes makes it ait well-rounded a well-rounded average average purchase purchase in convenience in convenience stores, stores, consumers consumers solution solution andand delivers delivers a superior a superior ROIROI for your for your business. business. overwhelmingly overwhelmingly choose choose cash; cash; 47%47% of all of all purchase purchase values values under under $25$25 are are paidpaid in cash. in cash. TheThe percentage percentage of of cashcash usage usage in your in your stores stores maymay be even be even higher higher given given thatthat the the average average c-store c-store transaction transaction is between is between $3.75-9.00; $3.75-9.00; ScanScan to learn to learn howhow recent recent studies studies report report around around 40-50% 40-50% of purchases of purchases are are youryour business business made made in cash. in cash. In addition In addition to preferences, to preferences, the the Federal Federal can can benefit benefit fromfrom adding adding cash cash to to Reserve Reserve estimates estimates 20-28% 20-28% of the of the population population is currently is currently youryour store’s store’s self-self“unbanked,” “unbanked,” or “underbanked,” or “underbanked,” andand do not do not havehave access access checkout. checkout. to card to card payments. payments. Cashless Cashless onlyonly self-checkouts self-checkouts could could leadlead customers customers to perceive to perceive unfairness—why unfairness—why should should theythey


TECHNOLOGY

• In-store contactless transactions have increased six-fold since the start of the pandemic; • There has been a five-fold increase in digital wallet transactions online; and • 43 percent of consumers have used a digital wallet to pay in-store within the past month. Grabango is also seeing an uptick in interest for its contactless offering, according to Glaser. “Pretty much every retailer we talk to loves it because it’s a much better user experience. You can get into and out of the store very quickly. There are no lines. The guest experience goes from 10 minutes down to seconds. It’s delightfully easy to use,” he said. Unlike self-checkout kiosks, Grabango technology does not take up any space on the selling floor. The technology enables shoppers to skip the checkout line and simply walk out after scanning the code in their Grabango app. The system keeps track of what they picked up. “Those self-checkout kiosks you see in grocery stores are a brutal compromise,” Glaser said. "Consumers hate lines, and retailers hate seeing their customers

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dissatisfied in-store. Neither side really likes those machines, but many still need to have them today.”

Personal Service in a Contactless World In a channel that prides itself on customer engagement, offering contactless convenience can become a balancing act. The possibility of losing that personal connection is a concern for Lisa Dell'Alba, president and CEO of Bethlehem, Pa.-based Square One Markets Inc., which operates seven convenience stores in northeast Pennsylvania. In a recent webinar hosted by Conexxus, a member-driven technology organization dedicated to the convenience store and retail fueling market, Dell'Alba said interacting is a key piece of her view toward the business. So much so that she eyes self-service with some hesitancy. “When we talk about the industry as a whole, one of the things that comes up often is that we are part of the community. I think, right now especially, we are lacking in significant face-to-face connectivity,” the small operator explained. Consumers have become accustomed to talking on screens and using phones, and she admits she uses third-party providers like Grubhub and Instacart. "But at the end of the day, I think we appreciate interpersonal connections,” she said. On the employee side, face-to-face interaction with customers is important for developing any career path.


ADVERTORIAL

OVERCOMING C-STORE CHALLENGES WITH SELF-SERVICE TECHNOLOGY Today’s c-store consumers are more demanding than ever. It isn’t just about fuel—and “drinks and smokes”—anymore. Shoppers want a wide variety of products and services, including a broader range of groceries; freshly made items; convenient, healthier meal options; and more—and they want them fast, with minimal frustration. C-store operators must catch up and rise to the challenge—and self-service technology can help to get them there. Consumers encounter multiple annoyances while shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, while c-store operators face many challenges. What tops the charts?

Shopper Frustrations Hotlist1

1

“The items I wanted were out of stock or unavailable.”: 40%

2

“I had to wait in a checkout line queue, or my shopping trip took a pretty long time, even though I was only buying a few items.”: 27% and 22%

3

“I couldn’t find the items I wanted right away.”: 24%

At the same time, obstacles litter c-store operators’ path.

Operator Challenges Hotlist

1

Finding the right self-checkout solution, especially one that works for smaller, independent c-store retailers

2

Labor shortages, made worse by the “Great Resignation”

3

Adapting to changing shopper needs—including offering wider variety of products and services—to remain competitive and relevant

FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT: https://www.dieboldnixdorf.com/en-us/ contact-us/ Or call us at 1.330.490.4000

APRIL 2022 CSN_DIEBOLD.indd 2

SELF-SERVICE DOES DOUBLE DUTY Optimizing the checkout process through self-service technology lets c-store operators:

. .

Focus staff resources on eliminating shopper frustrations and improving the customer experience Overcome labor challenges, increasing manpower and freeing up store associates

Consumers favor self-checkout, too.2

45% 69%

of U.S. grocery shoppers generally prefer self-checkout

of consumers would adopt selfcheckout if retailers promoted the option more actively—for example, proactively encouraging shoppers to use it in-store

SETTING THE STAGE When it comes to self-service technology, no two c-stores are exactly alike—and no single solution fits all operators. Diebold Nixdorf works with c-store operators to build and implement the right self-service solution—one that suits its specific needs, product/service assortment, available space, and other parameters and enhances the customer journey from beginning to end. Diebold Nixdorf’s DN Series Easy comprehensive self-checkout platform: Is a complete portfolio of highly modular self-service solutions built on a single platform Accommodates customizable configurations Features best-in-class components and an optimized footprint

. . .

1, 2 Nielsen International Grocery Shopping and Technology Survey commissioned by Diebold Nixdorf, Online Survey carried out in December 2019, March 2021, May 2021

3/31/22 4:54 PM


TECHNOLOGY

“At the end of the day, we are still going to be communicating with someone. We still have to know how to interact with people,” Dell'Alba said. She often tells her employees that if they know what a customer smokes, they should also know that customer's name. “I think what we do is special, and we are very unique in the communities we serve. All of our communities are very different, and each store is very different. That banter [with customers] is amazing,” she said. Rather than choose one or the other, Grabango's Glaser thinks retailers should do both. “I think people working in stores should be friendly and should engage with their consumers. I want people to know my name and my brand of cigarettes. But if I am in a hurry, I want to get out as quickly as possible. They are both true,” he said. Before entering the retail tech space, Glaser was the co-founder and former chief technology officer of Pandora, a subscription-based music streaming service. So, he has experience with tapping into the varied wants and likes of individuals. “I am a strong believer that we are all individuals, and we all want different things. The music you play as you relax in your home is different from the music I play as I relax in my home, but we both enjoy our choices. I think that is true for shoppers as well,” he said. “There are people who are shy and don’t want to talk to anyone. They want to go to the store, get their stuff and leave. And there are people who are extroverted and chatty and who want to talk to people while they are in the store,” he continued. “Most of us are somewhere in between. There is a range of personalities in any setting.”

“I think people working in stores should be friendly and should engage with their consumers. I want people to know my name and my brand of cigarettes. But if I am in a hurry, I want to get out as quickly as possible. They are both true.” — Will Glaser, Grabango unfeasible,” said Stephenson of Diebold Nixdorf. “We see a trend of adding several services to a single location, such as fuel+laundry+food+mail, etc. Things that will turn shoppers’ lives more and more convenient.” He also believes “order ahead” will grow tremendously over the next several years. “Not only will customers want to be able to order their sandwich through an app, but they will also want to be able to order their drinks and snacks at the same time,” he added. Glaser predicts contactless will move from the traditional format to what he calls “super contactless.” With traditional contactless payments, customers do not have to exchange cash or a plastic card with another person. With super contactless, that remains true, but customers also do not have to have the cashier handle their purchases, he explained.

Where can contactless convenience go from here?

“That’s the major step coming out of the pandemic. Moving away from handing cash back and forth was a first step forward, but now we’re not going to be handing your food back and forth either,” he said.

“There are many technologies that retailers are implementing such as ‘just walk out’ technologies, mobile personal shopper, as well as click and collect. But those solutions are still very expensive and without multiple locations to spread those costs across, it would be

Henceforth, businesses will also come to better understand the benefits of digital experiences and how they can drive more personalized experiences, according to Fiserv’s Abele. "As retailers are able to engage customers digitally, they can begin to better understand preferences and purchasing patterns, and provide curated experiences for specific consumers,” he said. CSN

The Future: Super Contactless

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AN EYE ON D&I

Grading the C-store Industry on DEI The channel is doing many things right, but there’s still much work to be done By Linda Lisanti THE WAY HEATHER SCHOTT, diversity,

equity and inclusion manager at Des Moines-based Krause Group, sees it, the convenience store industry has an amazing opportunity to drive change. “We get to interact with customers across all diversity spectrums daily, and we also have an industry where people can join our teams and grow their careers no matter where they start in life. These customers and associates represent all genders, ages, races, abilities, socioeconomic states, neurodiversity, and so much more. We exist across rural and urban customer bases. What other industry can say that?” noted Schott, who leads DEI for the parent company of convenience store chain Kum & Go LC, operator of 400 locations across 11 states. The real question, she says, is: How is the c-store industry utilizing this opportunity to create environments where people feel seen,

valued and comfortable working and shopping as their authentic selves? In this regard, she believes the industry has work to do. As part of a new industrywide initiative to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders in the convenience channel around diversity and inclusion, Convenience Store News recently asked members of its newly formed Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board to rate the overall industry on DEI and weigh in on what the channel is doing right and where it needs to improve. Schott, a member of the board, says what the industry is doing well is “showing up” for its communities, even in the face of pandemic-driven challenges. “We are safe spaces for people to warm up and use our restrooms. We are the friendly good morning as people grab their coffee in the morning, and quick lunch replacements as they rush off to life,” she said. Where the industry needs to improve is in welcoming all, according to Schott. “Do we greet nonbinary folks without gendering them? Do we have spaces easy to move through for those with different abilities? Are our AP RIL

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AN EYE ON D&I

leadership teams representative of the communities we operate in?” she posed. “There is absolutely work to do in all spaces, but I’m hopeful because I hear the questions being asked and I see the desire to do better. Now, we need to show up and do the work each day.” Fellow board member Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer for convenience store chain Yesway Inc., gives the c-store industry “a solid C” rating for its current DEI performance. However, he’s quick to note the industry is doing many things right, such as placing stores in underserved communities; providing all levels of employment opportunities at the corporate and store levels; and creating opportunities for immigrants, New Americans and entrepreneurs who can own and operate their own stores, creating upward paths of economic mobility. As with most industries, Gaskins says where the convenience channel can most improve is at the senior levels of organizations. “There are far too few diverse leaders of convenience chains, suppliers and wholesalers,” he observed. “Representation matters, and this is an area collectively the industry must improve.”

“There are far too few diverse leaders of convenience chains, suppliers and wholesalers.” — Derek Gaskins, Yesway Inc. Letty George, director of global communications and a D&I advisor to the Executive Council for Diversity & Inclusion at Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (ACT), a member of the CSNews board, believes the c-store industry as a whole is “making fundamental progress” in the DEI journey. “Speaking on behalf of ACT, we have developed programs and taken the first steps on this journey by having open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations with our teams. Engaging with our frontline store team members is vital in our industry, and we continue to share best practices on how we can continue to improve in this area,” she said. The need to share is a common refrain among board members, including WorkJam CEO Steven Kramer, who says he is proud to be a part of the new Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board because he views it as “a significant strategic step to help guide and support improvement in this enormous and critical need in our society.” The convenience store industry, like many other industries, recognizes the importance of DEI and knows that it needs to elevate DEI in order to compete and be seen as an attractive place to work, according to Scott Myers,

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

Convenience Store News has launched a new industrywide initiative to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders in the convenience channel around diversity and inclusion, with underwriting support from Altria Group Distribution Co., The Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co. and WorkJam. The mission is to show retailers the business case for diversity and inclusion through education and the sharing of best practices. CSNews appreciates the support of our 2022 Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board: • • • • • • • • • • • •

Carlton Austin, The Coca-Cola Co. Treasa Bowers, 7-Eleven Inc. Rahim Budhwani, Encore Franchises LLC Emil Cantrell, Imperial Trading Co. Derek Gaskins, Yesway Inc. Elisa Goria, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K Danielle Holloway, Altria Group Distribution Co. Steven Kramer, WorkJam Lonnie McQuirter, 36 Lyn Refuel Station Alicia Petross, The Hershey Co. Tonya Robinson, Thorntons LLC Heather Schott, Kum & Go LC

president and CEO of Altria Group Distribution Co., founding underwriter of the CSNews industry initiative. “It’s great to see this momentum and how we are all learning from each other,” he said. While the U.S. c-store industry is already one of the most diverse industries, board member Rahim Budhwani, CEO of Encore Franchises LLC, points out that there’s some inconsistency within the convenience retailer community when it comes to DEI progress. “I think there is still a long way to go. I think a lot of small store operators don’t even understand the complete scope of DEI and what it really means. I think there needs to be more educational components, and sharing findings and a playbook to implement,” he said. Conversations like this are a great start to creating longlasting change, notes Alicia Petross, chief diversity officer for The Hershey Co. and a CSNews board member. “It’s through empathy, vulnerability and connections that we can come together for our communities. Whether a convenience store retailer, a CPG company or any other organization that touches the lives of consumers, we all need to continue improving within our own four walls to ensure we have diverse representation in leadership, pay equity, development opportunities, and that we’re doing our part in impacting our communities through supporting diverse-owned businesses,” she said. “We all have more work to do. Many in the industry are focused on increasing inclusion and representation — these bookends are a great place to start.” CSN


STORE SPOTLIGHT

The Sky’s the Limit Victron Energy debuts a new flagship store at DFW Airport to serve commuters and travelers By Danielle Romano

At a Glance Victron Energy Flagship Store Location: 3050 Highway 360, Euless, Texas Opened: June 2021 Size: 8,500 square feet Unique features: Located next to Dallas/ Fort Worth International Airport; aviation themed store design; Sonic and Jimmy John’s restaurants; nitro coffee from Phoenix Roasters; a 125-foot Wash Masters tunnel car wash with programmable lighting and music

WHEN IT COMES TO traversing an airport, it’s no secret that the prices for food, beverages and essential items are sky high. With Victron Energy Inc.’s new flagship store at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW Airport), however, commuters and travelers alike now have an option where they can find inexpensive gas, food, travel products, car washes, and more.

Dubbed by the Waxahachie, Texas-based company as the “Gateway of Euless,” the site is located on Highway 360 in Euless, Texas, and is situated immediately next to DFW Airport, one of the top five busiest airports in the United States. Designed with an aviation theme, the store is meant to look like an airport terminal. In fact, the store design incorporates many architectural elements of DFW Airport itself, including modeling the car wash pay station canopy after the toll booth pay canopies at the airport.

This new concept from Victron Energy is aesthetically different from the company’s other flagship locations, branded Texas Best Smokehouse, its travel center and convenience store arm that serves up homemade barbecue, an assortment of award-winning exotic jerky, and private brand items such as gourmet snacks and candy — all in a family-oriented setting. The Gateway of Euless is sleek and modern, with a minimalist design featuring tones of grey and silver, and directional signage and themes that make customers feel like they’re in an airport terminal. TV screens located right above the checkout area display the incoming and outbound aircraft traffic of DFW Airport. “From its inception by Ali Sharaf, Victron’s founder and a civil engineer, challenging properties have been a specialty of the company. The Victron team knew that this unique location needed to break every mold to maximize its potential,” Mohamed

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STORE SPOTLIGHT

Sharaf, vice president of Victron Energy, told Convenience Store News. Spanning 8,500 square feet, the Euless store opened at the end of June 2021. The property was previously owned by the Vaughn family from 1957 until 2019 when Victron Energy purchased it. Over the years, the site was taken on and off the market multiple times due to the complexities and challenges of acquiring permits so close to DFW Airport and multiple municipalities. The site sits in the city of Euless on one side of the street and the city of Grapevine on the other. “It took almost four years to receive all of the permits necessary, which is a testament to the dedication and will of Victron’s development team to develop a great site,” Sharaf said.

Delivering the Future of Convenience With today’s consumers increasingly wanting as many options as possible conveniently presented to them, Victron Energy feels strongly that its fuel, food, car wash and electric vehicle (EV) charging offerings represent the future of convenience. Despite the site’s many challenges, including being triangular in shape, the Gateway of Euless is the first-ever convenience store to house both Sonic and Jimmy John’s restaurants. The Sonic includes a drive-thru, while Jimmy John’s

Designed with an aviation theme, the store is meant to look like an airport terminal.

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


Nitro coffee from Phoenix Roasters, presented in a selfpour format, is highlighted front and center in the store.

offers a full menu for delivery. This location is also the first convenience store to offer nitro coffee from Duluth, Ga.-based Phoenix Roasters, presented in a self-pour format. Highlighted front and center in the store, the coffee is made without sugar or gluten, and has four times as much caffeine as a standard cup of coffee. Unique flavors, such as Arnold Palmer and Raspberry Lemonade, are available. Another unique feature of the Gateway of Euless is a 125-foot Wash Masters tunnel car wash that provides free vacuums and unlimited wash memberships. The car wash and store have a fully compatible and programmable lighting and music package, Sharaf noted. In October, a special “Washmasters Halloween Haunted Tunnel” event brought more than 10,000 people to the property, where scary sounds, projections on the car wash walls, and lights were featured all throughout the store and car wash. Other amenities offered at the Gateway of Euless include: • Six fuel pumps and 12 fueling positions; • Level 3 EV chargers being installed; • Self-checkout kiosks; • Indoor seating for more than 50 guests; • Multiple tea, coffee and fountain machines with a variety of flavor shots; • A fully stocked beer cave; and • Special discounts offered to Unlimited Flyers Club car wash members, such as 50 percent off all Route 44 drinks from Sonic. Victron Energy’s newest flagship location will be a one-off for the company, which prides itself on the fact that no two stores are alike, according to Sharaf. The familyowned business operates 185-plus stores, more than 100 restaurant units, 10-plus franchise brands and 43 car washes, in addition to distributing fuel to more than 300 convenience stores. “We do not have a cookie-cutter footprint, and we are often called the ‘Custom Home Builders of Convenience Stores,’” said Sharef. “All of our locations are custom designed, often with unique themes, to the area and demographics of our customers so that they feel like each location is ‘their’ unique store — which it is.” CSN

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HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION

ATM’s

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HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION

Beef Jerky

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HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION

Gourmet Pet Treats

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HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION

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CLASSIFIEDS

Services

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CLASSIFIEDS

ATM’s

ATM’s

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Plastics

Air Vacs

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Equipment/Supplies

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CLASSIFIEDS

ATMs

Help Wanted

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Credit Card Processing

Petroleum/Equiment

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CLASSIFIEDS

Sunglasses

POS/ Equipment

ADINDEX Wholesale Refrigeration Altria Group Distribution.................2

King & Prince Seafood Corp...........53

Amazon Just Walk Out.....................10–11

Kooler Ice Inc......................................17

Chevron Corporation........................19

Liggett Vector Brands......................33

Cookies United...................................27

NIIN LLC...............................................92

Convenience Distribution

Perfetti Van Melle USA Inc...............31

Association..........................................49 Premier Manufacturing.....................43 Crane Payment Innovations............64–65 Reynolds American Diebold Nixdorf Incorporated........67

Trade Marketing.................................20

E-Alternative Solutions....................25

Sugar Foods........................................13

Federal Industries Inc.......................45

Swedish Match North America LLC........................................7, 29, 47, 91

Forte Products....................................18 Swisher International, Inc................15 GlaxoSmithKline Consumer

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Health Care..........................................5

The Hershey Company.....................9

Invenco.................................................34–35

Uline......................................................32

Island Lifestyle Importers................39

Universal Merchant Services...........Outsert

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INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

Honing the Craft of Convenience Shoppers give c-stores solid performance ratings, but there is room for improvement While convenience store shoppers are a loyal bunch — 29 percent say they shop at the same c-store all of the time and 64 percent say they shop at the same store most of the time — there is more that the industry could be doing to attract and retain customers. The 2022 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed 1,500-plus consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month, revealed the following:

Performance Ratings for Convenience Store Shopped Most Often Excellent/Very Good

Good

Fair/Poor

69%

General convenience Speed of shopping

66%

Store cleanliness

62%

27%

59%

Products needed are in-stock

59%

10% 11%

31% 28%

13% 10% 12%

29%

56%

Store look/feel

9%

27%

60%

Store organization Employee helpfulness

7%

29%

61%

Employee friendliness

6%

25%

34%

Prepared food quality

54%

30%

15%

Variety of products

54%

31%

14%

53%

Loyalty program

31%

50%

Contactless shopping options

48%

Fun to shop Price of products

45%

Embraces cutting-edge tech

45%

34% 33% 30% 33%

16% 16% 19% 25%

According to shoppers, convenience stores are performing well in the areas of general convenience, speed, cleanliness/organization, and friendliness. Conversely, areas for improvement include pricing, embracing technology, and being fun to shop.

22%

Although c-stores aren’t receiving stellar marks right now for being fun to stop, the channel is making headway in this area. Year over year, the performance rating for this attribute jumped

4 POINTS.

Other areas of progress are store organization and store look/feel — each up

5 POINTS.

“They have exactly what I need, and it is in stock every time I need it. Things are organized as well and so it is easy for me to find what I need. I don’t have to go out of my way for anything.” — One surveyed shopper

90 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

LESS THAN HALF OF SHOPPERS (45%) RATE THEIR MOST-VISITED CONVENIENCE STORE AS BEING EXCELLENT/ VERY GOOD AT EMBRACING CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY. HOWEVER, THE TIDE MAY BE TURNING AS THE PERFORMANCE RATING FOR THIS ATTRIBUTE SAW A 4-POINT JUMP COMPARED TO 2021.


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