CSN May 2024- Balance of Country

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Turning the Spotlight on Foodservice


this issue, we serve up a generous helping of new category and consumer insights

THERE IS A REASON WHY every issue of Convenience Store News includes at least one piece of foodservice content. That reason is: Foodservice has become a major part of convenience retailing, and there’s no indication that the category will wane in importance any time soon.

In this month’s issue, you’ll find even more foodservice content than usual, starting with our cover story entitled “The Path to Profitability.” Senior Editor Angela Hanson, who spearheads our foodservice beat, talks with various industry players about tackling the operational issues that chip away at a foodservice program’s success — think inadequate staff training, inefficient workflows, inconsistent execution, high levels of food waste and more (see page 28).

Quality, consistency and value are what keep customers coming back. So, it’s a bit concerning that just 56% of buyers said they were extremely satisfied with their most recent prepared food purchase at a convenience store — a decline of 8 points year over year. The percentage who said they were somewhat satisfied jumped to 37%, while 7% said they were not satisfied, according to the findings of our 2024 Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed 1,500-plus consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month (see page 90).

Fast-casual, fast-food and grocery outlets are still perceived as superior alternatives to


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

2023 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Silver, Data Journalism, January/April/June 2022

2023 American Society of Business Press Editors, Upper Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Data Journalism, January/April/June 2022

Bronze, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, March 2022

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

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

c-store food, indicating a need for operators to continue improving their offerings.

Operational issues aside, other challenges facing convenience foodservice programs today include economic difficulties and concerns about the future prompting consumers to tighten their purse strings, and rising costs slowing profit growth compared to last year. Employee recruitment and retention also remain a struggle despite some easing of the labor crunch.

Nearly three-quarters of the retailers that took part in our 2024 Foodservice Study (73%) pointed to hiring and retaining employees as their biggest obstacle to foodservice success. Although this figure declined 7 points year over year, it is still the most cited challenge by far.

Nonetheless, convenience store operators are bullish about foodservice. Roughly eight in 10 said they expect their foodservice sales to increase in 2024, and 72% expect their foodservice profits to rise (see page 42). The average projected increase for each is 11%.

As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” We hope the category and consumer insights in this issue help you execute at the highest level.

For comments, please contact Linda Lisanti, Editor-in-Chief, at llisanti@ensembleiq.com.

2023 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine

Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, September 2022

Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, March 2023

2022 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine

Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, March 2022

Winner, Business to Business, Food & Beverage, Series of Articles, October 2021

Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, September 2021

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


Laura Aufleger OnCue Express

Billy Colemire Stinker Stores

Robert Falciani ExtraMile Convenience Stores

Jim Hachtel Core-Mark

Chris Hartman Rutter’s Faheem Jamal CPD Energy Corp./ Chestnut Markets

Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments LLC

Vito Maurici McLane Co. Inc.

Jonathan Polonsky Plaid

Pantries Inc. Greg Scriver Kwik Trip Inc. Tony Sparks Curby’s Express Market Roy Strasburger StrasGlobal EDITOR’S NOTE
4 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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Secret Sauce Comes in Many Different Varieties

There are several ways to create a distinct competitive advantage in foodservice

SUCCESSFUL FOODSERVICE operators seem to have a secret sauce that keeps their companies outperforming their competition. At first thought, you might think it’s simply the menu or that one signature item that put them on the map and kept them there — like Raising Cane’s chicken tender dominance, Wawa’s hoagie mecca or McDonald’s breakfast domination. But there is much more in the arsenal of competitive tools that sustain their market edge.

Speaking at Convenience Store News’ 2024 Convenience Foodservice Exchange in Tampa, Fla., Liza Salaria of Impact 21 told the audience of convenience foodservice leaders that having an “anchor item” can be the reason customers frequent their restaurant. The “add-ons” become the extra gravy, or the basket builder as we like to commonly call them.

Having a signature item is not the only way to differentiate your foodservice from the competition.

What might surprise you is the most popular item on the menu is often not what you think. For example, did you know that the most popular menu item ordered at Chick-fil-A is not the chicken sandwich? Nope! It’s those irresistible waffle fries.

In the convenience store field, Allsup’s is known for its burritos while at CEFCO, it’s the kolaches and at 7-Eleven’s Laredo Taco Co., it’s the homemade tortillas. But having a signature item is not the only way to differentiate your foodservice from the competition. Some companies stand out through offering unbeatable value to their guests. “Often understated, the competency of procuring raw ingredients in the most cost-efficient manner can be one’s secret sauce,” said Salaria. That is because competent sourcing enables operators to offer great value to their customers while maintaining healthy gross margins.

Unique sourcing strategies — from market overage locks vs. contracts, to manufacturer direct vs. wholesale, to opportunistic buys around “seconds” (i.e., ingredient loads refused by quick-service restaurants [QSRs]) — can be the secret to low food costs. C-store retailers that have differentiated through sourcing include Stripes with commodity sourcing, Casey’s General Stores with self-distribution, Kwik Trip and CEFCO with central commissary, and Jacksons Food Stores with full vertical integration.

C-store retailers also can create a signature point of differentiation through sustainable sourcing. Responsible farming, sustainability and local sourcing is now of top importance to Generation Z consumers. This trend within the QSR and fast-casual segments has made its way into convenience foodservice. A couple of c-store examples: Wawa’s 100% sustainable beverage cups and Stewart’s Shops’ reuseable coffee mug program.

It’s been said that the only real advantage QSRs have over c-stores is their operational knowledge and expertise because that’s what they focus on. “For a c-store retailer, building the most efficient work design for its food production is the starting point to an efficient labor model,” Salaria noted. “But there are other benefits, too, such as a simplified training model, small building footprint, and lower equipment and maintenance costs.”

To achieve operational excellence, one starts with the menu, according to Salaria. C-store chains such as Royal Farms, Fastrac and Rutter’s focus on building the most efficient operating chassis, resulting in high-quality food offerings with some of the best sales-per-labor-hour metrics in the industry.

Finally, she cautions, don’t overlook the old adage, “People make the difference.” Engaged, well-trained team members who are incentivized to deliver high-quality food and reach sales targets can be the difference between mediocre and excellent results. Learn from top retailers that have built some of the best food brand advocates within their companies.

Look for full coverage of the 2024 Convenience Foodservice Exchange in our September issue.

For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editorial Director Emeritus, at dlongo@ensembleiq.com.

VIEWPOINT 6 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com



28 The Pathway to Profitability Convenience store retailers must tackle the operational issues that chip away at a foodservice program’s success.



4 Turning the Spotlight on Foodservice

In this issue, we serve up a generous helping of new category and consumer insights.


6 Secret Sauce Comes in Many Different Varieties

There are several ways to create a distinct competitive advantage in foodservice.


22 A Gathering Place

Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place, a hybrid concept, fuels cars and customers.


70 Strong Collaboration Skills

Drive Strong Results

Convenience Store News’ first Future Leaders Learning Lab webinar provided proven techniques to become a great collaborative leader.


72 A CEO’s Take on the ROI of DEI

The Wills Group’s Blackie Wills shares his company’s experience.


90 Competing for Share of Stomach  Consumers still perceive c-store food as lagging fast-casual and fast-food restaurants.

CONTENTS MAY 24 VOLUME 60 NUMBER 5 8 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
CSNews Online
New Products
22 COVER STORY PAGE 28 72 20



42 Playing the Long Game Cautiously optimistic, convenience store operators are banking on long-term investments in prepared food and dispensed beverages.


52 Vapor Woes

Illicit market concerns grow as FDA confusion persists and states fill the void.


58 Bubbling Back

Still dealing with setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, gum is making a rebound.

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10 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com CONTENTS MAY 24 VOLUME 60 NUMBER 5
Convenience Store News (ISSN 0194-8733; USPS 515-950) is published 12 times per year, monthly, by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 225, Chicago, IL 60631. Subscription rates: Subscription rate in the United States: $150 one year; $276 two year; $14 single issue copy; Canada and Mexico: $204 one year; $390 two year; $17 single issue copy; Foreign: $204 one year; $390 two year; $20.40 single issue copy; Digital One year, digital $87; two year, $161. Periodical postage paid at Chicago, IL 60631, and additional mailing addresses. Copyright 2024 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. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Convenience Store News, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 225, Chicago, IL 60631. 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 AFFILIATIONS Premier Trade Press Exhibitor 14 INDUSTRY ROUNDUP 14 7-Eleven’s Parent Company Targets North America for Expansion 16 Retailer Groups Say Visa & Mastercard Settlement Is ‘Insufficient’ 18 Retailer Tidbits 18 Eye on Growth 19 Supplier Tidbits TECHNOLOGY 64 In-Store Influence The convenience channel’s frequency and reach offer the perfect opportunity for retail media networks to fulfill their mission.
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Wawa Prepares to Ring Up First North Carolina Customers

The Pennsylvania-based chain announced a grand opening for the first of at least 80 convenience stores it plans to build in the state. The debut is slated for May 16 in Kill Devil Hills.

Wawa Offers Coffee Deal to Celebrate 60 Years

The expected giveaway of nearly 1.5 million cups of any-size coffee was accompanied by special 1960s décor for stores, plus 60-cent deals on certain products.

Pilot Travel Centers Charts Growth Strategy for 2024

The company plans to add 35 travel centers, remodel more than 75 locations and expand its truck maintenance network of Southern Tire Mart at Pilot Flying J shops.

Massachusetts Faces Fallout From Flavored Tobacco Ban

According to the Massachusetts Illicit Tobacco Task Force, the state’s rush to ban flavored tobacco has failed to curb use of these products while inadvertently creating a market for illicit untaxed products and cross-border smuggling.

1 3 4 5 2

Maverik Rebrands 30 Kum & Go Convenience Stores

The retailer completed a slate of rebrands across Utah and Colorado Springs ahead of planned changeovers in the Denver market. Each rebrand receives Maverik signage, panoramic photos and maps of the state’s outdoor destinations on the walls, and adventure videos playing on TVs.


CDA Marketplace Highlights

Teamwork & Added Value

Speakers at the Convenience Distribution Association’s (CDA) 2024 Marketplace discussed leadership, value and upcoming challenges during the three-day conference in February.

“I think there’s a lot of headwinds that we’ll face. And I like that. I think that makes us stronger,” said introductory speaker and 2024 CDA Chair Bill Stein, who serves as executive vice president of enterprise growth at Core-Mark International.

Stein stressed the importance of working as a team and collaborating in the c-store industry. “You have to reach in and lean on others,” he said. “You’ll be shocked at the similarities and the adversity we face together.”

The Calculus of Balancing Brands Post-Merger

Following a major acquisition, is rebranding an inevitable outcome? Not necessarily, according to Lesley Saitta, cofounder/chair of business transformation firm Impact 21, a W. Capra company. Upon a major acquisition such as the Maverik-Kum & Go linkup, it’s most common to take a customer-first approach and use focus groups, market surveys and other methods to determine the strength of each brand by market, or even by store.

“It is critical to fully understand what the impact of changing the name of a brand will be, as well as any ancillary offers such as loyalty programs, foodservice offers, unique proprietary products, etc.,” Saitta told Convenience Store News. “Changing a brand name is not just about changing the sign on the front of the store.”

For more exclusive stories, visit the Special Features section of CSNews.com.


FlexPay 6 Outdoor Payment Terminals

Invenco by GVR launches the FlexPay 6 line of outdoor payment terminals for fuel dispensers, which includes the first payment terminals available factoryinstalled in Gilbarco-Veeder Root Encore 700S dispensers. The FlexPay 6 payment terminals — the M1-15, A2-09 and A1-05 — are available as either all-in-one or modular terminals. All are, or will be, PCI 6 compliant and have native cloud connectivity, along with 2-D barcode readers and contactless as standard features. The FlexPay 6 terminals also integrate PCI P2PE solutions from Bluefin into their design, which can reduce the PCI DSS compliance burden by more than 70% and PCI control scope reduction by more than 90%, according to the company.

12 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Invenco by GVR Greensboro, N.C. invenco.com

7-Eleven’s Parent Company Targets North America for Expansion

Seven & i Holdings plans to create a globally integrated structure with unified leadership

SEVEN & I HOLDINGS CO. plans to focus on using mergers and acquisitions in North America to strengthen its convenience store business, the company announced April 10.

The Tokyo-based parent company of 7-Eleven Inc. stated that it will proactively implement strategic investments in its c-store business with a more agile and flexible discipline. It plans to accelerate growth in the North American convenience store market while improving profitability and capital efficiency.

Seven & i’s strategic shift comes nearly a year after longtime activist investor ValueAct Capital made a bid to replace several directors on the company’s board with its own slate of nominees. Although the slate was voted down in May 2023, ValueAct — which has advocated for a spinoff of 7-Eleven Inc. — stated that the

number of votes that went to its nominees signaled a desire for change within the company.

Based on the recommendations of its strategy committee, Seven & i plans to create a globally integrated convenience store management structure, including Japan and North America, with unified leadership.

One week after Seven & i’s announcement, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc. closed on a $950 million deal for 204 Stripes and Laredo Taco Co. locations, making the retailer the sole owner and operator of all Stripes stores and Laredo Taco Co. restaurants in the United States.

The Stripes stores are located across west Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, and will join the more than 13,000 7-Eleven, Speedway and Stripes locations that 7-Eleven Inc. operates, franchises and/or licenses across the U.S. and Canada.

INDUSTRY ROUNDUP 14 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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Retailer Groups Say Visa & Mastercard Settlement Is ‘Insufficient’

Under the agreement, the credit card companies would reduce swipe fees by at least 4 basis points for three years

NACS AND OTHER RETAIL INDUSTRY groups are pushing back against an estimated $30 billion settlement reached by Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. to limit credit and debit card fees for merchants, stating that the antitrust deal does not go far enough.

Under the settlement, the credit card companies would reduce swipe fees by at least 4 basis points for three years and ensure an average rate that is 7 basis points below the current average for five years. Additionally, merchants would have greater discretion in offering discounts or imposing surcharges on cards with higher interchange fees.

The settlement is consolidated with a larger lawsuit brought by NACS and other groups that was first filed in 2005. A previously announced settlement in 2012 was rejected by NACS and a majority of the plaintiffs because it fell short of addressing problems with credit card industry price-fixing, the convenience and fuel retailing association said.

The same is true of the newly announced

settlement, according to NACS, which noted that the settlement is drafted as “mandatory” and would bind all other litigants — including a separate suit being pursued by the association and some of its members — cutting off any future injunctive relief and rules claims.

Additionally, the latest settlement does not address the lack of competition in the marketplace and is not related to the bipartisan Credit Card Competition Act, which would assert that retailers in certain cases have the right to route payments through networks unaffiliated with the credit card providers, potentially lowering the fees they have to pay.

The Merchants Payments Coalition said the settlement would provide “very small relief” and does not end the need for Congress to pass legislation.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association released a statement calling the settlement “an acknowledgment that the credit card payment market has been broken and for decades, Visa and Mastercard have used their duopoly to fleece retailers of all sizes by their abusive interchange fees and card network rules.” It also deemed the settlement “a mere drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed.

INDUSTRY ROUNDUP 16 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

Give Your Customers the Snacks They Love

© Mondelēz International group

Retailer Tidbits

Sheetz Inc. and GPM Investments LLC kicked off large-scale hiring initiatives ahead of the summer season. Sheetz plans to bring 2,200 new staff members onboard across its six-state footprint, while GPM is adding approximately 1,500 new employees in preparation for its peak selling season.

The first bp pulse Gigahub from bp made its debut in Houston in early April, featuring 24 high-speed charge points with Tritium 150kW DC fast chargers. They will be integrated with the bp pulse app, allowing users to access real-time charging availability and connect to WiFi.

Smith Oil Co. partnered with Liquid Barcodes Inc. to expand its mobile app. The enhanced platform includes digital stamp cards for several popular items, along with fuel pay.

Eye on Growth

Maverik — Adventure’s First Stop rolled out upgrades to Kum & Go’s &Rewards loyalty program. The changes allow for more fuel savings, easier point accumulation and conversion, and better rewards.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. entered into an agreement with RELEX Solutions to implement its unified supply chain and retail planning solutions. The artificial intelligence-powered and machine-learning software includes demand forecasting, replenishment, and advanced space and floor planning.

Onvo rolled out a new hot grab-and-go food program, Food on the Fly. The offering, which includes menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner, made its debut at an Onvo travel plaza in Dorrance, Pa.

7-Eleven International LLC (7IN) completed its acquisition of 7-Eleven Australia, adding more than 750 convenience stores to its portfolio. 7IN operates or master franchises approximately 48,000 stores in 16 countries and regions.

H&S Energy Products LLC is expanding with the acquisition of Andretti Petroleum Group. The deal includes Andretti’s convenience retail, fuels distribution, cardlock, fleet card, commercial fueling, car wash, lubricants and transportation businesses.

Atlantis Management Group LLC completed an acquisition of various assets of M. Spiegel & Sons Oil Corp. The transaction included three company-controlled, branded gas station and convenience stores, mainly located in New York, as well as more than 70 wholesale motor fuel accounts.

Maverik — Adventure’s First Stop officially expanded into Montana, adding a 13th state to its operating footprint. The 5,900-square-foot store is close to activities and attractions such as Mount Helena, Holter Lake and the MacDonald Pass.

Yesway will significantly grow the Allsup’s banner in Oklahoma with plans to have at least 15 Allsup’s stores in the state by the end of 2024. A Thackerville store, just minutes from WinStar World Casino, will be the company’s first true interstate store.

Propel Fuels opened its first Flex Fuel E85 station in Washington through a partnership with the Road Warrior Travel Center. Beginning with the Wapato location in Yakima Valley, Propel plans to further expand access to the alternative fuel blend in the state.

VP Racing Fuels Inc. signed two new licensing pacts. A deal with Wilcox + Flegel Oil Co. enhances VP Racing Fuels’ presence in the Northwest, while the second deal with Ramos Oil Co. expands its presence in the Southwest and West.

18 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com INDUSTRY ROUNDUP
The update coincided with a refreshed Kum & Go app and website. The companies agreed to the $1.1 billion deal in November 2023.

Supplier Tidbits

Mars Inc. is investing more than $70 million in its Hackettstown, N.J., manufacturing site. The major economic development supports an R&D Innovation Studio, which includes a new test kitchen and packaging lab, as well as manufacturing efficiencies and advancements in food safety.

Krispy Krunchy Chicken plans to add more than 700 stores in 2024 as the company aims to exceed 3,500 locations by the end of the calendar year. The expanded footprint is part of the company’s “Core Four” growth strategy.

J&J Snack Foods Corp. is enhancing its snack portfolio with the acquisition of Thinsters. The company intends to

leverage its strengths to expand distribution and introduce Thinsters cookies to a wider audience.

Cooper-Booth Wholesale Co. is nearing the end of a 14-month project to install solar panels on the company’s warehouse and convert the power to a green energy source. The project is part of the distributor’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

Dover Fueling Solutions acquired Bulloch Technologies. The company plans to integrate Bulloch’s point-of-sale technology into its DFS Anthem UX platform on Wayne Ovation fuel dispensers.

MAY 2024 Convenience Store News 19
This development follows the opening of a $42 million Mars Snacking Research and Development Hub in Chicago earlier this year.

Nicotine-Free Djarum Clove Smokes

Kretek International Inc. is rolling out nicotine-free Djarum Bliss clove smokes, including two new flavor styles, across the United States and Canada in 2024. New Djarum Bliss Special and Djarum Bliss Java bring the brand’s nicotine-free, zero-tobacco lineup to six distinct flavor styles. Djarum Bliss Special offers traditional clove-smoking smoothness, built off the brand’s Djarum Special clove-filtered cigars. Djarum Bliss Java is a new offering that blends notes of coffee and clove aromas. All six new filtered styles are available in packs of 20 or 10-pack cartons designed for inline shelf placement. Kretek International introduced the nicotine-free lineup in trial markets in 2023.


Rockstar Focus

PepsiCo’s Rockstar Energy introduces Rockstar Focus, a zero sugar, calorie-free beverage that features a boost of caffeine intended to improve focus and cognition. Made with ingredients such as Lion’s Mane, a mushroom used in traditional eastern medicine, and containing 200 milligrams of caffeine, Rockstar Focus comes in three flavors: Lemon Lime, White Peach and Orange Pineapple. Each variety is now available for purchase in 12-ounce cans starting at $2.99 per can.


Chex Mix Double Chocolate King Size Bar

General Mills Inc. adds a new flavor to its line of King Size Chex Mix Bars: Double Chocolate. Made with Chex cereal, pretzels and chocolate chips, the new bar aims to meet consumers’ need for a snack that’s both salty and sweet. The 2.2-ounce bar is shelf stable and comes with a suggested retail price of $2.09. King Size Chex Mix Bars are exclusive to the convenience store market and available in a Peanut Butter Chocolate flavor as well. GENERAL MILLS INC. • MINNEAPOLIS • GENERALMILLSCF.COM

Big Sipz Purple Punch

After a successful launch late last year, Patco Brands is officially introducing its Big Sipz Purple Punch cans with the help of rapper Waka Flocka Flame. Known for its bold beverages that are also budget-friendly, the new Big Sipz cocktail is available in 200-milliliter Primary Cups and 330-milliliter Tetras, priced at $2.99 and $3.99, respectively. Both options feature a 16% ABV. Big Sipz Purple Punch is currently available in Circle K stores and independent retailers throughout Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Expanded distribution is slated throughout 2024.


Vynamic Smart Vision/Shrink Reduction Checkout Solution

Diebold Nixdorf Inc. debuts its new artificial intelligence (AI)-based Vynamic Smart Vision/Shrink Reduction checkout solution, which is designed to prevent the most common sources of loss at self-service and traditional point-of-sale registers. Powered by SeeChange’s AI and machine learning cloud platform, the solution complements Diebold Nixdorf’s already live AI-based solutions that reduce friction during both fresh produce scanning and age verification for restricted sales. According to the company, bringing these three technologies together on a single platform will result in one of the most holistic anti-shrink solutions on the market. Vynamic Smart Vision/Shrink Reduction can be deployed without disruption through existing in-store integrations.


NEW PRODUCTS 20 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

Seagram’s Escapes Jamaican Me Happiness Collection

FIFCO USA’s malt beverage brand Seagram’s Escapes introduces a new variety pack. Inspired by the brand’s No. 1 best-selling flavor, Jamaican Me Happy, the new Jamaican Me Happiness Collection includes three additional flavor options: orangenoted Jamaican Me Smile, tropical pineapple-inspired Jamaican Me Sunny, and passion fruit-infused Jamaican Me Glow. The collection is available year-round in a 12-count variety pack of 11.2-ounce bottles or 12-ounce cans, as well as a 24-count club variety pack of bottles. Additionally, Jamaican Me Sunny will join Jamaican Me Happy as a 7.5-ounce can option to drive sampling and trial.  THE SEAGRAM BEVERAGE CO. • ROCHESTER, N.Y. • SEAGRAMSESCAPES.COM

Hillshire Farm Stuffed Croissants & Pierre Melts

Tyson Foodservice launches two new, labor-saving foodservice offerings: Hillshire Farm Stuffed Croissants and Pierre Melts. The croissants come stuffed with premium meats and are available in varieties such as Ham & Cheddar and Pepperoni & Mozzarella Cheese. They can be heated quickly in a TurboChef oven, conventional oven or microwave. The Pierre Melts come preassembled and pretoasted, and can be heated in 45 to 60 seconds in a microwave. They are available in three options — Philly Cheesesteak, Cheesy Bacon or BBQ Pulled Pork — all on buttered Texas Toast.


Smartfood Chocolate Glazed Donut Frito-Lay North America Inc.’s Smartfood popcorn brand unveils its latest flavor innovation: Chocolate Glazed Donut. The new release combines airpopped kernels with a chocolate-flavored kettle coating, creating a sweet and salty flavor in one crunchy bite. Smartfood Chocolate Glazed Donut is available at retailers nationwide in either 6.5-ounce bags for $5.19 or 2-ounce bags for $2.49. This is the brand’s second doughnut-inspired offering, following its 2021 launch of Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnut.  FRITO-LAY NORTH AMERICA INC. • PLANO, TEXAS • SMARTFOOD.COM

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MAY 2024 Convenience Store News 21

A Gathering Place

Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place, a hybrid concept, fuels cars and customers

“TO FUEL OUR customers’ lives so they can go places and do better things.”

With that mission in mind, owner Srini Kumbha realized a dream when his KumbhaYah Cafe and EV Market Place — a hybrid foodservice/convenience store concept — celebrated its grand opening in Canal Winchester, Ohio, on Aug. 26, 2023.

“About six years ago, I got the idea of building a business in the community that would be a gathering place for people and within that business, I wanted to offer good products and services,” explained Kumbha, an IT consultant by trade who decided to buy the land and work to make his idea a reality with the help of family, friends and community partners. “Now, it’s real — the Market Place and cafe is standing right here!”

The story behind Kumbha’s dream is one of opportunity, resilience and a bit of luck, too. It began in 2003 when he came from India to the United States as a 25-year-old for a job opportunity. “Life was different and in a good way,” he recalled.

The lucky part came when Kumbha, who had polio as a youth, met someone at a local

business who mentioned that a leg brace could help his polio-affected leg. “I was fitted with a custom brace and able to stand and walk upright while carrying grocery bags in my two hands for the first time in my life,” he said. “To this day, I think of that person who approached me about the brace and consider him my godsent guardian angel.”

He eventually met his wife Denise, got married, had their son Teja and 13 years ago, moved the family to Canal Winchester, where Kumbha continued working in IT as the idea for Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place began to take shape.

He evaluated the idea “over a period of time” before deciding to move ahead.

“I was originally interested in a real estate investment. Then, once I bought the property, I was doing research and the idea for a c-store and gas station struck the most,” he recounted. “They are such integral parts of American life, and I thought the concept would be a great opportunity for a business and for the community where we are.”

More research on convenience retailing trends convinced Kumbha and his wife to take the foodservice/ convenience store hybrid route.

“We found that, more and more, everyone is offering

22 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

food. We thought it would be beneficial for our customers to have a smaller footprint, one-stop shop,” he explained. “Most of the traditional c-stores and gas stations rely on the ‘outside in’ concept, meaning come for gas and then get convenience items. However, we want to be ‘inside out,’ meaning come for groceries, food, c-store items and then get gas.”

To gain the information and skills they lacked, the couple visited gas stations, and Kumbha even worked at both a coffee shop and a gas station — short-term jobs that taught him about equipment, menus, the processes involved in running a retail business, and managing customers and employees.

Jumping the Hurdles

Even with all of the preparation and planning, launching Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place did not come without challenges. As Kumbha quickly learned, opening and then running a c-store is always challenging, but for small, independent operators, the hurdles are often higher than those the larger chain operators face.

“We hit roadblocks with architecture and engineering for the first three years, and then COVID put us on the backburner for a couple more years,” Kumbha said, noting that the biggest challenge was cost overrun.

“Construction and material costs were doubled compared to pre-COVID and the financing took longer than anticipated.”

All told, from concept ideation to opening, it took six years to come to fruition.

Once Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place opened, new hurdles replaced the old ones. Staffing, followed by marketing and then merchandising, pose the biggest challenges.

“Most of the traditional c-stores and gas stations rely on the ‘outside in’ concept, meaning come for gas and then get convenience items. However, we want to be ‘inside out,’ meaning come for groceries, food, c-store items and then get gas.”
— Srini Kumbha, Kumbha-Yah Cafe & EV Market Place
The store boasts a smaller footprint and a larger selection of grocery items to provide a one-stop-shop experience.
MAY 2024 Convenience Store News 23

“We continue to face staffing issues such as no-shows due to illness, as well as gaps caused by major holidays like spring break and Easter,” Kumbha said. “As owners, we step in to cover these gaps whenever possible, and we continue to hire staff on a regular basis.”

On the marketing front, Kumbha mostly relies on Facebook local groups, the Nextdoor app and flyers to get the word out, as well as talking to customers when they stop in the store.

“Even though we’ve spent a decent amount of time and money in advertising, we still get questions from people like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you have a full-service coffee bar,’” he said, a fact that underscores the importance of social media and in-person interactions.

Kumbha’s merchandising challenges are those that every small operator can understand. “We do not get the discounts or can’t meet the minimum order requirements, so we are trying to reach out to local wholesalers instead of national distributors,” he noted.

A recent decision to register with Sam’s Club wholesale and Walmart Business is proving worthwhile.

“We bring goods from these stores to help us. This benefits us, as well as the customer,” said Kumbha. “For example, the milk from

Smith’s costs $4.69 for us and sells for $5.99, whereas the milk from Walmart is $2.62 and we sell it for $3.99. 5-hour Energy from a national vendor is $2.50-plus. From Sam’s Club, it is $1.66. We still have a long way to go, but we are realizing and making progress toward bringing cost-effective products to our customers.”

Setting the Business Apart

Much about Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place resembles other stores in the area. The c-store stocks traditional items such as candy, chips and beverages, while the cafe serves up freshly made pizzas, subs, salads, specialty coffee drinks, smoothies and broasted chicken.

So far, the c-store is topping the cafe in sales volume. However, foodservice sales are slowly improving. “Our broasted chicken, pizza and smoothies work well and recently, cold subs are selling well, too,” Kumbha reported.

What makes Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place stand out?

The most obvious differences are its drive-thru that provides a convenient ordering option for customers and its larger selection of grocery items. But even more so, Kumbha believes it is the subtle ways the family approaches the business that set it apart in the industry.

“I realize there is a retail outlet, convenience store or cafe in almost every corner of every community. So, you may ask how this new establishment is different? First off, we are locally owned and belong to this community where we live,” he pointed out. “We offer job opportunities right within our neighborhood. Many employees walk to work.”

SMALL OPERATOR 24 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Kumbha-Yah Cafe and EV Market Place relies on social media, the Nextdoor app and flyers to market the store.
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“The Nook” is a space customers can reserve for small group gatherings.

The store also features a small, reserved space called “The Nook” that customers can reserve for small group gatherings — serving as a meeting place for the community.

Perhaps most important, Kumbha said, the business reflects the four values the family holds dear:

1. People first. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

2. Excellence in all we do. Whatever is true, honorable, just, commendable, worthy of praise and service, do those things.

3. Stronger together. Two are better than one.

4. It’s all about Yah! Thy brand shall be my brand — that is, love god and love your neighbor.

Customers are responding to this personal approach. “We get repeat customers on a daily basis, sometimes the same customer two to three times a day,” Kumbha said.

Sharing Advice

In spite of the challenges, Kumbha realizes he is living his dream — and he has some advice for other small operators or anyone considering opening a small, independent c-store.

“It’s going to be a lot of work and many long hours, and that can be frustrating,” he cautioned, acknowledging personal challenges he continues to face while in the midst of ramping up the business. “I am learning to divide the tasks and complete them. I need to listen to my body when to take breaks; my wife when she says I need to be patient. My sister-in-law reminds us that we’ve all been learning, and we’re reflecting on our progress over the past eight months or so.”

When times get tough, you must always “believe in what you are doing,” Kumbha said. CSN

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SMALL OPERATOR 26 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com



COVER STORY 28 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

FOR HUNGRY CONVENIENCE STORE SHOPPERS, deciding where to buy a meal or snack is frequently all about the menu. Customers consider which c-stores are nearby, what types of prepared food and beverages they offer, and what they’re in the mood to eat that day.

For convenience store operators, having a successful foodservice program isn’t nearly as simple, and the things that make the biggest difference in profitability can’t be found on the menu at all.

“In a perfect world, a foodservice plan is built, the plan is executed, it is then analyzed, and tweaks are made,” said Wynne Barrett, cofounder and vice president of business development for Supplyit, a SaaS product by Jera Concepts. Regardless of how simple or elaborate the plan is, “the measure of a successful plan is the same for all: to improve profitability by growing sales and minimizing waste. But to do this, you have to ensure proper store-side execution.”

That’s easier said than done, industry experts agree, particularly when a program features fresh-made food and preparation methods that are more involved than heating up a ready-to-serve item. Inconsistency opens the door to problems that negatively affect the bottom line.

“Food is not perfect and it takes a lot of training to recognize this and be able to adjust while cooking,” said Paul Servais, retail foodservice director for La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc., operator of 870-plus convenience stores in the Midwest. “We want to say, ‘follow the recipe,’ but that is not always enough. Check the product, verify temperature; if it doesn’t look right, it’s not. Sounds easy, but it’s tough to teach.”

The Consistency Conundrum

The root cause of prepared food inconsistency isn’t necessarily something like a particular product type or employee error — things that could be adjusted or corrected once to ensure the desired result from then on, according to Billy Colemire, director of marketing at Stinker Stores. The Boise, Idaho-based chain designed its fresh food program, Pete’s Eats, to incorporate significant redundancy in preparation with similar movements and muscle memory.

“Everything is a version of something else, but with added or removed steps. We really wanted to make it very easy to get right and very difficult to get wrong,” Colemire told Convenience Store News. “However, and I’m directly quoting Taylor Swift here, a master of both consistency and brand, ‘people are people and sometimes we change our minds.’”

A retailer’s goal should be realistic without requiring perfection, he explained.

MAY 2024 Convenience Store News 29
“Food is not perfect and it takes a lot of training to recognize this and be able to adjust while cooking.”
— Paul Servais, Kwik Trip Inc.

“The human/people elements and warmth that make our program so successful must also be considered to ensure we are always driving the highest level of consistency,” Colemire said, citing the example of a team member inadvertently over-portioning the burrito scoop while in a hurry. “We don’t think we can eliminate inconsistency completely, as that would be a fool’s errand. Rather, we want to make sure we minimize inconsistency, such that it’s not obvious … to a tolerable and acceptable amount.”

Getting the consistency level where it needs to be requires a deceptively simple concept: “Training, training, training,” said Servais.

In a labor market where hiring and retention are still challenges, retailers may feel pressure to rush through training new employees in food preparation roles. However, taking the time to ensure they can do their jobs well can be the difference between hitting profit goals or not.

Training doesn’t have to be the sole purview of the foodservice team — Colemire noted that Stinker Stores’

30 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Kwik Trip's foodservice program is supported by consistent training.
“The measure of a successful plan is the same for all: to improve profitability by growing sales and minimizing waste. But to do this, you have to ensure proper store-side execution.”
— Wynne Barrett, Supplyit

human resources team was instrumental in building rolebased customized training and development programs. “They’ve taken time to partner with all stakeholders to develop training that sticks,” he said.

To ensure effectiveness, training programs should be purpose-built to suit a brand’s individual needs and menu, and scalable to match future growth. The specific steps can vary, but numerous retailers have found success starting with online training modules reinforced by on-the-job training, rather than having new hires jump right into job shadowing.

Regular, early check-ins also help determine whether a training period was effective. “Follow up with teams,” Servais advised.

For convenience store chains, Supplyit’s Barrett recommends reviewing per-store inventory levels to evaluate how well food preparation is being executed.

“To study consistency, you must also consider inventory use to see if products are made the same way in each store. Every retailer or commissary has employees who show personal preference,” he said, noting that some employees might like more or less pepperoni on their pizza, which could bias their production. “If you can match inventory use to what was produced, then it is generally assumed that products were made the same way each day. Too much or too little inventory use indicates you have a consistency issue.”

Waste Not, Want Not

Ordering the right amount of ingredients and other foodservice supplies to avoid either running out or having too much food waste at the end of the day is another major area where retailers can tighten up their operations to boost profits. Whether they team up with a technology partner or go it alone, Barrett suggests retailers build their foodservice plans using time-based sales data.

“While real sales data does not account for shrink, it should give you an accurate set of guardrails of what to build and when,” he said. “To help drive sales, a strong forecast should also allow a retailer to define product minimum offerings at different times of the day. Product minimum requirements help build sales in off-peak times.”

When analyzing customer traffic patterns, operators may discover them to be “consistently inconsistent to the point of being consistent,” Barrett added. “Think about delivery drivers and how they run certain routes on certain days or landscapers who cut lawns in an area on certain days. Those days are the same each week and build the purchase patterns for each store.”

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Retailers that haven’t updated their backend ordering tools in a few years may find themselves startled at how quickly options are changing — and improving.

As seen at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show in January, artificial intelligence (AI) is moving beyond being the latest buzzword, progressing from the theoretical stage to practical application, particularly when it comes to tools for inventory management and production planning.

Operators can now use AI to optimize forecasting, ordering and inventory for both fresh food and the center store. The high level of diversity based on store location and shopper composition means that efficient, effective ordering will look very different for a highway convenience store vs. one that caters to a local neighborhood, according to Mike Weber, chief marketing officer at Upshop, an AI-powered ordering platform whose food and beverage solution features a forecast, a recommended order, and a real-time view of fresh and prepared inventory.

“We’re seeing really smart merchandisers in c-stores that want to make individualized calls based on community, based on types of cohorts they have of stores. So, they need a forecast that helps them do that,” Weber said. Once that forecast is in hand, “they

“We don’t think we can eliminate inconsistency completely, as that would be a fool’s errand. Rather, we want to make sure we minimize inconsistency, such that it’s not obvious … to a tolerable and acceptable amount.”
— Billy Colemire, Stinker Stores

can inform themselves; they can tweak based on what’s their presentation, what’s the safety stock they need in that store, what are their hero items vs. just the everydays. And we enable them to play with those levers to get to this final forecast by store.”

Streamlining the ordering process not only cuts down on backroom waste, but also potentially frees up employees to interact with customers and engage in suggestive selling or other key tasks.

Being able to avoid pre-ordering too much product for fear of running out will also ensure freshness that customers can taste. “You can use technology to forecast but then, more importantly, get the ordering synced up and make sure your on-hand inventory is as optimal as possible. That’s the key,” said Weber.

Rethinking the Kitchen

On a day-to-day basis, the physical space that foodservice employees work in can make a big difference in how well a foodservice program is executed. Retailers with the resources to make foodservice a serious priority can take this into account in new builds but, more often, they have to make the best of what they’ve got with existing stores.

“Having an efficient workflow can lower ticket times, reduce errors and increase throughput,” said Chef Mat Mandeltort, an industry veteran and cofounder of ChefWorthy, which helps operators find the right foodservice equipment through trustworthy reviews and ratings from vetted users. “However, optimal workflows can be constrained by a physical layout that affords little opportunity for change or rearrangement.”

If they can’t change their kitchen space, c-store retailers must lean harder into sourcing the right equipment for their goals. Even if what they currently have works fine, recent innovation centered on reducing labor and streamlining operations makes it worth looking at options.

34 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Stinker Stores designed its fresh food program to incorporate significant redundancy in preparation.


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“At Stinker, we have been and continue to invest heavily in our equipment. What’s that old saying ... you have to spend money, to make money. I’d paraphrase and say, you have to spend money in the right way, at the right time, to make money, scale and grow,” said Colemire.

Mandeltort recommends that operators consider the nuances of why they are considering new equipment and what they want it to do before they start looking at options.

“The first question retailers (large or small) need to ask themselves is: Why do we need to upgrade this equipment? Is it because of new menu items? Are we looking to deal with increased demand? Did the previous equipment break? Does it help with labor costs? Does it produce better-quality food? Can it help us do more with less?” he explained. “Once they determine the why, they can focus on the what.”

New equipment, though, isn’t necessarily an easy fix to problems in the kitchen and can bring challenges of its own, noted Kwik Trip’s Servais. “New equipment costs and current equipment repair costs/wait times are becoming a roadblock to having a successful food program,” he said. “We have pumped over $1 million into speed-oven repairs in the first 24 weeks of our fiscal year.”

Equipment investments that have been helpful, he added, are those that enable employees to save time and effort. “FOG Tanks can reduce the amount of scrubbing required to keep pans, filters and oven parts clean. Meat shredders can reduce the time and muscle strains when picking chicken. Video screens with cameras on the hot food area to help coworkers know what they need to make saves them steps,” said Servais.

Smart units that can be remotely updated and managed are also a plus for chains. However, Mandeltort warns operators to be cautious about equipment that claims to do too much too well.

“It’s not a given that an upgraded piece of equipment will automatically increase efficiency or streamlining. They may just be trading a headache for a stomachache,” he said. “Surprisingly, not every piece of equipment performs as advertised. It’s essential that retailers do their research and not just fall in love with the latest bright, shiny object that comes their way.”

Players in the convenience foodservice space need to invest time in doing due diligence upfront to reap increased benefits in labor. Often, simplicity is what wins out.

“Lean on equipment [that] can eliminate the artistry

36 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com COVER STORY
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“It’s essential that retailers do their research and not just fall in love with the latest bright, shiny object that comes their way.”
— Mat Mandeltort, ChefWorthy

of foodservice, reducing it to simple, easily repeatable acts,” Mandeltort said. “Many pieces of equipment, like high-speed ovens, can be programmed to produce consistent results. If you’re baking pizza, set the oven to ‘pizza’ and assuming it was programmed correctly at the prescribed temperature and time, out comes a perfectly baked pizza, every time.”

Strengthening the Commitment

While convenience stores were traditionally known as a destination for “Cokes and smokes,” foodservice has emerged as a critical growth category for the future. Still, the act of launching a food program isn’t enough


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to guarantee profitability — retailers must continually invest time, money and effort into the category.

“Commitment to foodservice is the biggest stumbling block we see with small and independent operators,” Barrett said. “Our advice regardless of size is to invest in the plan. Invest in the food safety and preparation processes and, most importantly, invest in training employees to do things right. This will give them a chance to be successful.”

Investing in a foodservice program also means investing in getting the word out. Marketing efforts should cast a wide net, but do so in areas where the retailer is most likely to get the message out to the consumers it wants to reach.

“You need to do it all if you can: social, digital, billboard, newspaper/shopper, sports, streaming,” Kwik Trip’s Servais said. “You have to get your message where people spend their leisure time, and every person spends their leisure time differently. There are not a lot of people left that watch the 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. news regularly.”

Colemire encourages his fellow marketers to have fun and stay nimble with social media. “We have a true creative behind the helm of our social and digital engagement strategy, James Campbell, category manager of loyalty and digital engagement. He’s so



Retailers can also benefit from straightforward social media posts that highlight their best offerings. “On social [media], we often post Reelz and videos featuring fresh food. Those tend to get the most traction,” Colemire added. “Stories have been trending with higher clicks recently when compared to comments, likes and shares.”

Foodservice should always be a top focus when entering a new promotional period. “At least 50% of our exterior signage is usually dedicated to fresh food and beverage programs,” Colemire said, pointing out that while Stinker Stores has historically teamed up with consumer packaged goods partners, it has begun doing more bundling with private label products. “Bundling items together that can only be found at Stinker further differentiates us from everyone else and gives our customers another great reason to keep coming back.”

Ultimately, the operational tactics that optimize foodservice profits are links in one connected chain.

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Playing the Long Game

Cautiously optimistic, convenience store operators are banking on long-term investments in prepared food and dispensed beverages

FROM A DISTANCE, the current state of the foodservice category is rosy, and convenience store operators are doing everything right. Sales and profits are up, with most retailers predicting continued increases throughout 2024, and companies are investing in new technology, equipment and menu innovation to ensure success in the years to come.

However, taking a closer look reveals obstacles that even the best-designed food program can’t ignore. Economic difficulties and concerns about the future are prompting consumers to tighten their purse strings, while rising costs have slowed profit growth compared to last year. Meanwhile, employee recruitment and retention remain a struggle despite some easing of the labor crunch.

Foodservice Segments Offered

SPONSORED BY % OFFERING FOODSERVICE SEGMENT 2024 2023 2022 Prepared food 96% 95% 97% Hot dispensed beverages 87% 97% 99% Cold dispensed beverages 85% 87% 88% Frozen dispensed beverages 66% 72% 78% AVERAGE % OF TOTAL FOODSERVICE SALES 2024 2023 2022 Prepared food 54% 54% 53% Hot dispensed beverages 22% 24% 22% Cold dispensed beverages 25% 21% 22% Frozen dispensed beverages 12% 10% 10% 42 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

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September 23–26, 2024

Omni Louisville Hotel | Louisville, KY

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February 17–19, 2025

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The Woodlands, TX

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September 8–11, 2025

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February 16–18, 2026

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September 14–17, 2026

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February 22–24, 2027

Loews Arlington Hotel | Arlington, TX

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Save the Dates

Prepared Foods O ered


Hot entrées experienced the most growth in menu presence over the last year, increasing 8 points compared to 2023.


Dispensed Beverages O ered

Large operators are significantly more likely than small operators to have hot cappuccino/ latte/espresso items among their dispensed beverage o erings.

As such, the future of convenience foodservice may depend not on what retailers are doing right, but whether they can overcome the challenges affecting retail overall, according to the findings of the 2024 Convenience Store News Foodservice Study

“Prices have continued to stabilize, and we’re crossing our fingers employee turnover doesn’t have an extreme impact,” one study participant remarked.

Despite the challenges, c-store operators aren’t wavering in their commitment to foodservice as a tentpole of their operation. For the past three years, the

average square footage devoted to the category has stayed consistent at around a quarter of total store size.

Prepared food is fairly ubiquitous among surveyed retailers and draws in 54% of total foodservice revenue, while hot, cold and frozen dispensed beverages are offered in varying degrees but available at the majority of stores. Cold dispensed generates 25% of total foodservice revenue while hot dispensed stands at 22% and frozen dispensed at 12%.


Menu Landscape

As they work to overcome category challenges, some

44 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
2024 2023 Breakfast sandwiches 80% 90% Chicken 73%
Pizza 72%
85% Bakery
67% 76% Other sandwiches 66% 72% Hamburgers 64% 72% Hot dogs 56% 74% Wraps 56% 62% Hot entrées 56% 48% Salads 55% 72% Other roller grill items 38% 53% Soup 36% 48% Tacos/quesadillas 25% 31% Other 8% 7%
2024 2023 Hot coffee 95% 98% Fountain carbonated beverages 87% 84% Hot chocolate 82% 80% Hot cappuccino/latte/espresso 71% 69% Iced coffee 66% 54% Frozen drinks (e.g., slushies) 62% 61% Iced tea 61% 57% Hot tea 56% 59% Fountain noncarbonated beverages 54% 46% Fountain sports drinks/energy drinks 51% 48% Cold brew coffee 48% 34% Iced cappuccino/latte/espresso 38% 28% Milkshakes 36% 25% Juices 23% 28% Smoothies 23% 13% Soft-serve frozen yogurt/ice cream 20% 15% Aguas frescas 15% 12% Kombucha 11% 7%

Foodservice Sales by Daypart

2024 2023 2022

operators believe building a better offer will be what makes a big difference in program profitability.

“We changed our foodservice brand to betterquality food last year,” one study participant shared. “Because of this, I expect sales to continue at this rate.”

Hot entrées experienced the most growth in menu presence over the last year, increasing 8 points compared to 2023. Hot dogs and salads saw the largest declines in presence, both falling 18 points, but are still offered by more than half of surveyed retailers.

Breakfast sandwiches are again the most commonly available prepared food item at c-stores (offered by 80% of retailers) despite dropping 10 points from last year. Chicken (73%) retook its No. 2 slot, with pizza (72%) rounding out the top three prepared food offerings.

Overall, most prepared food items experienced flat growth or declines in availability, indicating that retailers may be making some cuts but are not implementing major changes.

Convenience wholesalers, suppliers and foodservice distributors are the top sources for prepared food. However, use of company commissaries for heat-and-serve items saw a rebound after declining in use in 2023. Prepared food is pretty evenly split between being delivered ready to heat and serve (63%) and assembled in-store (61%).

Foodservice Financial Trends 2023 vs. 2022

Proprietary foodservice programs may generate the most buzz, but retailers aren’t turning their backs on branded partnerships. A sizable minority of study participants (34%) say they have a franchised/licensed concept in-store, up from 26% in last year’s study and 19% in 2022.

On the dispensed beverage side, hot coffee, carbonated fountain drinks and hot chocolate lead in availability, offered

46 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
SALES COSTS PROFITS Increased Stayed the same Decreased 81% 58% 91% 13% 18% 6% 6% 24% 2% Breakfast Morning snack Lunch Afternoon snack Dinner Evening snack Late night 26% (6-8:59 a.m.) (9-10:59 a.m.) (11 a.m.-1:59 p.m.) (2-3:59 p.m.) (4-6:59 p.m.) (7-9:59 p.m.) (10 p.m. or later) 11% 30% 9% 14% 6% 4%

The brands you trust and customers love.

©2024 Tyson Foods, Inc. Trademarks and registered trademarks are owned by Tyson Foods, Inc. or its subsidiaries, or used under license. Hillshire Farm¨ J p ñ J p ñ Scan to see our products.

Have You Raised Foodservice Prices in the Past Year?

No, but am considering it

Yes, some items

No, and not considering it

94% of surveyed retailers raised their prices on at least some foodservice items in the past year.

by at least eight out of 10 retailers. Iced coffee saw a big jump from last year, increasing 12 points and now offered by approximately two-thirds of study participants. Other cold coffee types saw double-digit growth as well, including cold brew and iced specialty coffees, signaling that consumers are exploring new ways to get their daily java.

Made-to-order, barista-style beverage offerings held steady compared to last year’s Foodservice Study but remain rare, available at just 13% of surveyed retailers. Milkshakes and smoothies saw notable growth in availability year over year, yet they are still in the minority. Meanwhile, energy drink mixers and refreshers are carving out a place among made-to-order beverages.

The Financial Landscape Breakfast and lunch continue to be key dayparts for convenience stores with foodservice, as surveyed retailers estimate that 26% of their category sales come between 6 a.m. and 8:59 a.m. and 30% come between 11 a.m. and 1:59 p.m. Operators report that breakfast

Yes, across the board

saw the biggest sales growth in 2023. However, they predict lunch will see the most growth this year.

In last year’s study, retailers pegged the dinner daypart (4 p.m. to 6:59 p.m.) as the most likely to experience a sales decline. This year, study participants are less certain, with more than a quarter saying they are unsure which daypart is the most likely to struggle.

Eighty-one percent of respondents report that their foodservice sales overall increased in 2023, up from 72% who said the same in last year’s study. Just 13% say their 2023 sales decreased.

Costs, though, were also on the rise, with 91% reporting their costs increased in 2023. This marks the third year in a row that more than 90% of surveyed operators reported rising costs.

It is no surprise then that rising costs ate into foodservice profits last year: 58% of operators say their profits increased, down 8 points from a year ago when 66% reported higher profits.

In response to rising costs, the vast majority of c-store operators have instituted price increases, although not necessarily on everything. Just more than half of study participants (55%) report that they’ve raised prices across the board, while 39% raised prices on only some items.

Looking ahead, operators expect recent financial trends to continue. Nearly eight in 10 expect their foodservice sales to increase in 2024, and 72% expect their foodservice profits to rise. The average projected increase in sales and the average projected increase in profits are both 11%.

Numerous retailers cited economic conditions and rising costs pushing their prices up as reasons they anticipate steady or increased sales and profits this

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New limited-time o ers and promotions, and improved internal culture and employee buy-in were cited as reasons retailers have positive expectations for the year ahead.

Biggest Obstacles to Foodservice Success

*Added as a new response

“Prices have continued to stabilize, and we’re crossing our fingers employee turnover doesn’t have an extreme impact.”
— Study participant

year. Other operators, however, noted that they are starting to see improved pricing. Investments in their foodservice program’s menu and marketing are also viewed as contributors to better 2024 results.

“We’ve just launched an entirely new foodservice offer that is made-to-order, scratch recipes,” one study participant shared.

New limited-time offers and promotions, and improved internal culture and employee buy-in were also cited as reasons retailers have positive expectations for the year ahead.

When asked what could thwart their optimism, 73% of study participants pointed to hiring and retaining employees as the biggest obstacle to foodservice success. Although this figure dropped seven points year over year, it is still the most cited challenge by far.

Additionally, more than half of retailers point to supplier price increases (55%) and consumers having less disposable income (52%) as other top obstacles to foodservice success.

In a positive sign, the percentage of surveyed retailers citing the supply chain as a major obstacle dropped significantly, falling from 56% in last year’s study to 21% in this year’s study. Difficulty in finding the right products/programs also fell 10 points to just 18%. CSN

2024 2023 2022 Difficulty in hiring & retaining employees 73% 80% 75% Supplier price increases* 55% -Consumers have less disposable income* 52% -Increasing competition for foodservice business 37% 34% 22% Operational inefficiencies at store level 31% 38% 27% Lower foot traffic in stores 22% 21% 22% Supply chain 21% 56% 84% Finding the right products/programs 18% 28% 33% Negative consumer perceptions of c-store foodservice 12% 15% 19% Lack of alternative shopping options 10% 15% 16% Lack of available funding* 6% 2% -
50 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
Anticipated 2024
2024 Foodservice Profits

Vapor Woes

Illicit market concerns grow as FDA confusion persists and states fill the void

THE VAPING PRODUCTS category is dimming as the black cloud of increasing illicit activity is overshadowed only by the black hole of continued U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory confusion. It’s all adding up to blackmarket frustration for law-abiding convenience stores.

“The illicit market for disposable vape products is a growing concern for the tobacco industry and retailers as the FDA’s crackdown on noncompliant flavors/products has driven traffic to the black market or to retailers willing to sell unauthorized vaping products,” said Bonnie Herzog, managing director and senior consumer analyst at Goldman Sachs. Citing data from her company’s most recent “Nicotine Nuggets” survey, she added that “a broad majority of retailers believe the situation is getting worse, with the impact felt strongest in urban areas and in states with the strictest flavor bans.”

National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) Executive Director David Spross

agrees, telling Convenience Store News that “generally, states with flavor bans have experienced an increase in illicit product sales, such as flavored products being purchased in surrounding states and also being smuggled in, which includes flavored disposables from China.”

Spross reported that flavor bans continue to be a hot issue in many state legislatures: Utah passed legislation to ban flavored vapor products (other than menthol) effective July 1; Vermont’s flavor ban, which would prohibit all flavored vapor products in addition to menthol cigarettes and flavored nicotine pouches, is awaiting final review by its governor; and Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota and Michigan are all currently considering flavor bans.

A key concern of Herzog’s is that the illicit market activity in vaping products is having a negative impact on backbar bottom lines. According to Goldman Sachs research, illicit e-cigarettes are second (after alternative nicotine products) in receiving the current downtrading volume from inflation-strapped nicotine consumers.

Retailers don’t believe the situation will change without more enforcement, and they are broadly pessimistic given the ubiquity of the offering, tracking/enforcement difficulty and relatively light penalties reducing deterrence, according to Herzog. One retailer pointed out that enforcement fines issued by the FDA are manageable,

52 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

FDA’s Crackdown Effort

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued more than 550 warning letters to retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, for selling unauthorized tobacco products. Some recent examples of those involving e-cigarettes/vapor are:

March 26, 2024: The agency issued warning letters to 61 brick-and-mortar retailers for selling unauthorized e-cigarette products, including Elf Bar and Lava.

Feb. 28, 2024: FDA issued warning letters to five online retailers for selling unauthorized e-cigarette products, including products marketed under popular brand names such as Elf Bar/EB Design/EB Create, Funky Republic, Lost Mary, Hyde, Breeze and Cali Bars.

Feb. 1, 2024: The agency issued warning letters to 14 online retailers for selling and marketing unauthorized disposable tobacco products, including Elf Bar/EB Design and Lava Plus.

Dec. 20, 2023: FDA issued warning letters to three online retailers for selling and/or distributing unauthorized e-cigarettes that imitate packaging for bottles of alcohol.

Nov. 16, 2023: The agency issued warning letters to seven online retailers for selling and/or distributing unauthorized e-cigarettes packaged to look like youth-appealing toys and drink containers, including milk cartons, soft drink bottles and slushies.

Source: FDA.gov

and the extent of policing hasn’t resolved the issue. Others pointed out that the retailers selling these products on the gray market are making hefty margins on those sales, helping them offset losses on cigarette sales.

“Some retailers are adding gray area/disposable vapor products for the first time — more as a defensive move — given the rapid rise of specialty vape shops that readily carry these popular unregulated products,” Herzog noted.

Confusion Prevails

When Goldman Sachs asked retailers about their plans for space allocation changes, some reported to be planning backbar resets that include increased dedicated space for both premium and gray area products. Others said they are taking a wait-and-see approach to disposable vape offerings as the FDA works on tightening regulation.

In March, the FDA launched the Searchable Tobacco Products Database, touted as a new user-friendly list of the tobacco products — including vapes and e-cigarettes — that can be legally marketed in the United States per the agency.

“CTP remains committed to enhanced transparency in a way that is useful, timely and user-friendly,” said Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). “We hope that this database will be an asset to stakeholders — including retailers — that will be used to help facilitate compliance with the law.”

Within the database, the agency provides information on three categories of products:

• New tobacco products that received marketing authorization through one of the FDA’s three pathways to market a new tobacco product;

• Preexisting tobacco products established through a voluntary determination program (commercially marketed as of Feb. 15, 2007); and

• Provisional tobacco products that were removed from review.

The database, which will be updated monthly, can be accessed at fda.gov/searchtobacco. To date, the FDA has authorized 23 tobacco-flavored e-cigarette/vapor products and devices. These are the only e-cigarette/vapor products that may be lawfully sold in the U.S. at this time.

Even so, confusion still prevails.

“It’s unfortunate, [the FDA database] doesn’t address the products that the agency itself has stated it will not take enforcement action against,” said Agustin Rodriguez, a partner with the national law firm of Troutman Pepper, who regularly analyzes the FDA’s updates.

He is referring to statements made by the FDA on its website that are “murky” at best. They include: “For the vast majority of unauthorized e-cigarettes on the market today, the pendency of an application (PMTA) does not create a legal safe harbor to sell that product. There are a few tobacco products that have received a marketing denial order (MDO) that are under further agency review and for which FDA has stated

TOBACCO 54 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

Source: Goldman Sachs Investment Research

the agency does not intend to pursue enforcement action during the pendency of the re-review. In addition, in a very limited number of instances, some courts have granted stays of MDOs pending judicial review in order to maintain the status quo, or FDA has administratively stayed MDOs. In those particular instances, FDA does not intend to take enforcement action.”

Additionally, there’s many synthetic products that the agency has not acted against, according to Rodriguez. “It’s another ball of wax that’s just as confusing,” he said. “It would be helpful for the agency to provide guidance to retailers for all of it.”

NATO’s Spross agrees that there is a lack of clarity and information from the FDA — particularly regarding the premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process.

“Specifically, it is difficult to identify products covered by timely-filed, still-pending PMTAs. These PMTAs may be pending because FDA has not yet completed its review — even though many of these applications have been before the agency for almost four years — or because FDA or a court has stayed a negative determination,” he explained.

“FDA has not clearly communicated its enforcement priorities or shared an accurate and updated list of products covered by timely-filed, still-pending PMTAs,” Spross continued. “As a result, despite the diligence of responsible retailers, including requesting documentation of timely-filed PMTAs, it is often

impossible to differentiate between products that blatantly flout the law — for example, those for which no PMTA was filed at all or a PMTA was filed after the applicable deadline for on-market products — and those that are the subject of PMTAs that were timely filed but are still waiting for FDA’s review process or completion of an appeal.”

States Step In

Across the country, states are attempting to fill the regulatory void, both through flavor bans and the latest local government craze: bills put forth to establish state vapor product directories.

In a recent blog, Troutman Pepper explained that these directories would allow states to individually prohibit the sale of vapor products that are not authorized by the FDA or subject to a pending premarket application.

Opponents of this type of legislation believe the bills overstep federal authority, hurt small businesses and provide fewer alternatives to combustible tobacco products. As of press time, approximately 20 states were considering some form of directory legislation.

These directories are intended to reduce the proliferation of illicit vapor products, but Spross acknowledges they could be adding to the problem — which is ultimately the stifling of innovation. “Until the FDA begins authorizing more alternative products, the regulatory confusion and proliferation of the illicit marketplace is likely to continue,” he said.

Rodriguez’s view is a bit more biting. Warning retailers that the directory statutes are “going to change the game for many,” he believes the FDA of today is not the FDA that embraced alternatives when the Tobacco Control Act was initiated over a decade ago with talk of reduced-harm products to incentivize smokers away from cigarettes.

“This agency is not doing that,” he said. “They’re not approving PMTAs fast enough. They are forcing huge costs in an industry to meet their standards. They’re effectively banning all flavors and meanwhile, encouraging a black market that’s filling a void that consumers want. That is the reality.” CSN

TOBACCO 56 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
81% Worse 57% Pessimistic 16% No change 43% Optimistic 3% Better
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Bubbling Back

Still dealing with setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, gum is making a rebound

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC burst gum’s bubble.

In a time marked by masks and social distancing, bad breath was less of a worry and fewer consumers spent on impulse purchases. The number of packages of gum sold dropped by nearly a third in the United States in 2020, according to market research firm Circana.

Over the last few years, some manufacturers responded by leaving the market altogether. In 2022, Chicago-based Mondelez International Inc. sold its gum business in the U.S., Canada and Europe to Perfetti Van Melle Group, a leading European gum and confectionery maker. Brands sold included Trident, Bubblicious, Dentyne and Chiclets.

At the time of the transaction, the company said the divestiture advanced Mondelez's portfolio reshaping strategy by enabling greater focus on growth and reinvestment in its core chocolate, biscuit and baked snacks categories.

Other American confectioners cut slowselling gum brands. Forrest Park, Ill.-based

Ferrara Candy Co. confirmed that it quietly ended production of Fruit Stripe and Super Bubble gums in 2022 after more than 50 years, citing consumers’ changing preferences.

Today, however, gum is making a comeback as consumers are increasingly resuming their normal routines, which include stops at convenience stores on the way to and from work and school. Gum category sales grew in the convenience channel for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 25, with unit sales up 4.4%, data from Circana showed.

“Consumers are often purchasing gum both through planned and impulse buying. Previously, gum was all about freshening breath. Now, consumers turn to gum in different ways and for different occasions,” Maria Urista, vice president at Chicago-based Mars Wrigley, told Convenience Store News

Appealing to All Ages

According to Circana, all demographic groups are contributing to gum category growth in the convenience channel but, in particular, the three largest demographic cohorts are providing the biggest boosts: Generation X (aged 44-59) contributed 18.2% growth, followed by boomers (aged 60-69) at 15.7% growth and millennials (aged 28-43) at 15% growth.

58 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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To usher in a new era of gum chewers, Mars Wrigley earlier this year announced the most significant overhaul of its Orbit, Extra, Freedent and Yida gum brands in more than 100 years. The goal is to captivate and recruit the next generation of chewing champions: the coveted under-25 demographic, which is the most likely to chew gum of any age group.

The overhaul includes the launch of a new global brand platform, “Chew You Good,” which repositions the Orbit, Extra, Freedent and Yida brands from an occasional freshening fix to an essential everyday chewing companion that delivers a refreshing and unconventional me moment for consumers in an increasingly chaotic world, the company said at the time of the launch.

“Chew You Good, three words that remind us that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s a simple way to take a bite-sized me moment … because sometimes, that’s all you need,” said  Alyona Fedorchenko, global gum and mints portfolio vice president for Mars Snacking. “It’s what consumers are telling us they want from our brand and it’s what we intend to deliver, one chew at a time, with the launch of this exciting new platform.”

Getting a Refresh

As part of the category’s revival, Mars Wrigley has a multiyear effort in place to

attract 10 million new U.S. chewers by 2030. A key piece of that strategy is shifting the focus from solely breath freshening to other benefits in the wellness space, Urista explained.

The company’s gum brands such as Extra have started to explore this territory for work and study occasions, specifically when it comes to moments of focus, since studies have shown that chewing gum can help maintain focus and attention.

“Previously, gum was all about freshening breath. Now, consumers turn to gum in different ways and for different occasions.”
— Maria Urista, Mars Wrigley

Another way Mars Wrigley is elevating usage occasions in the wellness space is through innovative products such as Respawn by 5 Gum, which is aimed at gamers. The product is infused with B vitamins and green tea extract, which have been shown to help maintain focus — ideal for elevating gameplay.

“As the world's top gum maker, Mars Wrigley is driving category growth through backend insights and data to meet the evolving needs of consumers. To ensure product innovations continue to surprise and delight shoppers at retail, Mars consistently keeps a pulse on what motivates consumers, rolling out on-trend offers within the resilient gum category,” Urista said.

CANDY 60 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Mars Wrigley's global "Chew You Good" campaign aims to recruit the next generation of gum chewers.

For example, with the rise in popularity of products inspired by nostalgia, Extra saw an opportunity to innovate on flavor. The release of Extra Pink Lemonade gum taps into this trend via the love consumers have for the beloved summer flavor, with each refreshing bite “ushering in memories of friendship, youth and belonging,” according to the maker.

Additionally, one of Mars Wrigley’s most iconic and nostalgia-inducing brands, Hubba Bubba, added a playful new product to its lineup: Hubba Bubba Mini Gum. The new, poppable gum format features fan-favorite Skittles Original flavors of lemon, strawberry, grape, orange and lime.

“Marking the first new gum format from the brand since 1988, this latest innovation stays true to the brand's bubble-blowing core while giving consumers a fun, new, candy-like taste to enjoy,” Urista noted.

Sugarless Strength

With consumers shifting their focus to health and wellness, one area where gum took a hit was in consumers’ desire to cut back on sugar. Now, thanks to innovation in the category, growth in the convenience channel is being driven by sugarless gum. The segment grew its unit sales rate by 7.1% and average weekly items/store selling by 2.6%, according to Circana.


Gum category sales grew in the convenience channel for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 25, with unit sales up 4.4%.

— Circana

Unit growth in independent convenience stores outpaced chain stores, especially in sugarless gum, noted Suzy Godsted, senior director of client insights at Circana. Therefore, she advises c-store retailers that are looking to enhance their gum offering to ensure they have the right mix of sugarless gum vs. regular gum to meet consumers’ needs.

“Better-for-you gum with natural sweeteners like Xylitol and gums endorsed by the American Dental Association continue to gain momentum as consumers become aware of their benefits,” she said while also noting that mint remains the primary flavor for gum, but new fruit flavors can be added to bring interest to the shelf.

Godsted also pointed out that as health and wellness is emphasized more and more in the media, “we are seeing some shift toward products with functional benefits like whitening gum and gum with vitamins.” CSN

CANDY 62 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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In-Store Influence

The convenience channel’s frequency and reach offer the perfect opportunity for retail media networks to fulfill their mission

LOYALTY PROGRAMS. Online ordering. Mobile apps. Convenience store operators are always looking for the next big technology initiative to drive customer engagement. Now, the new frontier may very well be retail media networks (RMNs).

Retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies across all channels have always found ways to connect with their loyal shoppers — and just as importantly, build connections with new customers — via billboards, television, radio and, of late, digitally as everyday screen times increase. But their reach doesn’t need to end there as seen with the growth of RMNs.

A retail media network is like an asset, according to Susie Opare-Abetia, founder and CEO of Wovenmedia, an in-store retail media solutions provider based in San Francisco. A RMN could take the form of a retailer’s website, mobile app or email channel, or it could be the store itself. With

a retail media network, retailers are essentially opening up that asset to allow ads to be published, leveraging their first-party data to get the right ad in front of the right consumer.

If you think RMNs are growing in the convenience channel, you are not mistaken. In the fall of 2022, 7-Eleven Inc. ventured into the space with the launch of Gulp Media Network. Aimed at fulfilling immediateconsumption purchase occasions vs. stock-up trips, Gulp Media taps into the Irving, Texas-based retailer’s customer data — which is 90 million loyalty members strong, or approximately one in four Americans — to transform the customer experience.

Speaking at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show earlier this year, Marissa Jarratt, executive vice president, chief marketing and sustainability officer at 7-Eleven, said Gulp Media Network is an opportunity to influence the shopper at the point of purchase.

“We thought it was important that our offering, whatever it is, reflect that brand equity and that brand personality. Our loyalty members, our most loyal

64 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

members, are shopping our stores more than once a day. That is a high degree of engagement and connection and commitment to the brand,” she said. “So, we want to make sure that our offering has all of the functional attributes and benefits, if you want to think about it that way, of what you would expect in a retail media network, but that it also communicates more than that. It communicates the power and the potential of the brand, and it reflects the connectivity that our customers have with this brand.”

Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores Inc. made its foray into RMNs with Casey’s Access, which went live in the first half of 2023. Casey’s Access creates opportunities for brands to leverage the company’s scale and new capabilities, including:

• Targeting guests visiting Casey’s more than 2,600 stores across 17 states;

• Casey’s omnichannel presence with in-store, online and at-pump opportunities for consumers to transact;

• Onsite owned media, in-store media and offsite paid media leveraging rich, first-party data; and

• Campaign measurement and analytics to enable ongoing investment optimization.

Most recently, Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc. debuted the Goose Media Network to connect its customers with its partner brands through custom ads and campaigns across a variety of digital channels. Wawa, which operates approximately 1,000 c-stores, partnered with Publicis Groupe’s Publicis Sapient, Epsilon and CitrusAd to bring together their digital business transformation services, retail media expertise and advertising technology platform.

“Goose Media Network elevates convenience by delivering offers to customers right where they shop and allows us to build new connections with our customers and partners’ brands,” said Melissa Seabright, advertising manager for the retailer. “This new opportunity will help connect our customers with new and relevant offers from brands they love while allowing us to increase visibility for our product partners.”

Leveraging the Physical Space

Retail media networks fulfill a brand’s need to reach shoppers at the pointof-purchase decision.

“These networks are really growing phenomenally in the digital space, the largest being Amazon, simply because of the sheer volume of web traffic that goes to Amazon’s website. [RMNs] have a huge percentage of market share in the digital space,” Opare-Abetia said.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, however, have taken note and are not ready to cede this technology arena to Amazon or any other digital retailer.

“Retailers are like, ‘Well, hold on, wait a minute, we have huge reach in the physical space.’ That’s why you are hearing more and more about in-store retail media networks as they start to enter the c-store space, like Casey’s Access and 7-Eleven’s Gulp Media,” she explained, noting that Wovenmedia is in talks with smaller convenience channel players that are interested in entering the RMN space as well.

“In-store is the next frontier for retail media and it makes tremendous sense because people are in a buying mode. They’re going to the store to buy stuff. They’re in that mode of wanting to buy,” Opare-Abetia said. “If you can have screens in-store that can engage, those shoppers can essentially do three things: ideally, if the network is built the way it should be, you are driving sales lift, you are driving brand loyalty, [and] you are also improving the shopper experience.”

Casey’s retail media network gives brands the chance to reach c-store shoppers in-store, online and at the pump.

C-stores vs. Grocery Stores

Convenience stores are not the only retail outlets with in-store RMNs.

Rooted in big-box stores’ desire to boost sales of televisions and the electronics department overall, retailers have been using screens to attract shoppers’ eyes for years.

Earlier this year, Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern, the nation’s largest retailer-owned cooperative with more than 40 members that independently own and operate 360 supermarkets, flipped the switch on Wakefern Media Exchange. Additionally, Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle Inc. added audio to its retail media network, Leap Media Group.

In a recent column for Path to Purchase, a sister brand of Convenience Store News, Jeffrey Bustos, vice president, measurement, addressability, data center at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, pointed out that while grocery stores have been early adopters, convenience stores are

66 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com TECHNOLOGY
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7-Eleven's Gulp Media Network focuses on fulfilling immediate-consumption purchase occasions.

an untapped market, ripe with potential.

According to Bustos, the differentiating factors between c-stores and grocery stores are:

• Purchase behavior: C-store shoppers are often on the go, seeking convenience and speed. In contrast, grocery shoppers are more inclined toward planned, bulk purchases.

• Product assortment: C-stores typically have a limited selection, focusing on high-turnover items, whereas grocery stores offer a wide range of products.

• Shopping frequency: Consumers visit c-stores more frequently but for fewer items, while grocery store visits are less frequent but involve larger baskets.

• Data dynamics: C-stores, due to their high transaction volume, have a rapid data refresh rate, offering current insights into consumer behavior, a contrast to the more stable but less frequently updated data from grocery stores.

Wovenmedia’s Opare-Abetia agrees that the convenience channel is the land of opportunity for retail media networks. Grocery stores have a leg up when it comes to the digital space — consumers order groceries online or use online weekly flyers to prepare grocery lists before they go to the store — but c-stores have the advantage when it comes to the physical space.

“I think convenience stores can really play big in the physical space. There are a few characteristics of c-stores that really lend themselves well to screens in-store,” she said. “The first is simply just reach and frequency. 7-Eleven has about 13,000 stores — that’s a massive amount of geographic reach. If you are running an ad on screens at 7-Eleven, you’re reaching more [geographies] across the country than you would if you were doing the same ad on Walmart’s network.”

As for frequency, she said, “If you play an ad on a screen in a c-store, you are going to get somebody seeing that ad at least once a week, maybe more than once a week. There’s higher ad exposure across the chain.”

Add in the immediate-consumption factor and the convenience channel’s high-impact footprint, and you have a perfect recipe for getting messages to more consumers through an in-store RMN.

“Shoppers want to be inspired. They want to learn about a new product. That lends itself well to being able to influence the purchase decision while they’re in that mode looking for inspiration,” Opare-Abetia told CSNews

“Goose Media Network elevates convenience by delivering o ers to customers right where they shop and allows us to build new connections with our customers and partners’ brands.”
— Melissa Seabright, Wawa Inc.
68 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com TECHNOLOGY

The Data Tells the Story

All that being said, RMNs don’t stop once brands get their message in front of a high volume of shoppers. Measurement is becoming more and more important in the industry, and there are several approaches to measuring the effectiveness of these networks.

One approach, which is typically what these networks have done in the past, is to conduct intercept surveys to gather feedback. However, according to Opare-Abetia, CPG brands are not really looking for that type of feedback. “They’re looking for more immediate and more obvious measurement metrics,” she explained.

Enter, new cutting-edge solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI).

“Now, we’re looking at technologies like AI, anonymous cell phone detection, beacons — technologies that can tell a brand that this is the traffic that came in the store and this is the traffic that was around the screen that saw the ad,” Opare-Abetia said. “Then, you can look at the sales data. Did it move

“If you play an ad on a screen in a c-store, you are going to get somebody seeing that ad at least once a week, maybe more than once a week.”
— Susie Opare-Abetia, Wovenmedia

the needle on sales, and why was that? Was it the time of day? Was it the creative? The test and learn and test again and measure is really going to be more and more important for these RMNs in-store.”

Retailers and their CPG partners can focus on a multitude of factors: measurement of the audience, demographics, store traits, seasonality or trip frequency.

“It’s a rich motherload of data to mine. More brands are saying, ‘We need to know how effective the campaign was in-store through some form of measurement.’ And more and more, they’re looking to see some standardization of that measurement,” said Opare-Abetia. CSN



EnsembleIQ is the premier resource of actionable insights and connections powering business growth throughout the path to purchase. We help retail, technology, consumer goods, healthcare and hospitality professionals make informed decisions and gain a competitive advantage.

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MAY 2024 Convenience Store News 69


Convenience Store News' first Future Leaders Learning Lab webinar provided proven techniques to become a great collaborative leader

MANY COMPANIES in the convenience channel focus on engaging with their customers. However, engagement among employees is just as important for success.

When leaders are able to hone their individual collaboration skills, companies can drive better team engagement and achieve stronger results. The ability of leaders to foster and drive collaboration is critically important for an organization, according to Patrick Fitzmaurice, CEO and "head farmer" of the change consultancy Caterpillar Farm Inc.


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Fitzmaurice discussed what makes a great collaborative leader as he presented Convenience Store News' firstever Future Leaders Learning Lab webinar on March 13. The quarterly webinar series aims to give participants techniques and tools they can use to take their careers to the next level.

He explained that a collaborative leader must be in service to three things: the audience; the speakers/ contributors; and the mission. "When I facilitate a meeting, I believe that I owe it to every single person in that audience to make them understand why they're there and why they're valuable for what we're there to talk about," Fitzmaurice said.

Similarly, a good collaborative leader sets the speakers and contributors up to be successful

and is responsible for making sure the desired outcome, or mission, of a meeting is achieved. As he pointed out, the leader "constantly threads the balance between those three stakeholder groups that you own to make this collaboration work."

Borrowing a term from the U.S. Marine Corps, Fitzmaurice also said a collaborative leader must have "bearing," which he defined as "creating a favorable impression in carriage, appearance and personal conduct at all times." Whether physically in a room or virtually, one needs to look, act and speak like a leader to establish bearing with their group.

Additional techniques that great collaborative leaders apply are:

Right to Left: Start with the end in mind. Be clear of the outcome first and then tell the audience how to get there. "It has absolutely nothing to do with an agenda. It has to do with purpose. It has to do with mission," Fitzmaurice stressed.

IEEI: This acronym stands for inform, excite, empower and invite. "The purpose of this is to get the group wildly engaged," he explained.

Five Whys: Ask the question "why?" five times. "Some kind of magic in the world says that if you keep probing at a topic five times, you actually start getting to root things to solve," he said.

"Each one of these is something you can train yourself on," Fitzmaurice concluded. "I'm not just telling you things; I'm telling you things that you could actually make sure you get better at, or your team can get better at. Each one of these is teachable and it's a skill you can build over time."

The Future Leaders Learning Lab is a new element of CSNews' Future Leaders in Convenience (FLIC) program. Now in its seventh year, FLIC is designed to help celebrate and develop the next generation of c-store industry leaders. CSN

70 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Patrick Fitzmaurice

A CEO’s Take on the ROI of DEI

The Wills Group’s Blackie Wills shares his company’s experience

AT THE WILLS GROUP, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are seen as key enablers to its business strategy and operating priorities, and considered core to achieving its mission of being the preferred choice for employees, customers and business partners in its chosen markets.

A family-owned company since 1926, The Wills Group operates a number of businesses across the Mid-Atlantic region, including Dash In convenience stores, Splash In ECO Car Wash locations and SMO Motor Fuels. At the helm of the organization is President and CEO Blackie Wills, who recently spoke with Convenience Store News about the company’s DEI efforts.

CSN: Can you tell me about The Wills Group’s DEI journey so far?

Wills: We’ve had a DEI journey that’s been organic for many years. But [after] the advent of the pandemic and some

of the social injustices that happened, the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, we became a lot more intentional about DEI and I would say more formally established our journey, as well as some objectives.

We started off really with our employees. We wanted to try to figure out how do we reduce this anxiety and acknowledge it being a problem. And so, we conducted listening sessions with employees just to hear them out. You know, what’s going on? What are you thinking about? What are you concerned about? We also hired one of the leading DEI consultants, Korn Ferry, to help us formally establish more structure into our DEI journey. [They] conducted a number of interviews with not just executives, but across the organization, and completed a talent flow analysis.

Out of that initial endeavor, we spent time developing this diagnostic to figure out how do we advance our culture, how do we look at our talent and how do we think about this work in connection with our communities. So, that really kicked things off for our DEI journey and then, in the years since, we’ve focused on how we gauge whether or not we’re making progress. We know this is ongoing. There’s no end to this and it’s all about continuous improvement.

CSN: We often hear that DEI efforts are most successful when they have the support of upper management. Why did you decide to support DEI at The Wills Group?

Wills: Well, for one, we’ve always been a values-based organization. We have seven corporate core values, one

72 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Wills Group employees came together with community members to revitalize Tanglewood Park in Clinton, Md. Blackie Wills
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of those is diversity. And we say that we embrace the uniqueness of all individuals and support equal opportunities and belonging for all.

I think it’s just the right thing to do and when you think about your organization, we’ve long been believers that our people are our greatest asset. So, how do you ensure that you’re getting the best people, that your people feel very connected to the organization? That’s always been important to us, so it’s always been kind of a natural fit to pursue DEI.

CSN: In your experience, what has the ROI been from your DEI efforts?

Wills: We’ve tried to gauge that a couple different ways. We’re big believers that diversity can give us a talent advantage. The other piece of it is thinking about employee engagement. Obviously, the more diverse your employee population is, the more things you need to do, the more you need to be aware of. So, how do we ensure that we’re attracting top-level talent and very diverse talent? We gauge that through employee engagement.

I’m proud to say that as we’ve looked at our advancements in employee engagement in recent years, since we’ve become more intentional with our DEI journey, it’s translated to results. We were at 82% of employees saying it was a great place to work three years ago. We’re up to 87% now. We’ve been very excited to see that continued growth year over year.

We also intentionally, as part of our annual engagement survey, look at some core DEI questions to assess how we’re doing there, and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been consistently able to score in the top one or two percentiles in those key areas. That’s been really important.

We established employee resource groups a few years ago. Initially, it was the Women of Wills (professional women) and Families in Motion (working parents). We’ve since added a third employee resource group for military veterans. We rely on those employee resource groups to provide additional thought leadership and perspective. And frankly, we’ve acted on a lot of things they’ve done that we believe are making us a better employer and strengthening the relationship with our employees.

So, a lot of [the return on investment] is about, I think, both retention of existing talent and attraction of new talent. That’s one of the core components of DEI that we look at. It probably goes beyond that, but that’s what we’re most focused on right now, the talent advantage. CSN

The Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion program is part of The Convenience Inclusion Initiative, a Convenience Store News platform that champions a modern-day convenience store industry where current and emerging leaders foster an inclusive work culture that celebrates differences, allows team members to bring their whole selves to work, and enables companies to benefit from diversity of thought and background. AN EYE ON D&I 74 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
CASE FOR DIVERSITY & INCLUSION PROGRAM IS UNDERWRITTEN BY: Managers learned about the dimensions of diversity at a training session.
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION Food Safety Services MAY 2024 Convenience Store News 77
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION Gourmet Pet Treats 78 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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Competing for Share of Stomach

Consumers still perceive c-store food as lagging fast-casual and fast-food restaurants

According to the 2024 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed 1,500-plus consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month, purchase incidence of prepared food in the channel is up significantly from a year ago. Nearly seven in 10 surveyed shoppers said they purchased prepared food at a convenience store at least once in the past month — an impressive jump of 14 points year over year. There is still work to be done, however, to convert nonbuyers and protect existing sales in the face of strong cross-channel competition. The study uncovered the following insights:

Among nonbuyers, the top reasons cited for not purchasing prepared food at a c-store are:

Prefer not to purchase this item from a c-store (41%)

Didn’t plan to purchase when I went to the store (39%) Too expensive (28%)

Wasn’t hungry when I was in the store (27%)

Didn’t look appetizing (23%)

Didn’t like the selection (17%)

Prepared Food Comparison:

vs. Other Channels

Fast-casual, fast-food and grocery outlets are still viewed as superior alternatives to c-store food, indicating a need for operators to continue improving their o erings.

Interestingly, although shoppers give the highest marks to fast-casual food, 48% said they are most likely to visit a fast-food restaurant in place of a convenience store.

According to buyers, the most important factors when purchasing c-store food are:

Just 56% of buyers said they were extremely satisfied with their most recent prepared food purchase at a convenience store — a decline of 8 points year over year. The percentage who said they were somewhat satisfied jumped to 37%, while 7% said they were not satisfied.

Fast casual Fast food Grocery/supermarket INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND
1. Price/value (44%) 2. Food quality (42%) 3. Freshness (40%) 4. Taste (32%) 5. Convenience/ portability (31%) 90 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
63% 26% 11% 52% 37% 11% 51% 39% 9% BETTER THAN C-STORE SIMILAR WORSE THAN C-STORE


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EnsembleIQ delivers the most trusted business intelligence from leading industry experts, creative marketing solutions and impactful event experiences that connect best-in-class suppliers and service providers with our vibrant business-building communities.


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