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Convenience Store News September 2021
W H AT ’ S N E X T I N C O N V E N I E N C E A N D F U E L R E TA I L I N G
The convenience channel has long been criticized for being a follower rather than a leader when it comes to innovation, but it stands poised to lead once the COVID cloud clears.
BEST NEW PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR Volume 57, Number 9
Local, State and Federal tobacco taxes and restrictions on the sale of tobacco products can hurt your business. Governments often pass new laws quickly, so you need to stay informed about what is happening in your area. You and your business matter and making your voice heard is crucial to our success in fighting for fair tobacco policies.
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C-stores Moving to Forefront of Business Innovation Convenience retailers are evolving successfully to meet the post-pandemic future A YEAR AGO, the nation’s convenience retailers were facing an uncertain future. Fuel sales had cratered due to the shutdowns enacted nationwide to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Store traffic was down, and foodservice sales were hit particularly hard by pandemic safety restrictions. Yet, I pointed out then that innovation would carry retailers through the crisis.
A year later, business is improving for most c-store retailers, although you cannot say things are back to normal. Despite the availability of vaccines that have proven to be extremely effective against the COVID-19 virus and its variants, infection rates have risen in many regions of the country, and some areas are dealing with a return to difficult-to-enforce mask mandates. Nevertheless, if innovation got the industry through the nadir of last year’s business conditions, I’m convinced it will do likewise in the coming year. Our cover story (see page 32) proves that point. The convenience channel’s ability to innovate was especially visible during the pandemic. Scott Hartman, president and CEO of Rutter’s, told me that the industry did things faster and better than most any other business during COVID-19. He pointed to the changes in regulations, customer habits, and supply chain challenges that faced the industry. “While other industries simply closed, limited hours, cut out inside
seating and sales, we adjusted in ways many thought impossible. Not only did we step up and stay open, but we were a huge winner for our customers and investors,” Hartman noted. The pandemic sped up testing and implementation of technology, too. Check out the 2021 Convenience Store News Technology Study (page 108) to see how retailers are investing their tech dollars today and what they plan to focus on in the near future. From making pandemic-inspired menu changes to utilizing new technology, the nation’s top food-forward convenience retailers also demonstrated remarkable innovation over the past year. Being able to turn on a dime and succeed, during a global pandemic, is the definition of innovation. Check out this year’s CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards winners and read how they did it (page 76). And although dealt enormous supply chain challenges that continue today, industry suppliers rose to the occasion as well. Brand marketers correctly anticipated that consumers’ thirst for healthier products would only increase during the pandemic. See the innovation exhibited by the 44 products recognized in our 25th annual Best New Products Awards (page 52). As the COVID-19 cloud clears — and operators assess the new normal — the c-store industry stands poised to lead the future of retail, both in-store and on the forecourt. For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editorial Director, at (201) 855-7606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITORIAL EXCELLENCE AWARDS (2013-2021)
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Brett Atherton Bolla Management
2021 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Infographics, June 2021
2018 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Editorial Use of Data, June 2017
2013 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Best Single Issue, October 2012
2013 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Profile, August 2012
2020 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Series of Articles, September 2019 2018 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Website Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2017 Business to Business, Editorial Use of Data, June 2017
Rick Crawford Green Valley Grocery
2017 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, May 2017 Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, June 2016
Edward Davidson ER Davidson & Associates (7-Eleven Inc., retired)
2016 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2015 Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, August 2015 2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Bronze, Best Original Research, June 2015 2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Silver, Best Original Research, June 2015
2015 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2014
2013 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Bronze, Best Editorial/Commentary, July 2012
Jim Hachtel Eby-Brown Co.
2014 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2013 Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2013
Chris Hartman Rutter’s
2013 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2012
Ray Johnson Speedee Mart
2015 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Silver, Best Profile (long form), February 2014 2015 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best Special Supplement, November 2014 Silver, Best Profile (long form), February 2014
Laura Aufleger OnCue Express
Robert Falciani ExtraMile Convenience Stores Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments Vito Maurici McLane Co. Inc. Matt Paduano Lakeport Markets Jonathan Polonsky Plaid Pantries Inc. Greg Scriver Kwik Trip Inc. Bill Stein Core-Mark Roy Strasburger StrasGlobal
Jack Lewis GPM Midwest
2020 Trade Association Business Publications Intl. Tabbie Awards Honorable Mention, Best Single Issue, September 2019 2016 Trade Association Business Publications Intl. Tabbie Awards Silver, Front Cover Illustration, June 2015
S E P T E MB E R
Convenience Store News
CONTENTS SEPT 21
VOLUME 57 N UMB ER 9
COVER STORY PAGE 32
32 Stepping Up The convenience channel has long been criticized for being a follower rather than a leader when it comes to innovation, but it stands poised to lead once the COVID cloud clears. FEATURE
52 A Healthy Dose of Innovation Health and wellness is a common theme among this year’s Best New Products Awards winners. FEATURE
116 The NACS Show Is Back The convenience store industry’s premier expo is ready to resume course.
3 C-stores Moving to Forefront of Business Innovation Convenience retailers are evolving successfully to meet the post-pandemic future.
122 Foodservice First FriendShip Kitchen is making an impact in the competitive Columbus market. INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND
146 Serving the Customer Fueled by the pandemic, the world of c-store services has significantly expanded.
8 CSNews Online 18 New Products SMALL OPERATOR
25 The Art of the Steal: Part 1 Minimize employee theft by letting your staff know that you’re paying attention to the details. NEW HORIZONS
120 The Myth of the Critical Female Boss Banishing this stereotype is a key step to advancing women to leadership roles.
4 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
CONTENTS SEPT 21
VOLUME 57 N UMB ER 9
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10 Convenience & Fuel Retailers Begin to See Impact of Outdoor EMV Liability Shift
12 U.S. Senate Passes $1T Infrastructure Bill
76 Overcoming Adversity With Innovation For a third time, Rutter’s leads this year’s slate of Foodservice Innovators Awards winners.
14 Eye on Growth 14 Fast Facts 16 Retailer Tidbits 16 Supplier Tidbits TECHNOLOGY 108 Putting Technology in the Forefront Retailers are making plans to increase their tech investments and improve everything from data security to the customer experience.
84 Barbecue Trends The protein-driven category continues to innovate into new formats and flavors. TOBACCO
88 Oral Testimony C-stores can do more to elevate modern oral products to their full backbar potential.
Angela Hanson email@example.com
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98 Remaining Relevant The grocery categories at c-stores benefited from consumers’ pandemic-influenced shopping shifts, but can the momentum last?
Vice President, Production (877) 687-7321 Creative Director (973) 607-1320
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102 CBD in the C-store While product popularity continues to shift, c-stores are still primed to benefit from this category.
CORPORATE OFFICERS Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Litterick Chief Financial Officer Jane Volland Chief Innovation Officer Tanner Van Dusen Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Jadown Executive Vice President, Events & Conferences Ed Several Senior Vice President, Content Joe Territo
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Convenience Store News (ISSN 0194-8733; USPS 515-950) is published 12 times per year, monthly, by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Subscription rates: Subscription rate in the United States: $125 one year; $230 two year; $14 single issue copy; Canada and Mexico: $150 one year; $270 two year; $16 single issue copy; Foreign: $170 one year; $325 two year; $16 single issue copy; Digital One year, digital $87; two year, $161. Periodical postage paid at Chicago, IL 60631, and additional mailing addresses. Copyright 2021 by EnsembleIQ. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprints, permissions and licensing, please contact Wright’s Media at email@example.com or (877) 652-5295. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Convenience Store News, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631.
6 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
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TOP VIEWED STORIES
Kwik Trip Leads 2021 Ranking of Top 10 U.S. Gas Station Brands
Consumers have spoken, and the top gas station banners from coast to coast include regional and national players. According to USA Today’s 10Best Reader’s Choice Awards, La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. takes the crown. Known as Kwik Trip in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and as Kwik Star in Iowa, the family-owned company operates more than 675 convenience stores.
Gopuff Enters the Made-to-Order Food Business
The new offering brings made-to-order hot and fresh food to customers alongside everyday essentials. Gopuff’s mobile kitchen facilities are within or adjacent to its micro-fulfillment centers, enabling customers to order breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night food and drinks alongside any other essentials, all in a single order for a flat fee of $1.95.
Wawa & Giant Eagle Reinstate Mask Mandates as Delta Variant Spreads
Months after officials across the country lifted mask mandates, some retailers are again asking employees and customers to cover up as the Delta strain of COVID-19 leads to an uptick in cases. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. reinstated its mask mandate for employees, effective Aug. 4, while Giant Eagle Inc., parent company of Pittsburgh-based GetGo convenience stores, said it would again require employees to wear masks beginning Aug. 6.
Circle K Forms Exclusive International Partnership With Bitcoin Depot
Bitcoin Depot ATM kiosks enable users to exchange cash for cryptocurrency. More than 700 bitcoin ATMs have already been installed in 30 states under the partnership, providing users with immediate access to bitcoin and more than 30 other cryptocurrencies.
7-Eleven Franchisees Report Staffing Challenges
A 17-question survey of 422 participants, conducted on behalf of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees, found that 97 percent of franchise owners have had trouble staffing their store(s) over the past year, and 96 percent said they or their designee had worked more shifts than they typically work during the last 60 to 90 days.
Reinventing the C-store for the Digital Future The current c-store format may be heading for the same fate as video rental in today’s convenience-obsessed, digital world. The channel is ripe for disruption, and yet current investment is around upgrading food and beverage options, leaving broader trends and technological possibilities on the table, writes Bill Chidley, partner and executive director, strategy and insights at ChangeUp. Tomorrow’s c-store must lead the consumer definition of “easy” by redefining and innovating the business with respect for the rising tide of convenience across all retail and e-commerce. There are three areas where c-stores can regain their convenience advantage: extend the store as we know it; use AI to broaden and tailor the assortment; and out-Q QSR competitors. 8 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
TravelCenters of America’s Latest Initiative Focuses on the Guest Journey One of TravelCenters of America Inc.’s (TA) key pillars is knowing who the guest is and making sure the guest is at the center of everything it does. As guests’ shopping needs change, TA will adapt as well to serve their needs. As part of this, the retailer is focusing on the guest journey at its stores, according to Kaitlin Wolfe, vice president of merchandising. This has led to a new site reflow initiative. The retailer completed 20 reflows through June 2021, and has plans to complete almost 70 for the year. Features of the site reflows include new branded wayfinding signs and depending on the investment level at the site, new fixtures and electronic shelf labels. “We have been spending a lot of time at TA trying to better understand our guests and the site segmentation. Through the reflow process, my team is completing space-to-sales and profit analysis that helps us make recommendations that will enable us to serve the guest — whether that site is more professional driver focused or it is more motorist focused, or it may be a split,” Wolfe told Convenience Store News. For more exclusive content, visit the Special Features section of csnews.com.
MOST VIEWED NEW PRODUCT
Juicy Drop Gummy Dip ‘N Stix Bazooka Candy Brands introduces the latest extension of its Juicy Drop brand: Juicy Drop Gummy Dip ‘N Stix. The product’s unique packaging is designed with a center compartment filled with fruit-flavored sour gel, surrounded by chewy candy stix. Consumers can dip as much or as little as they like to create their ideal sweet and sour experience. Juicy Drop Gummy Dip ‘N Stix come in four fruity flavors: Knock-Out Punch, Blue Rebel, Wild Cherry Berry, and Watermelon Blast. Each package has a suggested retail price of $1.79 to $1.99. The Topps Co. Inc. New York bazookacandybrands international.com
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Convenience & Fuel Retailers Begin to See Impact of Outdoor EMV Liability Shift A CMSPI analysis found that chargebacks have tripled since January 2021 By Melissa Kress liability shift at the pump has finally occurred, convenience and fuel retailers that are behind in upgrading their forecourts are starting to feel the pinch.
NOW THAT THE EMV
As of the April 2021 deadline, any card fraud detected at automated fueling dispensers now falls to the responsibility of the retailer if EMV technology has not been implemented on their forecourt. Retailers feel the fraud in the form of chargebacks, according to Joshua Pynn, strategic insights consultant at CMSPI, an independent payments consultancy. A CMSPI analysis found that chargebacks have tripled since January 2021. “If you look at January as the baseline month, May is almost triple of what January was in terms of overall chargebacks. There was a pretty substantial increase of about 50 percent in April, and that really ballooned in May,” Pynn said during a July webinar hosted by industry technology organization Conexxus and sponsored by Invenco. EMV liability shifts are not new to the convenience and fuel retailing industry. The in-store EMV deadline occurred in 2015. However, Pynn pointed out that becoming compliant at the pump is a more difficult
10 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
undertaking than becoming compliant in the store. “Chargebacks have not only grown in volume, but they have grown in value. The average value of every chargeback hovered somewhere around $50 before April. Then, in April and May, they grew to over $70. That’s an almost 40-percent increase,” he noted. “This is a significant issue for many different merchants in the industry, both large and small, on their way to becoming fully compliant.” As the industry is starting to see the effect of those operators who have not yet made the transition in the EMV journey, there are several options for retailers looking to solve the outdoor EMV compliance issue, according to Dan Harrell, chief innovation officer at Invenco, a global provider of self-service payment solutions. Retailers can buy a new EMV-ready pump from a pump manufacturer, buy a new pump without EMV technology and retrofit it, or buy a retrofit kit for their existing pumps. When weighing their options, Harrell said retailers need to consider the upfront cost of purchasing the equipment; ongoing maintenance costs; and additional benefits from buying a new pump, such as an image upgrade.
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U.S. Senate Passes $1T Infrastructure Bill The legislation helps create a competitive market for electric vehicle charging infrastructure THE U.S. SENATE APPROVED
the $1.2-trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) on Aug. 10. The legislation allocates nearly $550 billion in new spending above what Congress was already planning to allocate for infrastructure over the next eight years.
NACS President and CEO Henry Armour. “We have been pleased to work with senators from both parties to make progress on alternative energy and look forward to continuing those partnerships as these discussions continue.”
Lawmakers set aside the largest share of the money, $110 billion, for roads and bridges. The bill also includes an alternative fuels corridor grant program, along with language and programs to facilitate better coordination with key stakeholders and the states.
The associations also worked with federal legislators to make sure the program encourages private sector investment and a competitive market for electric vehicle (EV) charging. Additionally, they worked with negotiators to not lift the ban on rest area commercialization or provide an exception for EV chargers at rest areas.
NACS, NATSO and SIGMA — which represent a nationwide network of 150,000 refueling locations and whose members sell 90 percent of the motor fuels sold at retail — worked with lawmakers to ensure that convenience and fuel retailers would be part of the coordination effort and be eligible for the grant program. “The Senate’s bipartisan bill begins the process of creating a competitive market for electric vehicle charging infrastructure that will benefit convenience retailers and consumers for years to come,” said
12 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
“The policies established by the IIJA, while not perfect, will ensure that our industry can compete on a level playing field and encourage private sector investments in alternative transportation energy,” stated NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. With the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate both passing infrastructure bills, the next step will be to iron out the differences.
We’ve been busy! Please take the opportunity to visit us at NACS!
Experience the many innovative 5-hour ENERGY products featured this year. ®
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THIS STATEMENT HAS NOT BEEN EVALUATED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION. THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE.
Eye on Growth Global Partners LP picked up 13 Mac’s Market stores from Sherman V. Allen Inc. The stores are located in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
Kum & Go will also enter the Utah market next year.
Kum & Go LC will open its first Michigan location in 2022. The Grand Rapids convenience store will mark the retailer’s entrance into a 13th market. QuikTrip Corp. recently welcomed customers to its 900th store, located in Corsicana, Texas. The retailer is slated to add four more states to its 12-state footprint next year. Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is acquiring the Esso, Wilsons Gas Stops and Go! Store convenience store brands through a purchase of Cape D’Or Holdings Ltd., Barrington Terminals Ltd., and other related holding entities.
Boyett Petroleum completed its acquisition of the retail and wholesale fuel distribution business of Danielson Fuel Services. This transaction will serve as a platform for continued growth and expansion in the mid-continent region. Smoker Friendly acquired 21 stores from Smoke ‘N GO LLC. The Louisiana stores, which were licensed with Smoker Friendly International, will continue to sell the SF Private Label brands. In June, Love’s Travel Stops began serving customers at three new locations: Alamo, Mich.; Albany, Ga.; and Holly Springs, Miss. These sites add 205 truck parking spaces to the retailer’s network.
C&S Fuels LLC purchased Scott Petroleum Corp., which encompasses 44 locations — offices, bulk plants, 12 convenience stores, a fuel terminal, and a biodiesel plant.
TravelCenters of America Inc. executed a franchise agreement for a new TA Express travel center in Nephi, Utah. The Pump & Park Travel Center will be remodeled and opened as TA Express Nephi by early 2022.
Refuel Operating Co. LLC entered into an agreement to buy the assets of Albemarle Oil Co., operating under the ALCO brand. The company owns and operates 28 c-stores and eight Dairy Queen locations.
A second Neon Marketplace threw open its doors on June 24 in Warwick, R.I. The first serves customers in Middletown, R.I. The retailer plans to open more than 20 stores within the next year.
-7% 12% 33% Coffee servings ordered at commercial foodservice declined by 7 percent in the year ending May 2021 and by 11 percent compared to two years ago.
— The NPD Group
14 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
Overall beverage sales in the convenience channel were up 12 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2021, driven by an uptick in store traffic. — Beverage Bytes, Goldman Sachs
Eating healthy comes at a price: 33 percent of today’s shoppers identify cost as the biggest barrier to healthy eating. — COVID-19 Has Elevated the Health & Wellness Trends of Recent Years, Acosta
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7-Eleven Inc.’s new-build store in Murfreesboro, Tenn., will be the first 7-Eleven site to feature two food concepts under one roof. It will offer Laredo Taco Co. and Raise the Roost Chicken & Biscuits.
The card combines RaceTrac’s Fuel Rewards, Rewards VIP and Debit Rewards programs in a single swipe.
Yesway implemented Engage3’s new Price Image Management Suite. The platform tracks competitive fuel prices every hour and saves store associates time.
The Schodack charging station is the first of five that Stewart’s Shops plans to open by the end of the year.
Stewart’s Shops broke ground on its first New York Power Authority EVolve Vehicle Fast Charging Station. Located in Schodack, N.Y., the charging station is expected to open this month.
CEFCO Convenience Stores unveiled self-ordering kiosks inside two Texas locations. The units can be used to order from CEFCO Kitchen’s new menu line. CHS Inc., operator of the Cenex retail network, is expanding its availability of E15 through 19 additional fuel terminals. CHS last expanded access to E15 through the addition of 10 fuel terminals in late April.
RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. debuted a three-in-one method of savings with the RaceTrac Rewards + Debit card.
Kum & Go LC partnered with the Colorado Energy Office to introduce DC fast-charging stations to another of its convenience stores. This marked the 22nd Kum & Go store to offer charging for electric vehicles.
The Kraft Heinz Co. completed the sale of its nuts business to Hormel Foods Corp. for $3.35 billion. The deal included most products sold under the Planters brand, as well as Corn Nuts branded products.
PepsiCo entered into an agreement to sell select juice brands across North America, including Tropicana and Naked, to PAI Partners. PepsiCo will retain a 39 percent non-controlling interest in a newly formed joint venture. Calico Brands launched a redesigned corporate website. The new site features all product lines available under the Scripto and King brands, as well as product listings for Calico Brands’ private label program.
The 10-year plan doesn’t affect the future of Philip Morris USA, which operates separately as a division of Altria Group Inc.
Philip Morris International Inc. will phase out traditional cigarettes in favor of alternatives such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco devices in the United Kingdom. This aligns with a government plan that calls for the U.K. to go smoke-free by 2030. McLane Co. Inc. became a corporate member of the National Hispanic Corporate Council (NHCC). Neftalí García, McLane’s vice president of government affairs, will represent the distributor on the NHCC board of directors. 16 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
D&H United Fueling Solutions acquired Petroleum Marketers Equipment Co., a petroleum industry supplier serving Oklahoma and northern Texas. The combined companies will have approximately 350 employees with 12 branches. Promotion In Motion Inc. rebranded to PIM Brands Inc. and moved its global headquarters to Park Ridge, N.J. PIM Brands will remain a part of The Promotion In Motion family of companies. Acosta teamed up with foodservice sales agency The CORE Group to create CORE Foodservice. The North American agency will focus on providing solutions for the foodservice industry’s new operating environment.
1. Genuine Broaster Chicken Sandwich
2. Dos Equis Ranch Water Hard Seltzer
3. Hostess Breakfast Offerings
4. Reed’s Resealable 20-Ounce Bottles
The Genuine Broaster Chicken Sandwich is made with an all-whitemeat chicken breast that is coated and marinated with Broaster’s signature recipe, and provides the same flavorful crunch that can be expected from any Genuine Broaster Chicken menu item. Broaster’s pressure frying equipment and process makes this sandwich more tender and juicier compared to ordinary fried chicken, according to the company. Operators can capitalize on the chicken sandwich trend with the help of Broasterrecommended recipe builds.
Dos Equis Ranch Water Hard Seltzer is inspired by the flavors of the classic West Texas drink that combines tequila, sparkling mineral water, and lime. Dos Equis Ranch Water Hard Seltzer is available in a Classic Lime flavor in six-packs of 12-ounce cans and 24-ounce single-serve cans. With the success of its initial launch in Texas this spring, the innovation is slated to expand to additional markets in September 2021, including Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Nevada, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Hostess Brands LLC aims to shake up breakfast with its new Hostess Muff’n Stix and Hostess Pecan Spins. Muff’n Stix feature a fresh, new twist with a unique handheld stick format designed for easy, mobile snacking. They are available in two varieties: Blueberry and Chocolate Chip. Pecan Spins combine a sweet cinnamon roll topped with real, crunchy pecans. The product makes for a delicious, texture-rich way to add some sweetness to the day, according to the maker. Muff’n Stix and Pecan Spins are sized and packaged for ease and convenience.
For the first time in the company’s 30-plus-year history, Reed’s Inc. is launching its first-ever resealable format. Handcrafted, allnatural beverages from the company’s Reed’s and Virgil’s lines are now available in proprietary 20-ounce resealable bottles, which are 100 percent recyclable. The initial range includes Reed’s Real Ginger Ale Original, Virgil’s Handcrafted Root Beer, and Virgil’s Handcrafted Dr. Better. The introduction of the resealable bottles marks Reed’s and Virgil’s entry into the convenience channel nationwide.
Broaster Co. Beloit, Wis. broaster.com
Heineken USA Inc. White Plains, N.Y. dosequis.com
Hostess Brands LLC Lenexa, Kan. hostesscakes.com
5. Woke Up! Energy Shot Woke Up! Energy Shot is an all-natural, plant-based caffeine shot that boasts zero sugar and a proprietary formula packed with adaptogens, herbs, healthy mushrooms, vitamins, and amino acids. Adaptogens are special, powerful herbs that fortify the body against stress, according to the maker. Rather than sourcing the caffeine from the usual coffee bean or tea leaf, Woke Up! Energy Shot’s caffeine is extracted from two Amazonian plants: yerba mate and guarana. Wholesome Organics Co. Tampa, Fla. (888) 596-5387 wokeupenergyshot.com
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Reed’s Inc. Norwalk, Conn. (800) 997-3337 drinkreeds.com
6. Essentia Water Six-Pack
7. Necco Chocolate Wafer Roll
Essentia Water added a 500-milliliter/16.9-ounce sixpack to its premium water line, making it the first highpH water in this pack size, according to the company. The multipack features the same recyclable PET-1 plastic bottles that are bisphenol and phthalate free, wrapped in eyecatching black and red casing. Essentia’s premium iconized alkaline water boasts a clean, smooth taste and a pH of 9.5 or higher. Essentia added the six-pack in response to consumers making fewer trips away from home and increasing their purchases of multipacks during the pandemic.
Spangler Candy Co. is bringing back the Necco Chocolate Wafer Roll. While the Necco Original Roll offers eight different flavors and colors, when consumers unwrap the Chocolate Roll, they will find 40 all-chocolate wafers for their enjoyment. Due to a minor improvement made in the cooking process, the chocolate wafers found in both the Original Roll and Chocolate Roll are now crafted to have a richer cocoa flavor. Spangler Candy Co. Bryan, Ohio spanglercandy.com
8. Van’s Kitchen Chili Lime Chicken Egg Rolls Van’s Kitchen Chili Lime Chicken Egg Rolls blend the familiarity of traditional Asian fusion with zesty and explosive ingredients for the brand’s most mouthwatering egg roll yet, according to the maker. They feature white meat chicken, fresh thinly sliced cabbage, sweet carrots and aromatic onions with zesty chili lime seasoning in a crispy, crunchy wrapper. The new Chili Lime Chicken Egg Rolls are available in a four-pack. Van’s Kitchen Dallas vanskitchen.com
9. Sparkling Ice Superfruit Sparkling Ice is launching an extension of its full-flavored, zero-sugar sparkling water line featuring the bold and crisp flavors of superfruits. Available in 12-ounce cans, Sparkling Ice Superfruit comes in three varieties: Strawberry Dragon Fruit, Blueberry Acai, and Prickly Pear Lemonade. It is the brand’s first non-alcoholic line extension that is sweetened with Stevia leaf. Sparkling Ice Superfruit contains zero sugar, just five calories, and is made with real fruit flavor and colors from natural sources. Talking Rain Beverage Co. Preston, Wash. sparklingice.com
Essentia Water LLC Bothell, Wash. essentiawater.com
10. Scripto Hybrid Lighter Designer Series The Scripto Hybrid Lighter Designer Series offers more than 25 eye-catching and unique wrap designs, with the option to also create your own custom wrap. The Scripto Hybrid Lighter is a crossover of a multipurpose lighter and pocket lighter. It features a refillable tank, extended nozzle for safer lighting, adult-friendly push button ignition, and adjustable flame. The Scripto Hybrid Lighter Designer Series is available in a 50-count display-a-tray and one-pack open stock. The lighters have a suggested retail price of $1.20 in the displaya-tray and $1.25 per one-pack. Calico Brands Inc. Ontario, Calif. (800) 544-4837 calicobrands.com
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SPECIAL SERIES ON FRICTIONLESS ADVANCED LOYALTY ENGAGEMENT
USING LOYALTY DATA TO DRIVE HIGHER SALES With customer expectations both elevated and evolving, c-stores are leveling up their loyalty-analytics capability for a competitive advantage By Lisa Terry CONVENIENCE STORE SHOPPING behaviors
shifted dramatically during the pandemic, upping pressure on brands to discover new ways to drive traffic and revenue in their stores. Those with robust loyalty programs had a leg up, mining this data to gain quick visibility into these new needs and buying trends, and applying those insights into their businesses.
“If you’re getting into loyalty because you think it’s going to be a big win for you, you’re not getting into loyalty for the right reasons,” said Daniel Kahan, loyalty lead for W. Capra Consulting Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm. “Loyalty at its heart is a way to collect data.”
Others moved quickly to introduce or level up loyalty programs of their own. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. c-stores (64 percent) had a loyalty program in 2020, according to PDI, and at least 60 percent planned to invest in them moving forward.
A DATA-FUELED STRATEGY
Those experiences reinforce the growing importance of loyalty data in helping c-store brands better understand their customers. Loyalty data is increasingly seen as an essential tool to develop insights to drive decisionmaking across the enterprise.
Convenience retailers leading the way in loyalty are upping their game by using this data to not only drive revenue, but also reap greater margins from those sales. Here’s what they’re doing differently:
1. Approaching Loyalty Data Strategically
For loyalty leaders, leveraging data well is core to their enterprise-wide plan for meeting revenue goals. They set clear objectives for
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SPECIAL SERIES ON ADVANCED LOYALTY
Loyalty data is key to Rutter’s understanding of its most frequent shoppers.
what they want to accomplish and then put the resources in place to make continual, incremental improvements in their ability to collect, unify, cleanse, analyze and apply loyalty data. Quality data is essential for activities such as segmentation and personalization, says Perry Kramer, managing partner at Retail Consulting Partners, a Boston-based consulting firm. “Anybody that’s going to put it in a loyalty program really wants to have a strategy around their data analytics and data cleansing, and then execution in the stores.” These resources include not just selecting a loyalty platform capable of taking them from where they are now to where they want to go, but also hiring loyalty and analytics talent to make the most of that data. Among the top items on this team’s to-do list is ensuring they are collecting the right data to support their goals. Loyalty leaders also make sure their loyalty data is distributed widely across the organization in ways that make it easy for non-data scientists to understand and apply it in their own domains.
2. Personalizing Based on Individual Behaviors
Loyalty leaders’ continual push to refine their personalization capabilities has
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been key in sustaining them through fast-evolving pandemic behaviors. Personalized promotions delivered at the right time through the right channel with the right offer are the most effective. Applying artificial intelligence to loyalty data is proving key to unlocking new opportunities by recognizing subtleties in individual behaviors, such as establishing what defines a lapse in personal visit cadence for a specific customer to correctly time “We miss you” offer messaging. “Loyalty data is key for us because it is the broadest amount of data we’re able to collect on customers. It’s not just transactional. It’s item by item, seeing what’s selling, what’s not,” said Chris Hartman, director of fuels, forecourt and advertising for Rutter’s, a convenience store chain operating in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “Considering they are our most frequent shoppers, they’re the ones that we want to make sure are seeing the value that we offer and we’re able to keep them happy and keep them coming back.” Those insights also help Rutter’s understand what might attract non-loyalty members to become more loyal, Hartman added.
3. Leveraging Location Data to Fine-Tune Offers
Location data is proving an invaluable data point across retail to help put customer behavior in context. RSR Research found that an overwhelming 82 percent of retailers call the ability to combine geographic and demographic data for better business decisions very
SPECIAL SERIES ON FRICTIONLESS ENGAGEMENT
5. Putting Profitability at the Center
valuable, up from 71 percent just a year ago.
Loyalty leaders leverage deeper insights into individual customer behaviors to ensure offers are highly targeted while optimizing profitability.
The Greater Ohio area’s Duchess convenience store chain, for example, is gaining deeper insight into customer behavior and marketing effectiveness by using geofencing data to correlate when and where a customer is when a message is opened, such as reading a text just after pulling into the parking lot. Soon, the brand will start matching that data with purchase behavior.
For example, they know offers sponsored by a CPG partner, such as a soft drink brand, lower their own costs. But leaders take it a step further. They use vendor funding prescriptively to drive sales that make sense for the business, leveraging those dollars to increase purchase frequency of an occasional buyer, while skipping customers who would have purchased a two-liter bottle anyway.
“We’ll be able to know if we send a specific offer as a geofencing message and a push notification, do they actually purchase that exact item in the store?” explained Nathan Arnold, director of marketing at Ohiobased Englefield Oil Co., which operates Duchess stores. In the future, Duchess hopes to use location data to tailor offers to specific store locations.
4. Tapping Into Consumers’ Appetite for Fuel Discounts
Consumers are highly sensitive to fuel prices right now, and increasingly expect to be rewarded for fuel purchases. PDI found that fuel savings are the leading reward driver in loyalty program participation for c-store loyalty members (36 percent). Smart c-stores are leveraging this trend together with loyalty data to drive sales at the pump and in-store.
Rutter’s, for example, relies on input from its product vendors to suggest items to bundle with a customer’s loyalty offer based on correlations gleaned from across their customer base.
“It’s not just transactional. It’s item by item, seeing what’s selling, what’s not.”
“Customers look for resources,” said Rutter’s Hartman. “You’re already convenient because you’re on the corner and you have fuel. But do you have the value proposition inside the store that’s going to make me come in and get the products that I need and then pick up products maybe that I didn’t know about or didn’t know I needed?”
Other high-profit strategies include placing emphasis on a brand’s market differentiators in loyalty offers, such as private label and prepared food items, and coupling loyalty data with first-party online ordering. By moving ordering in-house, the brand owns the guest experience and can delight their best loyalty customers with surprise offers, customized menus, and preferential treatment.
— Chris Hartman, Rutter’s
“When you get fuel loyalty, then you get in-store loyalty,” says Retail Consulting Partners’ Kramer. Duchess is leveraging its loyalty data to apply learnings from past redemption patterns around when fuel prices are high vs. low. Now that fuel sales are up from early pandemic lows, the brand replaced references to points in its loyalty reward messaging with cents off per gallon — as in, buy two sandwiches, earn five cents off a gallon. “We find that it’s very important for our marketing efforts to give away this free gas because it’s increasing the rings, but it’s also increasing the sales of individual products,” noted Arnold.
RETAILING IN THE AGE OF LOYALTY In this era where customer expectations are both elevated and constantly-evolving, c-stores continually leveling up their loyalty analytics capability are gaining a competitive advantage. “The loyalty program allows a very concise way to view your consumer in a single portfolio and package all their data and transaction history in one place,” says W. Capra’s Kahan. “No matter what you want to forecast, you can look to your loyalty data.” CSN
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Loyalty Programs Produce Results Retailers that meet or exceed expectations achieve greater share of wallet and fierce customer loyalty
are proven revenue generators. By building customer relationships with the brand, they drive consumers to visit more and spend more. Paytronix data, compiled over dozens of credit card analyses that examined millions of By Kiera Blessing, Paytronix data points, shows that loyalty program members typically spend 18-30 percent more after enrolling than they had previously. Yesway, a rapidly growing c-store chain based in Texas, ran a credit card analysis with Paytronix and found that its loyalty members spent about 25 percent more annually after joining the Yesway Rewards program. That’s an average spend of $320 more by each member over the course of the year — a figure that has a huge impact on the brand’s top line. “We were really blown away by what the data was telling us,” said Yesway’s Vice President of Marketing Darren Samaha. “Keep in mind, we took quite a conservative approach with our lift assumptions, and just seeing the results validated a key goal for our program.”
Yesway, which recently acquired New Mexico-based Allsup’s Convenience Stores, didn’t stop there. The information that its loyalty platform provided — such as purchase and visit behavior and location data from mobile apps — was used to deliver rewards incentives to customers when they pulled up to the pump. The results were phenomenal. Forty-five percent of loyalty members went inside and spent more. Loyalty and leading technology were integral in overcoming the age-old pump-to-store challenge. Several other brands boast similar visit- and revenue-driving results. A c-store chain in Michigan revamped its loyalty program with Paytronix about a decade after launching its original one. In the first month of the new digital program, the retailer saw a 54 percent increase in the size of its loyalty base. The brand was then able to leverage those digital communication channels and its newly beefed-up CRM to drive 500-800 incremental visits via “We Miss You” campaigns, and another 2,000 visits per month just from birthday rewards.
Loyalty program members typically spend 18-30 percent more after enrolling than they had previously. Break Time, a midsize convenience chain in the South and Midwest, saw a 25 percent lift in spend from customers in its loyalty program, much like Yesway did. And Duchess, yet another midsized retailer in the Midwest, targeted customers who had stopped visiting at their regular intervals and in doing so, was able to achieve both a 25 percent increase in spend and a 21 percent lift in visits from this group. Today’s consumers are accustomed to the kind of personalized, relevant communication that loyalty affords, and they’re more likely to respond to offers that feel tailored to them and their interests. They’re also highly likely to keep visiting the brand that knows them best. There are a number of reasons why loyalty programs produce results, but at the heart of each is the customer experience. The retailers that can meet or exceed expectations will be rewarded with a greater share of wallet and fierce customer loyalty. CSN Kiera Blessing is a marketing specialist for Paytronix, a single-platform guest experience tool for convenience stores and restaurants. Before joining Paytronix, Blessing worked in the hospitality industry and for an industry-leading POS provider.
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The Art of the Steal: Part 1
Minimize employee theft by letting your staff know that you’re paying attention to the details WE HAVE A LOT to learn from George Clooney’s life of crime.
By Roy Strasburger, CEO, StrasGlobal
As you may remember, Mr. Clooney starred in the remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” and several sequels, as well as not appearing in “Ocean’s 8” (the one with Sandra Bullock). In these movies, Danny Ocean (Mr. Clooney) is a criminal mastermind who is always coming up with elaborate and complicated schemes in order to steal items from someone else. Now, let’s put aside, for the moment, that Danny Ocean supposedly has a heart of gold and would only rob those who were deserving of it. What I want to concentrate on is that, in the movies, you always thought he had been caught, until he came up with a twist to get away with it. This is not dissimilar to what happens in our stores when we are dealing with in-store theft. I’ll explain more about that in a moment. According to the 2020 NACS State of the Industry report, store “shrink” (which includes theft and breakage) averages about $12,700 per store per year. That is money that would go straight to the bottom line — if it stayed in the store.
The reality is that no matter how good your customer service is, how effective your marketing programs are, or how pristine your store looks, there will be product that is either being consumed in the store or walking out of the store without being paid for. The 2018 National Retail Security Survey published by the National Retail Federation stated that 33.2 percent of merchandise shrink is related to employee theft. (The other reasons are shoplifting, 35.7 percent; administrative/paperwork errors, 18.8 percent; vendor fraud, 5.8 percent; and unknown, 6.6 percent). How do we handle this, and what actions can we take? This is where I come back to Mr. Ocean and his schemes. In the movies, every time the authorities thought they had come up with a plan to catch him, he introduced a new element to keep them off-balance. Basically, the thieves are always one step ahead of the good guys. This is true in your store as well. So, let’s address employee theft first (and let’s be clear — this is stealing). We have
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tried a lot of different programs over the years to control employee theft. To clarify our definition, employee theft is anything that is removed from the store that’s not accounted for. That means it was either consumed and not paid for, or it was not written off as bad merchandise. Examples of this can range from someone putting a pack of cigarettes in their pocket and walking out, to eating food and not paying for it, to under-ringing a sale. To be honest, we are never going to completely stop employee theft. All we can do is try to minimize it. The best way to do this is to let your store team know that you are keeping track of what is happening in the store. We try to do this in the following ways:
Store Paperwork Keep all your store paperwork up-to-date and in order. If you have a good system of tracking sales, purchases, bank deposits, credit-card receipts and bad merchandise, you will send a message to your team that you’re paying attention to the details. It will be up to each shift leader and the store manager to make sure everything is accounted for and that it all balances. If the staff knows you’re taking the numbers seriously, they will be less likely to create a situation that will show up in the paperwork. Unfortunately, that also means they will work harder to cover up anything that is taking place in the store. Therefore, you need other tools to keep track of what’s happening with your store merchandise.
Regular Counts We do a store inventory count every 30 days to see what our monthly inventory shrink is. We use an outside auditing company to perform this task to make sure we are getting an unbiased number. The store managers are held responsible for the inventory results and if there is a significant problem, we take corrective actions with the staff. We also do cigarette counts either daily or by shift, depending upon our levels of sales or problems at the store. Keeping count of the inventory, as well as keeping excess tobacco inventory tightly locked up, helps us control our most valuable products. The advantage of doing a count by shift is that we can start to pinpoint when problems are happening as soon as possible, and start taking corrective actions. It is unlikely that one shift lead will cover for another or, at least, be able to do it consistently over time.
if they think they are being watched. But it is not a complete solution. All you have to do is watch some of the shoplifting videos on YouTube to see what happens in the store — even when people know there are cameras in the store and the owners are posting the videos on the internet. Frankly, we don’t use video to discover theft because we do not find it cost- or time-effective to watch hundreds of hours of video per store in the hopes of catching someone stealing something. Instead, we use video to investigate problems at the store once we become aware that we have a problem through our use of the other methods. In all cases, we try to discover the problem as quickly as possible, investigate thoroughly to gather all the information we can, and then work to remedy the problem as quickly as possible either through counseling, repayment or termination. It’s important to not let employee theft go on any longer than necessary because all it is doing is costing you money. Remember, just like Danny Ocean, your staff is always going to be one step ahead of you. Always keep your eyes open and look out for new and inventive ways people can steal from you. Listen to stories you hear from others in the industry to get insight about new tricks and strategies. Watch out for any pattern of unusual things. For instance, pennies being kept on the register as counters (to keep track of how many sales weren’t rung up), regular “no sale” transactions (sales where the cash went into the pocket and not the POS), or staff refusing to work different shifts (because it will expose the fact that they have been under-reporting sales). I don’t mean for this to sound overly paranoid, but a good dose of realism is always helpful. Other tricks to look out for are “sweetheart deals,” where friends and family get an unofficial discount, merchandise that is written off as damaged when it’s taken out of the store, or “inventory padding” when items aren’t checked in properly and are put on the shelf to replace product that was stolen. Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. That is why it’s so important to find good people, train them thoroughly, pay a decent wage, and instill in them a sense of pride in their store and your company by treating them well and showing your appreciation.
The best defense against a dishonest employee is an honest one.
We also use CCTV and let our employees, and customers, know they are being recorded. We believe that having video is a deterrent — people are less likely to steal
In my next column, I’ll talk about customer theft. Be sure to come back for the sequel! CSN
Roy Strasburger is CEO of StrasGlobal, a privately held retail consulting, operations and management provider serving the small-format retail industry nationwide. StrasGlobal operates retail locations for companies that don’t have the desire, expertise or infrastructure to operate them. Learn more at strasglobal.com. Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News. 26 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
8/19/21 2:51 PM
Tapping the HARD SELTZER category Hard seltzer has been the star of the beer category. Growth for the segment is up 29.9% YTD 2021 across all channels, according to IRI, and industry analysts expect Hard Seltzer to continue to lead category growth through 2021. Hard seltzers continue to dominate growth in the overall beer segment with sales significantly outpacing all other category segments. When C-stores take a more strategic approach to the category, they can boost performance and increase profits. While sales increases were greatest
in C-stores compared to other channels in 2021, the category remains underdeveloped. IRI data shows that C-stores accounted for 8.8 % of category sales while grocery accounts for 13.0%. “Growth in the channel is strong, but there is still ground to make up versus larger formats,” says Lauren Quaglia, National Channel Manager – C Store at the Boston Beer Company. “The biggest challenge is less space available compared to other channels. Additionally, C-stores have been slower to react in adding space and reacting to innovation.”
ALL CHANNELS $'s (Millions)
GROCERY $'s (Millions)
Grocery C Store
Source: IRI Total MULO & Convenience YTD July 2021
THE SHARE C-STORES DESERVE C-stores that are taking a more flexible approach to the category are grabbing a greater share of hard seltzer sales. In an extremely dynamic category, keeping pace with growing trends is critical. Yet in an increasingly overproliferated category, making those tough choices about which products make the cut for an optimal assortment can be challenging. Those chains focused on C STORE
Source: IRI Total MULO & Convenience YTD July 2021
BEYOND BEER TRULY CSN_Sept 2021 .indd 1-2
thoughtful brand allocation, year-round category review and flexibility in adjusting assortment/space are seeing those efforts pay off in added profit. While there is some seasonality to the category, hard seltzer has proven resilient well beyond the summer months. “C-stores need to be able to adjust assortment/space throughout the year and not just during the once a year reset process,” says Todd Bollig, Senior Director, Category Management & Shopper Insights at the Boston Beer Company. “Retailers should dedicate 15-20% of their cold space to the hard seltzer segment and ensure that those hard seltzer packages that make up 80% of the seltzer sales have enough holding power, then allocate remaining seltzer space to the innovation that provides the
b i B e
s t s m i e m P s a c n “ p w s d r h r o t c i t c
FIVE STEPS TO ELEVATE HARD SELTZER GROWTH
IRI $ % CHG - C STORE - YTD 7.4.21
1. Ensure proper space allocation incorporating growth rates
2. Build assortment on lead brands first 3. Monitor SKU performance to identify slow movers 4. Keep pace with innovation – swap with slow movers outside of standard reset process 5. Increase Hard Seltzer visibility to attract new shoppers through shelf position, blocking, signage, and display biggest opportunity for incremental volume,” says Bollig. “Innovation has exploded in 2021.” In addition to hard seltzers, cider seltzers, tea seltzers and wine seltzers have entered the marketplace. Accelerated innovation has made it even more difficult to manage the category. Partnering with a valuable supplier for data, insights and people resources can help C-stores better navigate selection. “Boston Beer is uniquely positioned to partner with retailers through our significant investments in data, insights, and people resources,” says Bollig. “We have invested significant resources in building out an innovation team that is focused on unmet consumer needs and identifying opportunities to expand occasions/ consumption.”
The brand is also invested in winning the preshop moments through tactics like geo-targeted mobile media and nearstore or in-store media initiatives. “That translates to increased basket purchases and higher rings at the register,” says Bollig.
Domestic Super Premium
Total Beer 3.5%
5.8% -4.4% Domestic Premium
4.7% -7.3% Domestic Sub Premium
Source: IRI Total MULO & Convenience YTD July 2021
THE CUSTOMERS C-STORES WANT The hard seltzer consumer is a draw for C-stores. Hard seltzers are winning big with younger consumer who embrace a product they view as healthy (less calories and less filling than beer), that offers the wide variety of choices they crave and is gender neutral. Hard seltzer’s portable, recyclable packaging also resonates with these consumers. Retailers that are merchandising the way these consumers shop become a destination for
Hard Seltzers are winning big with younger consumers who embrace a product they view as healthy (less calories and less filling than beer), offers a wide variety of choices they crave and is gender neutral.
8/16/21 2:24 PM
Truly is a category-driver with proven traction among Gen Z/Millennials, shoppers in higher income brackets, female and multi-cultural demographics—consumers that are highly desirable for the C-store channel.
TRULY ATTRACTS A DESIRABLE CONSUMER 40% of Truly shoppers are Gen Z/Millennial, 58% with income over $100k+. Truly is growing among multicultural buyers, particularly Hispanic/ Latino (+81.3%) shoppers Truly has appeal for female shoppers— a target market for C-stores
Tree research shows that only 58% of Gen Z shoppers consider traditional
etration is up +86.2% and gaining ground in 2021,”Quaglia. The brand
beer in their consideration set compared to 80% for boomers. Truly is a category-driv-
has the highest repeat rate (42.6%) and buy rate ($49.77) in hard seltzer across all channels.1
these desirable consumers. “Younger generations of
er with proven traction among Gen Z/Millennial
shoppers think differently in their approach to navigating the beer category,”
consumers, shoppers in higher income brackets, female and multi-cultural
says (source). They think ‘beverage type’ first, while
consumers—consumers that are highly desirable
older generations think ‘brand’ first.” In fact, data from Consumer Decision
for the C-store channel. “Specifically in C-store, Truly household pen-
INNOVATION KEEPS CATEGORY SPARKLING Innovation drives category growth and dynamic constant change is a given in this category. In a choice-driven category, Boston Beer helps partners react quickly to new trends and keep shelves stocked with the strongest performers and hottest new entries. “Within hard seltzer, the last three launches from Truly (Lemonade, Tea and Punch) have offered new flavor profiles, bringing in different consumers, and delivering more incremental volume to the category,” says Quaglia. “The brand is focused on unmet consumer needs and identifying opportunities to expand occasions/consumption.” Look for more innovation from Truly in 2022. 1
BEYOND BEER TRULY CSN_Sept 2021 .indd 3-4
Numerator Total Panel – July 2021
FOR VOLUME GROWTH IN 2021
ENSURE YOUR ASSORTMENT INCLUDES TRULY'S UNMATCHED PORTFOLIO OF FLAVORS
The convenience channel has long been criticized for being a follower rather than a leader when it comes to innovation, but it stands poised to lead once the COVID cloud clears
A Convenience Store News Staff Report
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sk a convenience store retailer what “innovation” means to them and the answer continually ties back to serving the customer best.
For Scott Hartman, CEO of Rutter’s, based in York, Pa., innovation is interpreting customer needs in the future and developing great solutions for those needs. The convenience channel’s ability to innovate has been especially visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We did things faster and better than most anyone else during the pandemic,” said Hartman. “The number of changes in our regulations, customer habit changes and supply chain forced our industry into survival mode. While other industries simply closed, limited hours, cut out inside seating and sales, we adjusted in ways many thought impossible. Not only did we step up and stay open, but we were a huge winner for our customers and investors.” Kevin Smartt, CEO of Texas Born (TXB) and the 2020-2021 NACS chairman, says innovation at his Spicewood, Texas-based company means making the guest experience even better than it was before — in every element of their experience. “TXB approaches innovation with guest experience as our top priority,” he said. “In everything we do, we strive to ‘Leave ‘Em Better’ and provide thoughtful solutions that truly benefit the customer, like having options to pay at the pump and keeping customers safe in the post-COVID world.” Technological innovation has been critical for TXB and one of Smartt’s pillars of focus during his time as NACS chairman. During the pandemic, techbased options such as cashierless payment options have been especially
useful, and his team anticipates such innovations continuing to be adopted and iterated upon post-pandemic. He points to mobile ordering and contactless payment as the emerging technologies most likely to take off in the future as consumers want convenient payment options they can choose rather than having to wait in line at a traditional checkout. This includes curbside pickup, home delivery, and online ordering. Global Partners LP also places hospitality and improving the guest experience at the center of its innovation efforts. For this c-store operator, innovation means continually listening to the needs of its customers, keeping what works, while always investing in change. “An entrepreneurial spirit runs deep at Global and this value inspires our people to pursue new ideas and deliver the products customers want in the ways they want, even if they don’t know it yet,” said Mark Cosenza, senior vice president of retail at the Waltham, Mass.-based company. “We empower every employee to innovate and ask customer-focused questions like: What does our customer want? What will make their life easier? What do they need from their neighborhood convenience space?” Laggards No More In the past, the convenience channel has had a reputation as being slow to innovate. Eva Strasburger, president of StrasGlobal, a privately held retail consulting, operations and management provider serving the small-format retail industry, believes it’s a fair assessment as there’s been years of time in between the introduction of new products and services. Since the onset of COVID-19, c-stores have been getting more credit for their embrace of innovation. However, Strasburger questions whether it’s really the convenience store industry that is innovating, or rather is it that convenience retailing itself is changing? For example, she points to c-store retailers being lauded for installing drive-thrus. “We had drive-thru c-stores back in the 1980s, so is that innovation or just bringing back an old way of doing business as a reaction to the need for social distancing during COVID?” she posed.
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Strasburger’s definition of innovation is any novel creation that adds value and saves time, stress or money. “Convenience retailing is now, more than ever before, about convenience and the value proposition for the customer,” she said. “With online delivery offerings, the physical location is less important than what the c-store’s unique offering is to its customers. The nimbler you are to react to what’s going on and how you’re interpreting ‘convenient’ retailing is what will define your success.” Overall, she views the c-store industry as not aligning well with innovation up to now because the business is based on small margins and high volumes, and is focused on the details of retailing. Innovation is hard and requires one to step back and look at the
34 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
bigger picture to recognize the needs and tackle the problems, she noted. “The innovators in our industry now were already operating differently from the norm, or are disruptors who have joined our industry. They have been able to identify the gaps, create the solutions, and figure out what resources they require to put them in place. It’s a process that is fuzzy, messy and hard,” Strasburger said. One such disruptor to join the industry is Denverbased Choice Market, operator of Choice branded c-stores across Colorado. Founder and CEO Mike Fogarty agrees that the convenience channel has been slow to innovate, which he says is partly why Choice was created. Choice Market founder Mike Fogarty created his chain because he and his team saw a lack of innovation within the c-store channel.
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“The team saw a lack of innovation within the c-store channel around areas such as merchandising, technology, mobility, product selection, and even store design. So, if it weren’t for that, Choice might not be here,” Fogarty remarked. “That being said, just in the past five years, we’ve seen tremendous innovation with similar concepts to Choice, and legacy players understanding that the momentum is shifting and they have to innovate or they might not exist in 15-20 years. Historically, the reputation has been warranted, but the tide is certainly changing.” Choice Market views innovation through four core lenses: • The Store Model: All Choice locations feature a scratch kitchen surrounded by a smallformat natural grocery store that leverages high-quality products and ingredients to create a circular economy within the store that aims to reduce waste. • Technology: Coming onto the c-store scene as a disruptor in 2017, Choice recently launched its latest innovation with Choice: NOW, an omnichannel platform that allows guests to experience a fully frictionless shopping journey powered by Aifi. • Sustainability: The retailer’s sustainability efforts include the introduction of electric vehicle (EV) charging and delivery, compostable packaging, and a hyperlocal supply chain. • Merchandising: A key factor in Choice’s success, the operator aims for a hyperlocal supply chain and products, as well as introducing new categories. “Holistically, these four areas of innovation create a business that consumers enjoy,” said Fogarty. The convenience channel’s reputation for being slow to innovate is tied into the complexity of the industry, which stood at more than 150,000 stores at the start of 2021, according to Tim Powell, managing principal at consulting and insights firm Foodservice IP. “You can typically put c-stores into three groups. First, there are the shapers of the industry, which include Sheetz, Wawa, Casey’s, QuickChek and Rutter’s — and perhaps some small single stores in the South known as a destination,” he said. “These are innovators because other segments — like QSRs and fast casual — look to them for their unique offerings.” The next group is the approximately 80,000 36 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
c-stores offering food and beverages that can keep up with intersegment trends, but aren’t able to blaze trails. These stores are mostly followers that are not culturally designed or geographically centered to execute foodservice, Powell explained. “Third, there are those who dabble for the margins, but don’t really execute. These are the rest of the 50,000 stores,” he said. “In my opinion, no, the reputation is not changing; it’s just that consumers (Gen Z) are less picky than previous generations and therefore some of the things that turned us off are normal to them (food anywhere — even a gas station, etc.).” Foodservice-focused operators are much farther ahead in terms of food, ambiance and service compared to the overall c-store segment and the general food industry, according to Powell. They provide a well-lit and staffed foodservice section, friendly employees, and a concept that puts a lot of effort into seeing what works through trial and error. And these high standards don’t stop at the store exit — they extend to the suppliers they work with, too. “These companies demand more from their suppliers — they press them to come into their businesses with ideas and with first-hand knowledge of who [their] customer’s customer is,” he said. “They don’t come in asking, ‘So what do you want?’ These are the shapers.”
“I call our industry a bunch of chameleons — we can change colors (services) faster than any other industry.” — Scott Hartman, Rutter’s
Tom Cook, principal at King-Casey and a noted consultant to the convenience store and restaurant industries, acknowledges that he never thought of the c-store industry as being innovative in the past, but he’s starting to change his mind. “There’s definitely been some movement forward on innovation since COVID-19. I’d say they’ve made progress. If I had to quantify it on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say c-stores have moved from a 5 to a 7.” What sets c-store innovation leaders apart is their boldness, Cook says. “Innovative c-store retailers go BIG. They don’t
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of category growth is from Hard Beverages, driven by Seltzers, Canned Cocktails & Canned Wine. Source: IRI MULC FY 2020
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t survey (n = 6,000 total alc drinkers) // Sources: Numerator Panel 52 WE 04-25-2021; IRI Panel 52 WE 04-18-2021; Morning Consult weekly Remesh Live Consumer Session (n=200 light beer/seltzer drinkers) // GameChanger At Home Usage Survey (n = 282 21-29 seltzer drinkers) Jun’20
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Place canned wine adjacent to bottled wine, 4-8 SKUs across 2-4 brands. Sources: IRI UNIFY Total US C-Store: Latest 52 Weeks ending 5-02-21 // IRI UNIFY: Total US C-Store – Latest 26 weeks ending 5/9/21
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take baby steps,” he explained. “Look at Wawa’s innovation with the drive-thru-only store in New Jersey. They went all in, from menuboard to pre-selling merchandising, to everything that a real good QSR [quick-service restaurant] would do. And they communicate that innovation to customers. Customers can ‘feel’ that it’s different. Sheetz is the same way. It doesn’t look or feel like a traditional c-store when you walk in. Innovation is part of their brand.” Rutter’s Hartman, a member of the CSNews Hall of Fame for his leadership and advancement of convenience retailing, says he would rate the industry’s leaders at a 10 for innovation. However, “75 percent of the industry is average, so I’d rate them a 5,” he said.
Still, he refutes the notion that the convenience channel has been slow to innovate. “I never thought we were slow. I call our industry a bunch of chameleons — we can change colors (services) faster than any other industry,” he maintained. “We find new ways to serve and deliver to the ever-changing customer. … Even our weaker c-store players change faster than most industries, like QSR and grocery.” The Innovation Playbook For convenience stores, which offer a broad range of products and services, innovation can be applied in many ways, so it’s important for retailers to take a disciplined approach. Hartman is a strong
38 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
Rutter’s is able to successfully innovate because it does strategic planning twice a year, according to CEO Scott Hartman.
proponent of strategic planning. Rutter’s is able to successfully innovate because it does strategic planning twice a year, according to the chief executive. “Use tools to pull the best ideas out of your team, analyze and optimize those ideas, and then make sure they do not get lost in the day-to-day shuffle,” he said, stressing that the last step of implementation of the new ideas is crucial. “Often, this is the failure point because management’s attention is internally lost on another problem or issue that seems more pressing. The end result is a lot of good ideas get lost in the shuffle without good strategic execution.” While Hartman admits the pandemic slowed Rutter’s generation of new strategic ideas, he said the situation showed the company’s tactical execution speed is exceptionally fast. A focus on execution paid off during the pandemic, but the company is now back on the strategic path again with renewed confidence. “I’m excited and think we have some really good ideas coming in the next 18 months to continue to separate ourselves in our super-competitive market,” he said. The former NACS chairman foresees multiple avenues for c-stores to innovate in the future. He predicted the connected automobile in 2006 during his closing chairman’s speech at the NACS Show, but thinks there is still much more room to improve connectivity between the store, the vehicle and the customer — even if the customer is at home getting a delivery from an autonomous vehicle. “There are so many divergent ways our industry can be successful and make money,” said Hartman. “No one model is perfect. Some want to build smaller stores. Others like us want bigger stores. Some will get rid of petro-based fuels, while others will double down on how to meet the energy needs of the future vehicle with alternative fuels. Key to change is to adapt at a rate faster than others. Recognize failure quickly and double down on your wins.” When it comes to planning future initiatives, Global Partners also turns to its team members at every level for suggestions. According to Cosenza, the retailer has a system in place whereby employees can submit ideas to be vetted and oftentimes adopted. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the overall pace of 40 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
innovation, something the senior VP anticipates is here to stay. As the health crisis gripped the country and consumers’ concern for their safety bumped up against their need to access food and supplies, Global Partners saw the opportunity to expand the traditional offerings found at a convenience store. “We pivoted quickly and introduced curbside pickup and delivery of fresh, healthy meals and meal kits, and crates of fresh groceries at our Alltown Fresh locations,” Cosenza said. The company also accelerated the rollout of contactless payment at the pump and inside the store. For example, it’s partnering with PayByCar at 30 Alltown gas stations in Massachusetts, enabling customers to pay for gas and other goods using a combination of their toll transponder and mobile device. The retailer also rolled out apps that integrate the experience for customers and make it easier for them to order on the go. Over the coming months, Cosenza said additional touchless payment options, more around alternative energy, and continued partnerships to bring customers fresh, sustainable food offerings are on Global Partners’ innovation docket. The retailer is also strategically installing the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging so that it’s ready to serve those customers as the demand for EV charging increases. “We know we must continually invest in technology to stay current,” Cosenza said. Viewing its stores as playing an important role in their local neighborhoods, Global Partners will continue listening to its customers and responding to their needs and preferences via innovation. “The pandemic challenged all of us from the clerk to the C-suite to think about the customer experience in a new way. As a company, we’ve tried to not focus too much on how we stack up against the channel — we aren’t trying to be like others. We view industries that are adjacent to ours, such as hospitality, as more relevant bellwethers for the future,” Cosenza explained. Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the Laval, Quebec-based parent company of the global Circle K brand, has a dedicated team that explores innovation opportunities, whether it’s through development of its own solutions or through key investments in other companies via the Circle K Ventures Fund, which looks
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Embrace the Spirit of RTD Malt Beverages Speaking with… Paul Rene, VP of US Operations Geloso Beverage When Geloso Beverage Group debuted in the U.S. market in 2002, the goal was to follow in the footsteps of parent company, Omni Brokerage Group, which was founded in Montreal in 1965: to embrace passion, innovation and product expansion while respecting the art and tradition of the company’s heritage. That’s just what Geloso has done for the past two decades with its malt beverage portfolio that includes ClubTails Cocktails in a Can and Johny Bootlegger, a spirit-like malt beverage in a ﬂask. Here Paul Rene, VP of US Operations for Geloso Beverage, shares the story behind these two “really hot brands” that are driving malt beverage retail sales in most major markets from coast to coast.
Convenience Store News: What made you decide to venture into the U.S.? Paul Renee: The Geloso family has been in business since 1960. They’ve prided
it positions us to take advantage of regional and national taste trends. The line includes some of the most traditional cocktail proﬁles — Sex on
themselves on being true liquid designers. Their passion to innovate and develop new brands and categories is what drives them. Being based so close to the American border, it only made sense that the company’s future growth depended on expansion into the USA with meaningful and proﬁtable brands.
the Beach, Bahama Mama and Sunny Margarita are the most popular. We also give consumers a choice of how they want to drink the single-serve cocktails: in 12-oz., 16-oz. or 24-oz. cans or in glass bottles. There is something for everyone, no matter the size or ﬂavor proﬁle they’re looking for.
CSN: What makes these two lines stand out from other RTD products? PR: The high alcohol cate-
The Johny Bootlegger brand is inspired by the 1920’s Prohibition era when many creative cocktails were invented in speakeasies.
It is the fastest-selling malt beverage of any product in the malt beverage category.
gory continues to do well — sales are up 7%.* That is better than the industry overall, which makes us conﬁdent we are on the right track. We’ve spent a lot of
Consumers love the persona of Johny B and the legendary stories of the period it represents. Playing into the continued demand for high alcohol content and creative
that demonstrate the proﬁt potential these two products have? PR: Both product lines have experienced signiﬁcant growth over the past year.
time perfecting the taste proﬁle, so our products taste like actual spirit-based cocktails — a deﬁnite plus! Unique ﬂavors and packaging make us a consumer favorite in many markets. Clubtails was developed to deliver a cocktail-like malt beverage. It contains 10% ABV, which years of trial and research have shown is the optimal alcohol percentage to taste like a spirit-based cocktail. Available in 11 great ﬂavors,
ﬂavor proﬁles, Johny Bootlegger oﬀers 12% alcohol by volume in eight ﬂavors including Sing Sing Sour Grape, Syndicate City Sour Peach and Alcatraz Sour Apple. Those three ﬂavors account for about 70% of the brand’s sales, with some new ﬂavors that are bringing in new consumers. Packaging is also a diﬀerentiator. Each Johny Bootlegger cocktail comes in a glass ﬂask, so even though it’s a malt beverage
Unit sales of Clubtails and Johny Bootlegger are both up double digits, and more importantly up in all original markets. Over the past 18 months, we have focused on expansion and should be national by end of this year. We are always researching trends and product white space to determine our next category or package to innovate.
it has a premium spirit look consumers love. We have loyal consumers who are extremely passionate about the brand — some get tattoos of Johny Bootlegger and post them on Instagram.
CSN: Can you share data
*IRI Total US – Multi Outlet + Convenience for the latest 52 weeks ending 7-25-21
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT GELOSOBEVERAGEGROUP.COM.
8/13/21 12:21 PM
at innovation from around the world. As Chief Technology Officer Deb Hall Lefevre explained during the company’s 2021 Investor Day, held in mid-July, Couche-Tard has established a pipeline to fuel its digital plans and narrow its focus around improving three key areas of the business: • Modernizing and digitizing the customer experience in-store and at the pump; • Delivering on the new post-pandemic notion of convenience; and
Among the opportunities Couche-Tard is currently pursuing are: • Full Frictionless Shopping: The company is piloting a “just walk out” experience at seven Circle K stores in Arizona, and opened a frictionless store at the McGill University Retail Innovation Lab in Montreal. In addition, it is working on a next generation self-checkout solution that uses computer vision to identify, price and total items placed on the counter. There are currently 300 of these units in 250 stores across the U.S.
The Circle K Ventures Fund is a corporate fund established through a partnership with Bain Capital to act as a resource for meeting these objectives. Through the fund, Couche-Tard can leverage the innovative approach of startups, which is something that has not been typical of the convenience industry, Lefevre explained.
• Pay by Plate: This seamless payment option uses license plate recognition technology so that motorists can fuel up and drive away. Now available at 265 stores in Sweden, or 95 percent of that market, plans are to bring this option to the remaining stores in that market by the end of this summer. The aim is to then scale it to another 1,000 stores across Europe. The company is also evaluating when to bring the solution to North America.
“The fund accelerates innovation and transformation by identifying new digital capabilities. With over $100 million over five years, we are well-positioned to attract high-quality startups and take some smart bets on relevant and strategic opportunities,” she said.
• Delivery: Couche-Tard’s stores are providing curbside, in-store pickup and on-demand delivery through the retailer’s own solutions and external partners. Delivery is live in roughly 3,000 stores across Europe, Canada and the U.S.
• Tackling operational challenges.
Couche-Tard launched the fund in 2020 and has made two investments to date: digital lottery with Jackpocket; and Pensa, an out-ofstock planogram compliance and recommendation platform.
Innovation in the Post-Pandemic Future Although the pandemic certainly accelerated innovation within the convenience channel, the need to develop new solutions to serve changing customer needs is lasting.
In addition to the venture fund, the company is “keeping a pulse” on evolving market trends and the opportunities and threats they create, Lefevre noted. Such trends include “the reimagined last mile” with the rise of delivery aggregators, dark stores and kitchens, distributed productions and micro-fulfillment powered by robots, new forms of payment, and robotic labor.
Convenience stores have traditionally focused on sales of cigarettes, gas and low-nutrition, high-caloric foods, but Choice Market’s Fogarty sees consumers — particularly millennials and Generation Z — setting the tone for how operators innovate in the near future across the areas of fresh and healthy food, product selection, and interior design. “That customer will continue to drive innovation across the channel,” he predicts.
“Given the pace of change and the plethora of opportunity, we cannot afford to chase shiny objects,” she said. “We make investments in technology with the same rigor and discipline as any other capital investment to ensure we are maximizing shareholder value. We review opportunities and promote the ones that have the best ability to differentiate, have strategic fit and, of course, financial upside. We test, we learn, we fail and move on quickly, or we scale with speed.”
44 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
Because the top three revenue drivers for the industry are fuel, cigarettes and “junk” food — all of which are precipitously declining in terms of market share, profitability and utilization — Fogarty urges the channel to innovate or be leapfrogged by industry disruptors. “Innovation will continue to play a big role
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• 1 in 4 singles going out the door is a traditional FMB at c-store. • Traditional FMB singles are growing 50% faster than the remaining category. • Traditional FMB singles deliver 50% more $ per point of distribution than hard seltzer singles and 100% more than craft singles yet are losing space to those segments.1 • The High ABV FMB segment accounts for 42% of FMB volume in c-store. • It’s a brand extension of the highly popular, lower ABV Seagram’s Escapes drinks — products that have experienced 10 consecutive years of sales growth. • It’s the #6 BEST-SELLING High ABV Brand in the total U.S. convenience channel.2 • Green Apple was the #3 High ABV flavor and is growing 3x faster than the category.3
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For more information on Seagram’s Spiked line, visit www.seagramsescapes.com 1. IRI Unify, Total US MULO, FMB, Sub Brand Family, Brand extension, Total High ABV FMB by Flavor, High ABV FMB 16-24oz Singles, Latest 52 WE 2/2/20, $, $ CYA, $ % CYA, $ Share of Segment 2. IRI Unify, TTL US Conv, Traditional FMB, 7.0-9.9% ABV, Brand Family, Sub Brand Family, Brand Extensions, Vol, Vol CYA, Vol % CYA, Avg Weekly CWD, Avg Weekly CWD CYA, Avg Weekly Vol Per Pt CWD, 2015-YTD 2021 WE 02.28.21 3. Qualtrics Survey March 2020; P3M High ABV FMB Consumers, Total US, Non-rejectors of Seagram’s Escapes Spiked, n=218 4. IRI TTL US CONVENIENCE 26 WEEKS ENDING 8-8-21, HIGH & BOLD ABV $ SALES BY FLAVOR 5. IRI TTL US CONVENIENCE 26 WEEKS ENDING 8-8-21, SINGLES VELOCITY & ROS BY SEGMENT
in the channel in the future and what’s exciting is that it ultimately expands the addressable market,” he said. “For instance, Choice operates in the c-store, fast-casual and grocery channels, which aggregate more than $1.4 trillion. I think that’s exciting for a retailer that’s in the c-store channel because it’s not seen through the lens of ‘I want to take more pieces of the pie,’ but [rather] ‘I want to grow the pie that me as the operator can address.’” Omnichannel will play a quintessential role in Choice’s future, Fogarty shared with CSNews. This will include new formats, although the retailer isn’t prepared to divulge any specific details yet. In the meantime, Choice recently entered into a partnership with WeStock, whereby customers can scan a QR code and request products. The retailer has a few shelves dedicated to crowd stocking where customers determine what is being stocked there. “The idea of personalization and customization and allowing customers to drive our merchandising decisions is really powerful and is an area of focus we will continue to lead with in the future,” Fogarty said. Because the pandemic forced convenience
46 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
TXB approaches innovation with guest experience as its top priority.
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retailers to step out of their comfort zones and implement different services and amenities that they may not have considered doing before, Strasburger of StrasGlobal says operators must now evaluate and decide if they will stick with the changes they made by analyzing the data, deciding if more customers were engaged because of these actions, and continuing to find more ways to reach these customers. “As convenience retailing changes, it is going to require a lot of thought and innovation to bring customers into your stores,” she said. Although it is important to know and understand the convenience store business, Strasburger finds that the most innovative retailers are those who look outside the channel and see what operators in other industries, and even other countries, are doing to distinguish themselves. To this end, she cofounded The Vision Group, which has members from different industries who meet regularly to learn from one another with a focus on innovation and disruption. Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, StrasGlobal recognized that there were areas of its company that needed to be strengthened, so it brought on a vice president of innovation and brand marketing to take its ideas centered on innovation and expand upon them. “We recognized that if we were looking outside our industry for answers, it changed how we categorized our job descriptions and expanded upon differentiators of candidates, especially with upper management and area managers,” Strasburger explained. Like many observers, King-Casey’s Cook believes COVID-19 has forever changed convenience retailing — but not necessarily in a good way for c-stores because the pandemic changed consumers’ expectations of “convenience.” “The restaurant industry was forced to pivot to off-premise sales; it built a new business around delivery, drive-thru, curbside. People got used to that kind of convenience. Going forward, c-stores have to realize they are losing their key advantage of convenience over restaurants,” he cautioned. “They are behind the curve on off-premise sales. So, they’ve improved greatly on their foodservice, but are falling behind on their most important asset: convenience.” 48 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
Cook urges c-store operators to look at different formats in the future. “Size, location, non-traditional sites will all have to play a larger role in a c-store chain’s portfolio,” he said. He also sees technology continuing to play a prominent role, specifically payment technology and mobile apps. C-stores should also more aggressively utilize geofencing technology and other ways to track customers from off-premise to inside the store, he noted. Looking ahead to life after COVID, Powell of Foodservice IP believes it’s too early to be certain of the sweeping statement that the pandemic has forever changed convenience retailing, although he does acknowledge that the pandemic definitely accelerated mobile ordering and third-party delivery in a segment that has been slow to adopt technology.
“We test, we learn, we fail and move on quickly, or we scale with speed.” — Deb Hall Lefevre, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.
“In the short term, I expect to see more automation and self-pay as retail employees are scarce and some may never return to the industry after the interaction scare with COVID customers. It will be critical that stores make the transition from fuel destination to electric car charging destinations so that others don’t sneak in and take that position. Finally, with the workforce largely working remotely for two to three days per week, there will be fewer commuters for the morning rush, but more for the snacking rush. The c-store will act more as a ‘break room’ for snacks [for those interested in] taking a walk or ride in the car. This will drive more beverage and food purchases,” Powell predicts. If a c-store retailer is not pursuing innovation right now, they should be, according to TXB’s Smartt, because the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end and it will leave behind new
consumer trends and preferences that retailers can’t ignore if they want to succeed. “Innovative retailers are taking the lessons learned and implementing those into regular practice,” Smartt said. “For example, our new TXB store in Georgetown, Texas, has nice, simple, outdoor seating with misting systems to give guests the option to not only enjoy their meal on-site, but also allow them to space themselves appropriately. We also added a hand washing station outside of the restrooms, so guests can wash their hands more conveniently before eating while also preventing the spread of germs.” Talking about practical steps c-store retailers can take to be more innovative, Smartt said his advice includes staying up to date on industry trends, turning to organizations like NACS for guidance, and looking at what competitors are doing. This may include retailers outside the convenience channel and for the foodservice category, can mean everything from restaurants to food trucks. Requesting consumer data from suppliers can also help operators get in touch with what customers are seeking, especially considering regional variations. Most importantly, the NACS chairman says retailers should think about how to make their customers’ experiences better based on their specific stores and capabilities. A proponent of technology, he points to loyalty programs, apps and mobile payment options as tools that can help streamline the guest experience and get consumers to rethink what a c-store can be. “I also believe that adopting tools like EV charging stations really sets retailers apart and puts them ahead of the game in preparing for the future of fuel stops,” he said. “We’re doing this at our new TXB stores as well, and find it to be an important factor that can help encourage consumers to make the switch to EVs down the line.” Smartt is putting his own advice into practice, too, as TXB is rolling out the ability to order fresh food and other in-store items via its mobile app, among other innovations. “We’re looking to add a food locker pickup room for third-party and app orders to enable easy contactless pickup,” he said. “In all new TXB locations, our guests will also have the ability to pay for their e-vehicle charging directly within the TXB app, and we’ll be adding e-vehicle media stations to entertain guests while their vehicle charges to give them a great experience.” Retailers must keep track of and respond to the 50 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
changing demographics in the U.S. as well. “We’ve utilized customer intercepts and surveys in order to get a clear demographic perspective of our customer base across all the different regions we serve,” Smartt said. “We incorporate those insights to form our strategies when it comes to marketing, messaging, promotions, and more. We like to look at these demographics by region as we know Texas is especially diverse.” Smartt offers one final thought on innovation: it doesn’t have to be “crazy” to be impactful. “In the c-store space, it’s a series of small upgrades that really elevate a guest’s experience,” he said. Trial & Error One extra hurdle of innovation is that it takes time for new concepts to become mainstream, and it can be challenging to distinguish between an innovative new concept that is early in its journey and an innovative new concept that will ultimately be unsuccessful. “It’s kind of asking what is a fad and what is a trend. I don’t think any retailers can bat 1,000,” Powell said. “Finding innovative platforms is a balance between staying on top of proven trends — health and wellness, social responsibility, multiple order options, etc.” Fads can also shift unexpectedly based on the current environment and become trends. For instance, Powell noted that while disposable packaging and single-serve packaging were once on their way out, in the age of COVID, they are now in high demand. However, Cook cautions that while retailers need to experiment, they also need to know when to bail on a concept that is not working. “In my experience, you have to get out of the blocks quickly. For example, with a new product, you want to see an initial burst of sales; there needs to be some consumer excitement generated around the new innovation,” he said. “Innovation doesn’t usually start slow and then build. My feeling is that you should fail early before you spend too much time on it.” C-store retailers can increase their odds of identifying a promising innovation early by following social media, joining webinars, and collaborating on research efforts, Smartt added. But ultimately, they need to accept that innovation means taking risks, and success isn’t guaranteed. “If I knew the answer, I would be worth a lot more money,” he joked. CSN
A HEALTHY DOSE OF INNOVATION Health and wellness is a common theme among this year’s Best New Products Awards winners By Susan Durtschi, Past Times Marketing
in product innovation hasn’t slowed down. If anything, consumers’ desire for healthier products enhanced with functional benefits has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
THE HEALTH AND WELLNESS TREND
More than any year prior, this year’s Best New Products Awards winners backed up their claims with data showing the success of their new introductions.
From more than 100 entries, judges chose 44 products Many of the winners in the 2021 Convenience Store News Best New Products Awards represent examples of how Americans continue to look for proof of functional benefits in the foods and beverages they consume. Some of the more common product attributes shared among this year’s honorees include low or no sugar or carbs, organic, clean label, and sustainable. On the other hand, this year’s group of winners also includes products that illustrate the fact that while consumers may want to follow healthy diets, that doesn’t mean they don’t like to treat themselves to indulgent sugary and salty snacks on occasion. This creates a tale of two c-stores: healthy products on one side and comforting, fun products on the other. Another trend seen this year is “premium.” Premium brand identification is on the upswing, with many products claiming unique ingredients, presentation and benefits over standard c-store fare. 52 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
new to convenience store shelves for recognition in the 25th annual competition. The Best New Products Awards program recognizes the marketers that introduced the most innovative, high-quality products that meet consumers’ evolving needs and fit a convenience store’s value proposition. Entries were rated and awarded points based on the criteria of taste, value, convenience, healthfulness, ingredients, preparation requirements, appearance and packaging. Judging was supervised and tallied by Past Times Marketing, a New York-based consumer research and product-testing firm. Products honored this year range from enhanced still waters, hard seltzers and indulgent sweet snacks to low-sugar, keto friendly and convenient grab-and-go foodservice items. The 2021 Best New Products Awards winners are:
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ALTERNATIVE SNACKS: ENERGY BARS
2 grams of sugar. Our panelists were impressed with the taste of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch flavor considering its low sugar content.
CLIF Bar Duos were designed based on the insight that for some moments, a standard CLIF Bar can be too big, provide too many calories, or provide too much of one flavor. With its fun, square shape and flavor combinations, CLIF Bar Duos bars deliver nutrition for sustained energy in a smaller, single bar that combines top-selling CLIF Bar flavors, such as Chocolate Brownie + Crunchy Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Brownie + White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. At 190 calories or less and providing 6-7 grams of protein, it’s ideal for times when consumers crave their favorite CLIF Bar flavors, but want less calories.
CLIF Bar Duos, CLIF Bar & Co.
ALTERNATIVE SNACKS: MEAT SNACKS
Country Archer Footlongs, Country Archer Provisions
Country Archer delivers on the c-store need for a clean version of a larger, individually wrapped 12-inch meat stick made with real ingredients. Featuring grass-fed beef, all-natural pork and a blend of real spices, varieties include Original, Teriyaki and Fuego, serving a fiery mix of red and white peppers, chipotle chiles and chili powder, which was a favorite of our testers. While the meat sticks segment has strong growth of 33.7 percent in the convenience channel, Country Archer’s better-for-you meat sticks are vastly outpacing and leading the way, up 205.4 percent for the 12 weeks ending June 28, 2021, according to SPINS, the supplier noted. ALTERNATIVE SNACKS: PROTEIN BARS
Cinnamon Toast Crunch Protein Bar, General Mills Convenience
General Mills’ new cereal-flavored protein bars meet the demand for a great-tasting protein bar that’s low in sugar. It doesn’t taste like a protein bar with its multilayer texture. Available in two popular flavors that over-index with Gen X and millennials, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams, the bars have 20 grams of protein and
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Coors Pure, Molson Coors Beverage Co.
USDA Organic certified, Coors Pure light beer fits the bill for different types of beer drinkers. It is perfect for hanging out at an all-day event where you want a beer in hand — at the beach, at a barbecue, or watching the game. Coors Pure has a 3.8 percent ABV with 92 calories, no sugar, and 3.5 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving. It is made with simple, quality ingredients: organic barley, organic hops, and pure Rocky Mountain refreshing water. Our panel was impressed with the crisp taste of this beer and also lauded the low calories and the can’s clean design. CANDY: CHOCOLATE
Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels, The Hershey Co.
Reese’s Big Cup with Pretzels takes one of Americans’ favorite salty snacks and stuffs it inside a favorite candy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This new addition to the Reese’s lineup is a perfect pick-me-up as an afternoon snack, and will satisfy the sweet (and salty) tooth. The Hershey Co. feels so good about this offering that it is making it available in two sizes: standard and king size. Hershey’s newest twist on sweet and salty deliciousness was a big hit with our test panelists who gave the item two thumbs up for taste. CANDY: GUM
ORBIT Mega Pack — Peppermint, Mars Wrigley
Mars Wrigley’s ORBIT gum brand recognized the drastic shift in shopping habits in 2020 and the consumer demand for bulk pack types and larger pack sizes for at-home happenings. The ORBIT Mega Pack is the brand’s first upsize pack, containing 30 pieces so that people can chew more gum whether at home or on the go. It is not only portable, keeping the gum fresh and offering shelf longevity, but it is also the first-ever Mars Wrigley product to partner with How2Recycle, providing consumers in much
2021 of the U.S. with a more sustainable option, including a step-by-step guide on how to recycle the pack. The ORBIT Mega Pack is available in Peppermint and Spearmint flavors. Our testers liked the Peppermint best. CANDY: NON-CHOCOLATE
HARIBO Funtastic Mix, HARIBO of America
HARIBO Funtastic Mix brings a whimsical eating experience to consumers seeking an on-the-go treat with an adventurous twist. With multiple gummi textures and several color and flavor combinations, HARIBO Funtastic Mix is an innovative, fun and compelling product crafted for the c-store shopper. It is the brand’s first U.S. product with this much variety in a single pack. The German HARIBO brand stands for quality and brings with it strong recognition of the gummi candy phenomena and outgrowth.
Hemp Bombs CBD Gummies — Botanical Blend are the first vegan gummies manufactured by the company. Each gummy contains 15 milligrams of premium CBD and a blend of functional ingredients, including Passiflora, Scutellaria and L-Theanine. The packaging for this new Hemp Bombs product differentiates itself from the rest of the line with softer pastel accents, which stand out against Hemp Bombs’ distinctive black pouch color. CBD: JUICE DRINKS
Forth CBD-Infused Juice Drinks, E-Alternative Solutions
Skittles Shriekers!, Mars Wrigley
Mars Wrigley has unveiled spooky-new Skittles flavors in preparation for this year’s Halloween season. Dubbed “Shriekers!” the new release comes in a vibrant assortment of Spine-Tingling Tangerine, Ghoulish Green Apple, Rattled Raspberry, Citrus Scream, and Shocking Lime. The super-sour variety boasts a bright orange wrapper with a ghoulish skeleton and a warning that reads: BEWARE! TRY IF YOU DARE. According to the company, these candies are so sour, they will make you shriek.
Hemp Bombs CBD Gummies, Hemp Bombs
Consumers continue to seek out CBD health and wellness products containing the latest functional ingredients. 56 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
Adult consumers are actively searching for CBD form-factors they are already familiar with, like gummies, baked goods, and drinks. Forth CBD-Infused Juice Drinks are designed to appeal to both new and experienced CBD users. Each drink contains 10 milligrams of full-spectrum CBD in an 8.5-ounce bottle, without compromising flavor. The real fruit ingredients mask the natural flavors from the hemp plant, giving adult consumers delicious flavor in every sip. Of the two flavors, Mango Orange Pineapple was our panelists’ favorite. Since its introduction in stores, Forth CBD-Infused Juice Drinks have proven their viability, quickly becoming the No. 1 selling form-factor in the CBD category, according to company data. CBD: SHOTS
Mad Tasty Wellness Boost, Mad Tasty LLC Mad Tasty Wellness Boost, founded by OneRepublic lead singer and CEO Ryan Tedder, aims to disrupt the CBD category. Stress relief and inflammation relief, plus immunity boosters, are in demand more than ever before. The challenge with CBD shots, however, is getting a great taste without loading up with sugar or artificial sweeteners. According to our testers, Mad Tasty cracks the taste code while staying healthy. The product is zero sugar, vegan, all natural, gluten free, and packed with 50 milligrams of
broad-spectrum hemp extract. The shots are promoted with a creative social outreach and giving-back program that finances the building of drinking water wells. DELI PRODUCTS
Van’s Kitchen 4-Pack Egg Rolls — Chili Lime Chicken, Van’s Kitchen
Demand for ethnic foods is growing alongside the growth of the ethnic population, not to mention the influence of the ethnic population upon the general market. With the rising demand for Asian cuisine, Van’s Kitchen Chili Lime Chicken Egg Rolls are a great opportunity to grow revenue and meet the diverse tastes of c-store customers. Packaged in a microwaveable tray, the four-pack of egg rolls with sauce offers a touch-free, prepared meal solution that customers can heat and enjoy at home for a snack or a meal. The product has a 21-day refrigerated shelf life, and is fully prepared and ready to cook.
FLAVORED MALT BEVERAGES: ORGANIC HARD SELTZER
Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer, Michelob
Organic is an attribute that appeals to an ever-widening audience, so it is more important than ever to have options that speak to the wide variety of consumers who seek natural and organic products. Michelob ULTRA Organic Seltzer stands out as a distinct premium offering that delivers on flavor, while being perfectly connected to the trend of health and wellness. The brand’s Signature Collection includes flavors with only 80 calories, zero grams of sugar, and zero carbs. Flavors in its Classic Collection are 90 calories with zero grams of added sugar, 2 grams of carbs, and real fruit juice. Spicy Pineapple was our panelists’ favorite. FOODSERVICE: BAKERY
Rich’s Ready to Finish Dessert Donuts — Banana Cream Pie, Rich Products Corp.
Consumers are seeking unique, indulgent flavors, and the new Filled Dessert Donuts line from Rich’s ticks all the boxes. Bringing a fresh-baked aroma to the store, the process is turnkey: thaw, heat, glaze and serve. C-store operators can order optional topping kits for even more variety. With seasonal colors and holidays, the limited-time-offer possibilities are endless. Once just a breakfast staple, donuts are now an all-day treat. Our panelists tried all four on-trend varieties — Banana Cream Pie, Fudge Brownie, Neapolitan, and Apple Pie. Banana Cream Pie, a banana-flavored yeast donut ring filled with two flavors (vanilla pudding and cookie-flavored buttercream) topped with vanilla cookie pieces was the favorite. FLAVORED MALT BEVERAGES: HARD SELTZER
Truly Punch Hard Seltzer — Berry Punch, Truly Hard Seltzer
As one of the first hard seltzer punch options available nationwide, Truly Punch Hard Seltzer helped open the door to a whole new category of drinkers. Now, it is expanding into a bolder flavor profile with a fuller-bodied, craveable punch with the added benefit of low calories and low sugar. Fruit punch is a nostalgic flavor familiar to nearly all consumers, so delivering a range of hard seltzers in that flavor profile not only gives current drinkers another delicious product option, but also helps bring in new customers by taking a flavor they’re familiar with and reinventing it into a hard seltzer that’s approachable and bold yet familiar. 58 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
FOODSERVICE: BASE INGREDIENTS
Garrett Valley Pork Belly, Wellshire Farms LLC
Innovative, delicious, fully cooked, pre-sliced and offered in 1-ounce portions, Garrett Valley Pork Belly is easy to heat and serve for any breakfast or lunch application. Made with all-natural ingredients (no artificial ingredients or antibiotics), Garrett Valley Pork Belly is a premium offering that can be served as a standalone item, or used as a meat ingredient in any type of application (hamburger topping, pizza topping,
soup, bowls, salads, tacos, etc.). Our testers had it on a breakfast taco and in a salad, and gave it their seal of approval.
FOODSERVICE: COLD DISPENSED BEVERAGES
This breakfast sandwich is not your average sausage biscuit. It is made with a fried egg, jalapeno bacon, sausage and cheese on a flaky biscuit. Packed with protein, it is a hearty, tasty breakfast for consumers’ on-the-go lifestyles and a premium sandwich you would expect to get at a coffee shop or diner. E.A. Sween says the product is bringing new life to the breakfast category at c-stores with its high-quality ingredients. Our panelists agreed that the taste is a cut above traditional c-store breakfast fare. Additional varieties include turkey sausage and vegetarian options.
Southern Breeze Ready Sweet Flavor Pak is a new way to brew consistent and profitable flavored and sweetened iced tea. Instead of using messy syrups or granulated sugar, Harris has developed perfectly portioned tea “Paks” that can be brewed using existing equipment, such as a Bunn or Curtis coffee/tea brewer. The Flavor Paks are available in the three most popular tea flavors currently on U.S. menus: Peach, Raspberry and Tropical. Each Pak yields three gallons of tea. Since the pouches are pre-proportioned, there’s zero guessing and very little training needed to brew the product; just place the pouches in a brew basket and go. The product uses no artificial flavors or colors, which consumers are increasingly cutting out.
Market Sandwich — Sausage & Jalapeno Bacon with Egg & Cheese on a Biscuit, E.A. Sween Co.
Southern Breeze Ready Sweet Flavor Pak — Peach, Harris Tea Foodservice
Chester’s Dipping Sauces — Chester’s Sauce, Chester’s International
Consumer data shows that dipping sauces actually drive purchasing behavior, especially with younger consumers. Chester’s now offers several great-tasting sauces that are designed to be the perfect complement to its worldfamous chicken. The dipping sauces feature new recipes made from high-quality ingredients. Five sauces are available: Chester’s Sauce, Honey Mustard, Buffalo Hot Sauce, Ranch and BBQ. All five were deemed “delicious” by our panelists, but the signature Chester’s Sauce took the top prize for taste.
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2021 FOODSERVICE: DINNER/HOME MEAL REPLACEMENT
Smoked Honey & BBQ Sausage, Johnsonville
A recent proprietary study by Johnsonville found that 63 percent of consumers say it’s important to have a unique flavor as part of an offering at a c-store. In addition, 67 percent said items made by a national brand would make them more likely to purchase an item at a c-store. Those are the stats that drove the creation of Johnsonville’s new sausages — a foodservice item that is perfect for diversifying the roller grill, and a great add-on for c-store menus. The sausages come in bold flavors, including Southern Style BBQ, Smoked Honey & BBQ, and Ultimate Queso. Our testers liked the Smoked Honey & BBQ variety best. FOODSERVICE: LUNCH
UNO Pizzeria & Grill Calzones — Chicken Bacon Ranch, UNO Foods Inc.
UNO Pizzeria & Grill Calzones offer an operator three ways to grow sales and profits, and are on trend for today’s convenience yet safety-minded consumers. Handmade with fresh dough and offered in grab-and-go packaging, these calzones are UNO Pizzeria & Grill Restaurant quality. They can be heated right in their packaging and placed in a warmer, or served directly to the customer at 160 degrees. The packaging is designed so that external heat dissipates with no direct risk to the operator or customer. Our testers most liked the generous size and fresh taste of the meats and seasoning in the Chicken Bacon Ranch Calzone.
variety best, and lauded the product’s easy grab-and-go container. FROZEN FOODS
Prairie City Ooey Gooey Molten Lava Cake — Fudge, Prairie City Bakery
Ooey Gooey Molten Lava Cakes are an extremely indulgent dessert snack. With “true indulgence” being the largest and fastest-growing snack segment, according to IRI’s 2020 Snack Survey, these individually wrapped frozen cakes are an on-trend item that can be enjoyed any time of day. Available in three varieties — Fudge, Salted Caramel, and Peanut Butter — the product features a soft cake filled with a decadent, ooey gooey lava icing. The simple thaw-and-sell format is easy to execute for store operators, requiring little to no labor while also boasting an impressive 30-day shelf life from thaw. When placed in a warmer, these 3.2-ounce Molten Lava Cakes release a delightful chocolatey aroma, and with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $1.79 each, they also provide incredible value to consumers. FROZEN NOVELTIES
Snickers Peanut Brownie Ice Cream Bars, Mars Wrigley
Snickers Peanut Brownie Ice Cream Bars feature the brand’s newest flavor obsession: brownie-flavored ice cream with brownie inclusions, topped with a layer of luscious caramel and peanuts. As the No. 1 new frozen novelty item, according to a 2020 Nielsen report, Snickers Peanut Brownie Ice Cream Bars offer a delicious brownie flavor that resonates with younger consumers, and delivers on key flavor trends in the category. Snickers’ latest ice cream offering leans into the indulgence trend, with 70 percent of consumers saying the Peanut Brownie Ice Cream Bars are more indulgent than any other frozen novelty, according to Nielsen.
Jimmy Dean Loaded Sausage Bites, Tyson Foodservice
Jimmy Dean Loaded Sausage Bites are a quick, hassle-free option for customers on the go. They offer a filling, protein-packed item for an easy-to-enjoy breakfast or anytime snack from a brand they trust. With 16 grams of protein per serving, these bite-sized and dippable sausage bites are loaded with egg, cheese and bacon. Ready to heat and eat, the fully cooked Jimmy Dean Loaded Sausage Bites can be heated in the microwave. Our testers liked the Turkey Sausage, Egg & Cheese
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Scripto Hybrid Jet Flame, Calico Brands Inc. The Scripto Hybrid Jet Flame is the newest refillable lighter available on the market, and is designed to be the perfect crossover of a multipurpose lighter and a pocket lighter. Featuring an eco-friendly refillable tank and a superheated jet flame, it is aimed at providing convenient lighting while keeping hands safely away from the flame. It’s perfectly suited for lighting campfires, barbecues, hookah bowls, and many other
ROLLING OUT THE FLAVOR Southern BBQ Sausage #103992
Smoked Honey BBQ Sausage #103993
Ultimate Queso Sausage #103990
©2021 Johnsonville, LLC • *IRI 1/3/21
outdoor and indoor activities with reliability and ease. The Scripto Hybrid Jet Flame Lighter appeals to multiple demographics and it’s sized for optimal convenience.
popular among millennial shoppers. The Keto Box was our panelists’ favorite. Packaged in a charming see-through box, it includes a grass-fed beef stick, baby carrots, a hard-boiled egg, whole almonds, and Tessemae’s Buffalo Ranch Dip.
HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE
Headache Man, No More Pills LLC
Headache Man is a convenient 1.7-ounce shot of 650 milligrams of acetaminophen in an organic, lemon-flavored water. Said to work in just minutes, its patented liquid formula allows for acetaminophen to be suspended in an easyto-drink liquid that is waterbased, instead of the alcohol or glycerin-based syrups found in other products. This allows Headache Man to have the flavor and consistency of a great-tasting beverage, while eliminating the bitterness typically found in other over-thecounter medications. With 40 percent of people struggling to swallow pills, this product offers a new alternative that changes the way consumers look at on-the-go pain relief.
OH SNAP! Sassy Bites, GLK Foods
Consumers are continuously looking for healthier and betterfor-you options, packaged for on-the-go convenience. OH SNAP! Sassy Bites are pickle slices that are sweet with just enough heat. Gluten free, fat free and made with non-GMO cucumbers, Sassy Bites are fresh-packed with no added brine — an innovative process that delivers a superior crunch, great taste, and less mess. Sassy Bites are designed to be a delicious snack on their own, or work as a tasty complement to any sandwich/hot dog purchase, driving incremental sales as an add-on to the foodservice portion of c-stores. HEALTHY SNACKS: KITS
Tessemae’s Keto Box, Tessemae’s
Tessemae’s believes the convenience store snacks category is hungry for innovation in the better-for-you space. Consumers are used to seeing hummus cups, yogurt cups and watery eggs in the center cooler, and likely feel uninspired. Tessemae’s new Balanced Boxes present shoppers with a new option that can serve as a healthy light meal or a filling snack, and also meets the dietary lifestyles
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LIQS — Cinnamon Orange Tequila, E. & J. Gallo Winery
The ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages category continues to grow, and single-serve products continue to drive alcohol sales in the c-store market. Consumers want to take spirit-based products to places where they used to take beer, according to E. & J. Gallo. LIQS is the first premixed cocktail shot, a niche that packs a punch. It features premium spirits, real fruit juice and natural flavors. Offered in a four-pack, each shot is 1.69 ounces, well over the traditional size of a 1-ounce shot. Our testers were impressed with the concept and liked the Cinnamon Orange Tequila shot best. The shot glass is reusable and recyclable. NON-EDIBLE GROCERY
BIC EZ Reach Lighter, BIC Corp.
The BIC EZ Reach Lighter features a 1.45-inch extended wand that helps keep fingers further from the flame. Its body is the size of a pocket lighter, so it fits comfortably in users’ hands, bags and pockets, making it perfect for lighting candles, grilling, and everything in between. The design meets consumers’ requests for a lighter that lights at any angle. Providing up to 50 percent more lights than non-refillable wand pocket lighters, the BIC EZ Reach Lighter gives retailers an opportunity to trade up for profitability. Each lighter undergoes more than 50 quality and safety checks during the manufacturing process to ensure it meets or exceeds all safety standards to keep consumers safe. OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS: CIGARS
White Owl Swirl — Chocolate & Vanilla, Swedish Match North America The limited-edition offerings provided by White Owl continue to intrigue consumers and create demand within the c-store market. White Owl Swirl: Chocolate & Vanilla is the first cigar in a planned series. Swirl is a two-color cigarillo featuring an unmistakable and unforgettable wrapper, and a flavor that brings chocolate and vanilla
Tasty Snacks That Are Ready To Travel Hillshire Snacking Small Plates pack a variety of upscale options for your busy customers. Everyone is sure to find a go-to favorite for their on-the-go snacking occasions. ®
Discover our complete lineup of craveable offerings.
Contact your Tyson Convenience Representative, Broker, Distributor Sales Representative or visit tysonconvenience.com for more information.
©2021 Tyson Foods, Inc. Trademarks and registered trademarks are owned by Tyson Foods, Inc. or its subsidiaries, or used under license.
together in a smooth combination. The series will introduce products that bring an exciting twist that grabs consumers’ attention. OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS: PAPERS
Hempire Wraps, Swisher
Vegan, GMO free and pesticide free, Hempire Wraps are the modern “green” take on the traditional tobacco blunt wrap without the tobacco and nicotine. Made with an exclusive U.S. organic, high-quality hemp biomass blend, Hempire Wraps are infused with aromatics and terpenes that are truly unique in the hemp category. The all plant-based lineup includes a variety of blends. While blunt wraps are more well-known in the category, hemp wraps stand apart because of the absence of nicotine. Hemp wraps are realizing tremendous growth in the market. They feel, roll and smoke very similarly to blunt wraps.
66 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS: SMOKELESS TOBACCO
Black Buffalo Wintergreen Long Cut, Black Buffalo Inc.
Black Buffalo manufactures and sells a smokeless tobacco alternative that is creating a growth opportunity in the modern oral category for the convenience channel. Black Buffalo’s products provide the same pack, aroma, deep color, flavor and nicotine buzz of traditional moist smokeless tobacco (MST) products, but without the harmful constituents of tobacco leaf
2021 or tobacco stem. With five Long Cut and three Pouches products filed under PMTA with the FDA in September 2020, Black Buffalo remains committed to the highest quality standards in the industry, and claims to be the only known product in this category to file a PMTA. Black Buffalo Wintergreen Long Cut was the top-rated variety among our adult tobacco-using panelists.
offering unique and meaningful ingredients along with outstanding taste in the iconic VOSS bottle, VOSS+ provides an opportunity to trade customers up to a higher dollar ring. VOSS+ Vitamin D has a suggested price of $3.69. PACKAGED BEVERAGES: CARBONATED SOFT DRINKS
Sunkist Berry Lemonade, Keurig Dr Pepper
PACKAGED BEVERAGES: BOTTLED WATER
VOSS+ Vitamin D, Voss USA
Sunkist Berry Lemonade (SKBL) has seen unprecedented success since its launch, with c-stores driving 44 percent of dollar sales due to high turn rates on the product’s 20-ounce single-serve bottle. This momentum is a strong proof point that the product is meeting consumer needs and expectations at both the shelf and post-purchase. After only four months on the market, SKBL is now the fastest-turning Sunkist flavor in c-stores. The product features a unique flavor profile, bright blue color, and vibrant packaging. SKBL has a strong repeat purchase percentage of 28 percent, indicating that more than one in four consumers who tried the product purchased it again.
The VOSS+ line of enhanced waters represents the first premium bottled water brand to bring true benefits to consumers. VOSS+ is designed to help support active lifestyles and enhance the pursuit of health and wellness — trends that became even more sought out during the pandemic. VOSS+ Vitamin D delivers 50 percent of the average person’s recommended daily intake of Vitamin D, along with minerals and electrolytes for taste, in a delightful citrus fruit essence containing zero sugar and zero calories. By
Meet us at NACS Booth 7352
Ventless. Portable. Automatic Solutions.
AutoFry® Offers a complete range of automated, portable, ventless deep-frying systems, from single to double basket, and countertop to floor models.
MultiChef ™ High Speed ovens that reduces cook times, transforming your business into a food preparation powerhouse.
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WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.
THE BEST NEW PRODUCT OF NACS 2021 IS AT BOOTH 8580.
JOIN THE HERD TOBACCO ALTERNATIVE LONG CUT & POUCHES blackbuffalo.com Black Buffalo Ad.indd 1
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PACKAGED BEVERAGES: JUICE DRINKS
Amarumayu Superfruit Juices, Amarumayu LLC
Amarumayu Superfruit Juices are ready-to-drink, immunity-boosting, exotic, delicious and nourishing. The Buriti and Camu Camu superfruits have been part of the healthy diets of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon for centuries. Camu Camu has the largest natural concentration of Vitamin C on the planet with 50 times as much Vitamin C as an orange. Buriti is rich in Omegas 3, 6 and 9, Vitamins A and C, and minerals such as potassium, calcium and iron. Our panelists were impressed with the taste of the juices, as well as their concentration of nutrients. They also liked the artwork on the product’s colorful aluminum container. PACKAGED BEVERAGES: OTHER
Twang Reserve Cocktail Mixes, Twang Partners Ltd.
A michelada is a Latin-derived beer cocktail that is con-
sidered by many to be a lighter and more approachable version of its American cousin, the Bloody Mary. A michelada is made with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, tomato juice, and chili peppers. Twang Partners has crafted a family of all-inone mixes that make it as easy as just adding it to beer to create a delicious michelada. Our testers found this niche product very interesting, and Spicy was the preferred flavor. When placed near the beer section, it is an easy consumer add-on item and has cross-cultural appeal. PACKAGED BEVERAGES: RTD COFFEE DRINKS
Community Coffee Expresso + Cream, Community Coffee
Made with Community Coffee’s Signature Blend, Espresso + Cream is a refreshing and creamy ready-todrink coffee-based beverage in a convenient 6.5-ounce can. The beverage is lightly sweetened and balanced with rich cream for a delicious pick-me-up. Made with 100
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percent Arabica coffee beans and natural flavors, Espresso + Cream is held to Comnunity Coffee’s rigorous scoring system for body, balance, flavor and aroma. Our panelists found the innovation of the mini expresso beverage very convenient, and they liked its balanced flavor and the fact that Community Coffee gives back through programs such as Cash for Schools and Military Match. PACKAGED BEVERAGES: RTD ICED TEA
POM Pomegranate Orange Blossom White Tea, POM Wonderful
Each bottle of POM Antioxidant Super Tea is powered by the antioxidant goodness of pomegranate juice and is gently brewed to preserve those antioxidants while offering the benefits of tea. POM Pomegranate Orange Blossom White Tea offers a combination of crisp white tea and orange blossom, resulting in a delicious and refreshing alternative to traditional ready-to-drink (RTD) teas. Our panelists liked this health-forward alternative to RTD teas and found its taste “refreshing.” The beautiful, vibrant POM bottle also stood out within the category and impressed our testers.
2021 PACKAGED SWEET SNACKS
7Days Cake Bars, 7Days-EPTA America LLC
Our panelists said 7Days Cake Bars are ideally suited for the convenience channel. They thought these light and sweet layered cake bars are perfect for grab-and-go; a permissible indulgence during the mid-morning and afternoon occasions; and go great with coffee, an important driver of c-store trips. Packed in convenient eight-count, shelf-ready caddie displays, the cake bars come individually wrapped to maintain freshness, and are delivered ambient to retailers. Launched nationally in the fourth quarter of 2020 at 7-Eleven, 7Days Cake Bars already rank in the top half for unit velocity among new items in the $4 billion sweet baked goods and adjacent category sets (cookies, snack bars, toaster pastry) as of Q1 2021, according to IRI. SALTY SNACKS: NUTS & SEEDS
South 40 Snacks Sunflower Seeds, South 40 Snacks Inc.
Each package of South 40 Snacks Sunflower Seeds contains only two ingredients: sunflower seeds and
sea salt. These premium giant sunflower seeds make for a salty snack that fits food and health trends such as natural, vegan, keto, paleo, low carb, good source of protein, and more. The company boasts that they are unlike any other sunflower seeds on the market, and our panelists agreed. In the c-store accounts where South 40 Snacks has distribution, the product typically ranks at or near the top on a dollars-per-store-per-week basis among competitors. SALTY SNACKS: POTATO CHIPS
Pringles Scorchin’, Kellogg’s Co.
The “hot” segment represents 30 percent of the salty snacks business at c-stores, and it grew by 8 percent in the last three years, compared with 3 percent growth for the entire category. Pringles took its three most popular flavors and added additional heat to them to create Pringles Scorchin’. The Pringles Scorchin’
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platform is designed to combine the Pringles flavors that consumers love with the spicy trend they are asking for, attracting the next generation of salty snack consumers. Our testers loved the bold taste and texture of the BBQ variety. SALTY SNACKS: PRETZELS
Dot’s Honey Mustard Pretzels, Dot’s Pretzels
Dot’s Pretzels is a Midwest phenomenon that has seen explosive growth over the past few years and has driven nearly all of the growth in the pretzel category for convenience, according to the company. Dot’s recently introduced its most highly requested flavor yet — a honey mustard seasoned pretzel. Our testers were very impressed with the quality and flavor of the premium pretzel product. Each Dot’s Pretzels flavor is created by Dorothy Henke, also known as Dot, and held to the standard of her own
original seasoning that is so widely known and loved. SALTY SNACKS: READY-TO-EAT POPCORN
Gold Medal Gourmet Popcorn, Gold Medal Products Co.
The most successful snack product selections are those that appeal to shoppers and deliver attractive profit margins. Gold Medal Gourmet Popcorn delivers margins as high as 72 percent. Our testers liked the product’s nostalgic flavor and easy grab-and-go packaging. They were fans of all three “fresh-tasting” varieties, but the Caramel & Cheddar Mix scored the highest. The integrity of Gold Medal Gourmet Popcorn is linked to its thorough process. It is carefully crafted in small batches to create exceptional-quality flavor profiles. One of the distinguishing features is that the popcorn is wet popped, which means the kernels are popped in specially designed oils and seasonings for maximum flavor. CSN
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i. Note: Category = Pastry/Doughnuts + Bakery Snacks in IRI ii. Source: IRI US Convenience, data thru Q1 2021
Overcoming Adversity With Innovation For a third time, Rutter’s leads this year’s slate of Foodservice Innovators Awards winners By Don Longo FROM MAKING PANDEMIC-INSPIRED menu changes to utilizing new technology, the nation’s top convenience store retailers have shown remarkable innovation over the past year. Being able to turn on a dime and succeed, during a global pandemic, is the definition of innovation.
Each year, Convenience Store News recognizes c-store retailers that are raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in the foodservice category. Now in its 10th year, the Foodservice Innovators Awards program has been recognizing best-in-class convenience foodservice retailers since 2012. Winners are chosen annually by the CSNews Foodservice Advisory Council, a panel of category experts from the retailer, supplier, wholesaler, research and consulting fields. This year, Rutter’s, the York, Pa.-based regional retailer known for being on the cutting-edge, leads a slate of five Foodservice Innovators Awards winners. Rutter’s has now won the Foodservice Innovator of the Year award a record three times (previously in 2012 and 2018).
FOODSERVICE INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: Rutter’s Judges on the CSNews Foodservice Advisory Council lauded Rutter’s overall approach to foodservice, from dispensed beverages to fresh prepared foods. “They’ve always been progressive with prepared foods in general, but I think they really lifted their game in cold
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Members of the Convenience Store News Foodservice Advisory Council lauded how well Rutter’s adjusted its menu due to the pandemic.
dispensed beverages with their Spiked Slushies and Xtreme Shakes,” said one judge. It was also noted how well Rutter’s adjusted its menu due to the pandemic (e.g., new comfort-food offerings). And the company’s approach to marketing its offerings to consumers digitally via social media, geofencing and a new loyalty app did not go unnoticed. All in all, Rutter’s paints a picture of a retailer operating on all cylinders despite the global pandemic. Rutter’s introduced Spiked Slushies to the Pennsylvania market before any other chain. Being the leader in this category allowed the retailer to innovate even more. In 2021, Rutter’s introduced limited-time seasonal flavors to further spice up the category.
BEST NEW PRODUCT OF 2021
Like most retailers, the pandemic forced Rutter’s to adjust its foodservice offering, which it’s done with great success. Customers wanted comfort foods and brands they trust, so Rutter’s introduced a second Beef Traveller option, along with SPAM as a limitedtime offer (LTO) add-on available for breakfast, lunch and dinner items. Both have been huge hits. Rutter’s also introduced Xtreme Shakes, candy-filled shakes that allow customers young and old to add their favorite sweets, like Kit Kat and Reese’s, to their drinks. To add even more fun, the retailer started offering LTO flavors, such as Key Lime Kit Kat, which customers enjoyed. Further, Rutter’s found new ways to reach its customers, primarily through digital media. Platforms such as Twitch and Instagram have offered the retailer ways to reach customers who weren’t on-site as often over the past year. By using these, along with other social platforms, Rutter’s was able to target consumer preferences in a strong way with geofencing and demographic profiles. Like many other retailers, Rutter’s trips have been down overall, but the chain’s baskets have increased dramatically.
“Through our new loyalty platform with Paytronix, launched in 2020, we also have the ability to now survey customers. This has allowed us to determine what’s working and what isn’t,” said Rutter’s Director of Fuel, Forecourt and Advertising Chris Hartman. “We also rolled out menu screens above our foodservice areas, in many of our new stores and remodels, allowing customers to look at all we have to offer in a quick time period.” It is clear that Rutter’s believes innovation isn’t just about having the most creative item, but about adapting to customer needs. “Thriving during a pandemic isn’t something that was expected at the beginning,” said Hartman. “However, our great foodservice team, led by Robert Perkins, took it as a challenge and came out with an improved menu offering and creative flair that fit what Rutter’s customers want.”
PREPARED FOODS INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: The Spinx Co. The Foodservice Advisory Council cited the way Spinx took its Legendary Fried Chicken, sides and proprietary banana pudding and made it all ready-to-go for shoppers during the pandemic. Customers were able to purchase fried chicken that was prepared the day before, properly and safely chilled to under 40 degrees (24 hours cold), and merchandised cold for sale throughout the day. They were impressed with the process and discipline the stores took in serving the cold chicken the proper way (not leftovers). The returns were great not only in evening business
Judges praised the debut of the Spinx Cluk-Truck in upstate South Carolina as a great way to bring the brand to other areas of the state.
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(take home and re-therm), but customers also purchased the chicken throughout the day and ate it cold. “Who doesn’t like cold fried chicken?” commented one judge. The offer satisfied the call for more prepared food items with minimal touchpoints or interaction for safety reasons during the pandemic, and turned into an everyday SKU without any cannibalization of Spinx’s traditional Legendary Fried Chicken program. In addition, several side dishes were added, and the retailer’s proprietary banana pudding was sold in quart containers, as well as single-serve. The debut of the Spinx Cluk-Truck in upstate South Carolina was also cited as a major success by the council. The Cluk-Truck was booked for special events throughout the area, serving a limited menu of chicken tenders and fries. Judges thought this was a great way to bring the Spinx brand to other areas of the state.
Other judges lauded Circle K’s launch of its Sip & Save subscription service, which is applicable to hot, cold and frozen dispensed beverages. Customers can enjoy one coffee, tea, fountain drink or slushy of their choice every day for just $5.99 per month. The Sip & Save program debuted May 5, after the program was tested for 90 days at more than 100 stores near Augusta, Ga., and Columbia, S.C. This is the second win in the hot beverages category for Circle K. The company previously took home the title of Hot Beverages Innovator of the Year in 2016.
This is the first-ever win for Spinx in the Foodservice Innovators Awards program.
HOT BEVERAGES INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./ Circle K Circle K’s sustainably sourced coffee program is built around three pillars: farm productivity, environmental practices, and social development. The chain’s high-quality coffee beans are sourced from participating farms around the world while providing valuable tools, training and services to the coffee farmers and their communities. “Customers are always looking for differentiation and 100-percent sustainable coffee is certainly that,” one judge remarked. “The current customer base is environmentally conscious, so this appears to be an intelligent move to get that customer into the store.” The new sustainably sourced coffee blends are available through Circle K's bean-to-cup machines in both hot and iced versions. While all coffee beans will now be 100 percent sustainably sourced, the retailer maintains that the quality, taste, aroma and roast profile will all remain the same.
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COLD & FROZEN BEVERAGES INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: 7-Eleven Inc. This summer, 7-Eleven introduced a new, fruity Slurpee flavor available in an innovative stay-cold cup that was available at participating stores for just $1. The new flavor, Peach Perfect, is made with real juice and provides a perfectly refreshing on-trend taste. “They never rest in this category,” said one judge. “It seems like they’re always doing something new with cold beverages, and it’s not limited to new flavors. The staycold cup was an interesting innovation I haven’t seen elsewhere.” Another 7-Eleven innovation cited by the judges was the LTO offering of a Jones Soda Co. Birthday Cake flavored Slurpee drink in participating stores across the Pacific
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Northwest from June through August. The sweet, buttery vanilla Birthday Cake flavor — reminiscent of yellow cake — was introduced to celebrate the retailer’s 94th birthday. Also this summer, the convenience store chain gave its famous lineup of Big Gulp fountain drinks a bold refresh by introducing five new, non-traditional varieties at participating stores. The new varieties are AHA sparkling flavored water, craft lemonade made with real juice and cane sugar, electrolyte-infused vitaminwater zero, and 7-Eleven’s private brand vitamin-infused sports drink Replenish Zero and energy drink Power Berry by Quake. 7-Eleven is a three-time winner in the cold and frozen beverages category, having racked up previous honors in 2014 and 2019.
FOODSERVICE INNOVATOR TO WATCH: Family Express Corp. The Innovator to Watch award recognizes a c-store retailer as an “up-and-comer” that is making a name for itself in the quality and innovation of its foodservice program. This year, the award goes to the regional Family Express chain, based in Valparaiso, Ind. Earlier this year, the retailer began testing new technology that lets customers order fresh, made-to-order food from its Cravin’s menu at the gas pump or car wash. To ensure the safety of customers' 82 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
“Gus and the Family Express team are always looking at new ways to sell products.” — Foodservice Innovators Awards judge personal information, it installed Fiserv's TransArmor data protection system, which safeguards their personal data when they swipe credit cards at the pump. The goal is to make it easier to buy Cravin's food, which is available at approximately a third of Family Express’ 75 stores, while on the go. By placing orders while they're pumping gas, customers don't have to wait in line again to place a food order inside the store. “Gus and the Family Express team are always looking at new ways to sell products,” said one judge. “Testing order-at-the-pump technology certainly fits the bill. Being able to convert more customers from the outside to the inside is key to increasing traffic.” Another judge called the chain’s Curbside at the Pump order technology “groundbreaking” for the convenience store industry, while a fellow council member also applauded Family Express’ safety measures around selling fresh baked goods during the pandemic. All of its doughnuts and muffins (now made in a new square shape) are fitted into individual plastic wrappers as they come off the assembly line at the retailer’s bakery distribution center. This is Family Express’ first win in the CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards program. CSN
FOOD I N SIG HT P O W E R E D B Y DATA S S E N T I A L
Barbecue Trends The protein-driven category continues to innovate into new formats and flavors
AS WE MOVE FROM SUMMER TO FALL,
barbecue surely won’t be forgotten. Nearly 60 percent of restaurants feature barbecue on the menu, as it has the versatility to be used for sandwiches, pizza, wings, and even burgers, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends database. Despite the time and labor that goes into authentic barbecue, consumers still have a high affinity for the protein-driven category. While consumers are drawn to the independent barbecue restaurants and willing to wait in line for hours just to get a taste of authenticity and quality, there are plenty of other ways to experience the flavor of barbecue today because it has expanded far beyond its roots. Sweet, honey and spicy are some of the most commonly paired descriptors on barbecue menus. Both regional and global barbecue are pushing the bounds and creating some complex food profiles.
Regional Barbecue Authentic regional barbecue is viewed as more of a specialty item on menus. Each barbecue region in the United States specializes in its own style. Texas barbecue is known for beef-centric menus, while Missouri barbecue is more focused on the sweet, tomato and molassesbased sauce. According to Datassential’s FLAVOR database, Kansas City barbecue is loved by 17 percent of the U.S., and isn’t just known for ribs — the true star is burnt ends. Once ignored by many chefs, burnt ends have now been repurposed as appetizers or used in stew/gumbo to capture the melted-down fat into a smoky, crunchy bark. And whether you are looking for smoked sausages from a Memphis barbecue joint, or blackened chicken from St. Louis, each state has its own method that makes the experience one of a kind.
Global Barbecue Barbecue is all-encompassing and found in cuisine throughout the world. Yaki is the Japanese word for grilled and is used for a variety of street foods, such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, and much more. Yakitori is the preparation of skew meat or vegetables, grilling over charcoal, and smothering it with a sweet soy sauce and mirin glaze known as tare. It’s still a burgeoning trend
Smokestack Sandwich ($4.99) BBQ the way it should be. Slow-smoked pork, tender and juicy, piled high on a buttery brioche bun and topped with zesty chipotle sauce and crispy onion straws.
Unbranded PI: 54% Branded PI: 70% Uniqueness: 39% Frequency: 24% Draw: 53%
Superstar Star ratings reflect each item’s performance vs. other menu items within the same category. Top Performer (>90th percentile) Above Average (70 to 90th percentile) Average (30 to 70th percentile)
Sweet, honey and spicy are some of the most commonly paired descriptors on barbecue menus. (in the inception stage of Datassential’s Menu Adoption Cycle), found on less than 1 percent of menus. But yakitori has a high affinity with millennials — the largest segment of the population. Younger generations like Gen Z have a high affinity for Korean barbecue, which has grown on menus by 40 percent in the last four years. This has influenced many trends, such as Asian street tacos with bulgogi, food truck nachos, and Korean-style wings. As we’ve seen throughout the years, barbecue can’t be pigeon-holed into one bucket and continues to innovate into new formats and flavors. CSN
Datassential, a Chicago-based food and beverage industry research and consulting firm, brings clients real-world insights on flavor trends, foodservice and consumer packaged goods, globally. Learn more at datassential.com.
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Quench Consumer Thirst for A new form-factor is poised to drive the CBD category in c-stores. CBD Drinks are making a splash in the market. One brand, Forth™ CBD, is leading the charge and bringing new shoppers to c-store aisles with CBD-Infused Juice Drinks.
CONSIDER THE CONSUMER CBD drink buyers hit the sweet spot for retailers.
ANTICIPATE THE UPSURGE With the market size for CBD drinks expanding rapidly, c-stores have plenty of tasty new revenue.
More than half have an income above
100 80 60
8 in 10 are between 24 and 44 years old
use CBD products daily
state that “taste” is a key purchase factor
SAVOR THE SALES POTENTIAL Forth™ CBD-Infused Juice Drinks are delivering more than flavor …
selling form-factor in the CBD category* • Showing strong profit margins • High-quality, lab-tested beverages • Contain 10mg full-spectrum hemp derived CBD per serving
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UNDERAGE SALE PROHIBITED All data applies to Convenience and Gas channel only. *Sourced from Test Chain Sales May 2021. All other data sourced from Brightfield Group.
Oral Testimony C-stores can do more to elevate modern oral products to their full backbar potential By Renée M. Covino
DOES YOUR TOBACCO backbar reflect today’s positive buzz around oral nicotine?
The alternative smokeless tobacco segment — otherwise known as modern oral products — is rising in sales and category importance within convenience stores. Modern oral nicotine, which consists primarily of pouches, tablets, gum and lozenges, currently has 91 percent distribution in the convenience channel, according to Swisher, which distributes oral nicotine products in partnership with Rogue Holdings. More than 70 percent of adult tobacco consumers in the United States have expressed interest in modern oral products, notes Brittany Lockard, senior manager, brand and innovation communications for Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), which last year bought pouch manufacturer Dryft and
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incorporated it into its VELO oral pouch line. While the convenience channel has embraced modern oral products, there is more that c-store operators can do to elevate this new segment to its full backbar potential.
Continuously Assess Constant evaluation and evolution of the backbar real estate is essential to meet the demands of today’s adult tobacco consumer, according to Matt Domingo, senior director of external relations at Reynolds Marketing Services Co. Be it via product assortment, the impact of merchandising space, or both, choice must be offered to today’s adult tobacco consumer, who is willing to try different options such as oral nicotine to meet today’s societal demands, he explained.
Put the Emphasis on Pouches Industry insiders agree that the modern oral nicotine category is being driven by pouches. According to recent
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data from Management Science Associates Inc. (MSA), volume in the category has almost doubled from last year and now accounts for 14 percent of the smokeless volume in c-stores. For the 26 weeks ended Aug. 1, 2021, nicotine pouches made up 98 percent of modern oral dollar sales. ZYN nicotine pouches are driving Swedish Match North America’s business forward, notes Jason Walker, associate brand manager for ZYN Marketing. Since launching in 2014, ZYN has grown to be the top smokeless brand in several states. “[It’s] currently outselling juggernaut moist snuff brands in states like Utah and Oregon,” Walker relayed. “Most exciting, we have yet to find the ceiling; ZYN continues to grow in the face of significant price competition and brand proliferation.”
Highlight It Separately Through both dedicated space and prominent permanent shelving, c-store retailers are growing the modern oral nicotine category and helping consumers identify and differentiate it from other traditional tobacco products.
“More than 70% of adult tobacco consumers in the United States have expressed interest in modern oral products.” — Brittany Lockard, Reynolds American Inc.
“We recommend merchandising nicotine pouches in their own section in a permanent display,” Walker advised. “Visibility to consumers is extremely important and, given the rapid growth of the category, they are actively looking for it at the store.” Now that the category is more established, consumers are also looking for variety in their favorite pouch brands.
2021’s Most Popular Pouches The American market for nicotine pouches has expanded rapidly, with new brands appearing regularly. Vaping360, a global media website started in 2014 with the goal of “helping smokers switch to a cleaner alternative,” recently tested oral products and released a “short list” of the pouches it found to be at the top. Below is an alphabetized roster of those brands and their distinguishing characteristics:
available in nicotine strengths of 3 or 6 milligrams.
FRĒ is one of the many new brands using synthetic nicotine. FRĒ has two nicotine options: 9 and 12 milligrams. The high nicotine levels appear to be aimed at smokers who want to quit, and at high-nicotine vapers. The company says FRĒ pouches last 45 minutes. They come in five different flavors, 20 to a package.
Rogue pouches are sold in four flavors and two nicotine strengths: 3 and 6 milligrams. They are the largest-sized pouch sold in the U.S. — close to twice the size of an on! pouch, for instance. There are 20 Rogue pouches in each metal tin.
FR3SH also uses synthetic nicotine. The product is available in four flavors and two nicotine strengths: 4 and 6 milligrams. Each FR3SH package contains 20 pouches, which the company says last 30 minutes. Lucy is an emerging name in the category (established in 2019) and is available in gums, lozenges and pouches. Lucy pouches are “aimed at flavor chasers that also want that jolt of nicotine,” according to Vaping360. With three flavor options, these pouches are available in a “slim” variety in 4 and 8 milligram options. NIIN, made with synthetic nicotine, is pre-moistened or “primed.” Each can contains 20 pouches, and each pouch lasts about 30 minutes. Five NIIN flavors are
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On! is made in Sweden and sold in the U.S. by Altria subsidiary Helix Innovations. It is one of the most popular and widely distributed pouch brands, available in seven flavors and five nicotine strengths, ranging from 1.5 to 8 milligrams per pouch. Helix says its “very small” pouches provide 20 minutes of flavor.
VELO pouches (available now in mint and citrus flavors only) are packaged 15 to a metal can, and sold in 2- and 4-milligram strengths. Last year, RAI bought American pouch manufacturer Dryft and incorporated all eight Dryft flavors into its VELO line. The new flavors are available in 2-, 4- and 7-milligram strengths. The 7-milligram ones are branded VELO MAX. ZYN is the “original” nicotine pouch, manufactured in the U.S. by snus market leader Swedish Match. Available in 10 flavors, ZYN pouches come 15 to a can and are available in 3- and 6-milligram strengths. ZYN is the most popular pouch brand in the U.S., with flavors lasting 30 minutes, according to the company. Source: Vaping360
MORE CHOICE FOR THEM M E A N S M O R E P R O F I TS F O R YO U MSA Share Recent 26 Weeks*
Brand A 14%
49% Brand B 11%
Brand C 6%
LET YOUR CUSTOMERS CHOOSE
ZYN 3 MG or ZYN 6 MG CALL 800 - 367 - 3677 OR CONTACT YOUR SWEDISH MATCH REPRESENTATIVE FOR ADDITIONAL DETAILS *MSA NP Category Volume Recent 26 wks 4/11/21. For Trade Purposes Only. ©2021 Swedish Match North America LLC
“We see that the retailers who carry more than 16 SKUs of ZYN outsell retailers who do not — by nearly double,” Walker told Convenience Store News. Chris Dillard, category manager for tobacco at The Spinx Co., a convenience store chain based in Greenville. S.C., shared that the retailer is pleased with its decision to highlight modern oral nicotine and create a designated space that makes it easier for adult tobacco customers to see the different modern oral options within its innovative tobacco products selection. As a result, he believes customers “are starting to be more aware of the nicotine alternatives.”
Understand How Consumers Have Changed “As times change, adult nicotine preferences also shift,” according to RAI’s Lockard. In light of restrictions regarding where certain tobacco products can be consumed, she explained that some adult smokers are looking for smoke-free alternatives, and some adult dippers are looking for spit-free alternatives. “When we talk to nicotine pouch consumers, the thing that they find most appealing is the convenience. They gravitate toward the smoke-free, spit-free and hands-free benefits as key reasons for adoption,” Walker echoed.
“Visibility to consumers is extremely important and, given the rapid growth of the category, they are actively looking for it at the store.” — Jason Walker, ZYN Marketing
At the same time, he added that the entire U.S. population has been reevaluating priorities amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and based on this reevaluation, “we have seen seismic changes in consumer behavior. Nicotine consumers are no different, and consumers’ perceived benefits of modern oral nicotine mirror some of the behavioral changes that we are seeing on a macro level.”
C-store operators would be wise to recognize this and educate their staff on these changes and how modern oral products can fit into the post-pandemic tobacco consumer’s world.
There’s no reason why retailers can’t do the same — targeting their adult tobacco consumers with modern oral product and promotion news on social media.
Let Them Reap Rewards
C-store operators that are willing to differentiate and take on new and emerging categories and forms of tobacco are the ones that are leading in oral nicotine to begin with. But that doesn’t mean they should stop now, according to Domingo.
Rewards programs are at the center of loyalty and are now predicted to have a positive effect on modern oral sales. ZYN has jumped on this as a “differentiator,” according to Walker, and introduced “so far, the first and only rewards program in the category.” Like moist snuff can programs, the ZYN program allows consumers to collect codes from cans, which they can redeem for prizes. He reports “great retail support.”
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More convenience channel customers are learning about modern oral nicotine products and availability through social media channels, Lockard notes. “VELO is on Facebook and Instagram, and these channels give us the opportunity to meet adult nicotine consumers where they are at,” she said.
Keep Taking Chances
C-stores that take chances in the category “are typically the ones who end up capturing the bigger slices of the volume that becomes available from market to market,” he said. CSN
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Remaining Relevant The grocery categories at c-stores benefited from consumers’ pandemic-influenced shopping shifts, but can the momentum last? By Renée M. Covino AT THE HEIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC,
many consumers who didn’t ordinarily shop at convenience stores got the brilliant idea that they could run in and out and get a few items they desperately needed — such as spray cleaner, a bottle of wine, toilet paper, etc. Fueled by accessibility, c-store grocery shopping became all the rage as customers caught on to the benefits of no lines, reduced human contact, speedy shopping, and in-stock shelves. It was a time when “convenience stores became less about energy drinks and bags of chips on the go and more about getting the day-to-day essentials,” said Anders McGillis, principal at Ontario, Canada-based Jackman Reinvents, a customer engagement firm that helps organizations reinvent their customer experiences.
recently worked with Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi (operator of supermarkets in 37 states) to launch the first Aldi Corner Store, a local, art-infused, urban-oriented small format developed in Sydney, Australia. “A local store not only feels safer, it is safer,” Landini said. Becoming “local grocers” during the pandemic, he observed that c-store operators learned to make “informed decisions and put themselves in their customers’ heads.” He offered up a personal example: “I recently bought individual sticks of celery from a local store. They understood I only needed three stalks, so they didn’t attempt to sell me more. By weight, I may have spent more, but it felt good, less wasteful. I’ll be back.”
A Look at the Numbers
It was also a time when consumers everywhere rallied around supporting local. “The early stages of the pandemic exposed weaknesses in supply chains, alerting people to the value of being able to access goods in their local communities,” McGillis told Convenience Store News. “Faced with empty shelves at big-box stores, people turned to alternatives, both in terms of products and stores, to find what they needed.”
According to research firm NCSolutions, in mid-May of this year (around when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted indoor mask guidelines) through mid-July, dollar sales for edible grocery collectively across channels were 3.4 percent higher compared to the same period in 2019, while sales for nonedible grocery across channels were 2.6 percent higher compared to 2019 levels.
In turn, c-stores relied on local suppliers to stay in stock. McGillis pointed to family-owned c-store chain Duchess, based in Heath, Ohio, which he said, “leaned heavily into local products when designing and stocking the shelves of its new flagship store.”
Produce sales during this period were also 3 percent higher than 2019 levels, and meat sales were 1 percent higher. “This demonstrates that increased at-home meal preparation is here to stay,” the research firm concluded.
During the pandemic, “community” also became more important than it’s ever been before, noted Mark Landini, creative director at Landini Associates, which
98 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
NCSolutions also pointed out that the growth rate of health-driven categories, such as fruit (up 6 percent over 2019 levels) and vitamins and supplements (up 33 percent), demonstrates a heightened consumer focus on health.
Additionally, cleaning category sales for the period of May 9 through July 17, 2021 were collectively 3 percent higher than 2019 levels. “We are still using more cleaning products than we did pre-pandemic,” the research firm stated. Looking at the top CPG categories with the highest spend, NCSolutions says those with the greatest staying potential moving into the next phase of the pandemic are:
• Beer (up 17 percent compared to the same period in 2019); • Liquor (up 21 percent); • Vitamins and supplements (up 33 percent);
• Isotonic/sports drink beverages (up 17 percent); and • Frozen entrees (up 11 percent).
“While consumers have gotten more comfortable traveling and gathering this summer, overall grocery spend is still elevated compared to 2019 levels, indicating that consumers are continuing to spend more time and prepare meals at home,” Linda Dupree, CEO of NCSolutions told CSNews. “The CPG categories with the highest growth from 2019 levels reflect continued consumer focus on conviviality, health and convenience as they navigate continued uncertainty with the Delta variant.”
The Next Phase Convenience stores can stay ahead of grocery trends by understanding the dietary, environmental and social attributes within their current product assortment, as well as their customers’ ever-changing need states, according to Hannah Polk, RD Solutions consultant at Label Insight, a NielsenIQ company.
Polk identified some food and beverage trends relevant to the c-store space that are growing significantly in search volume vs. the previous six months: natural, electrolytes, low-calorie, pre-made, adaptogenic, sport, green ingredients, dairy-free, weight loss, and vegan. In non-edible grocery, consumers are shifting toward cleaner and more sustainable products, Polk said. Within the personal care space, growing attributes include plastic-free, aluminum-free, reef safe, paraphenylenediamine (PPD) free, and ultra-sensitive. Within the household cleaners space, niche attributes that are growing fast include “naturally derived” and “contains essential oils.” The pandemic-driven rise in frozen foods should also be on c-store radars. A new report from integrated sales and marketing provider Acosta, entitled The Pandemic-Fueled Growth of Frozen Foods, found that produce, pizza, snacks and entrees are the frozen categories purchased more frequently since COVID-19, due to consumers cooking at home more, eating healthier, and adhering to a budget.
Retention Strategies Convenience stores that increased their grocery sales during the pandemic have a new challenge as the nation tries to get back to normal: retention of these shoppers. McGillis of Jackman Reinvents said his firm has seen “significant change” in the c-store space, with existing players going beyond the basics. He praised some players for elevating their assortment by adding organic, gourmet and fresh items. “Adding quality food products that consumers want can turn a convenience store into a grocery destination and part of their routine,” he told CSNews. S E P T E MB E R
Convenience Store News
Rather than arranging the c-store based on product type, he challenges c-stores to group products based on shopper mindsets. “In the same way many grocery stores are set up, consider carving out a dedicated space for health-forward or wellness products, or those that serve a specific diet or nutrition,” McGillis advised. Unique store design can be a powerful draw, too. With the idea that design has the power to make consumers smile and feel good about where they are shopping, Landini noted that Aldi Corner Store utilizes local art to personalize its store design and help set the brand apart from a typical grocery store experience. “A supermarket used to be two words: an adjective describing a noun. Delivery and operational systems have compromised this and now it’s become unpersonal and somewhat absent of any joy,” he said. “We believe this can be challenged with design in the convenience channel.”
“The early stages of the pandemic exposed weaknesses in supply chains, alerting people to the value of being able to access goods in their local communities.” — Anders McGillis, Jackman Reinvents
Trending Now Grocery trends recently identified by research firm NCSolutions (based on sales data from May 9 through July 17, 2021 compared to the same period in 2019) include: • The popularity of a convenient breakfast — Sales of shelf-stable convenient breakfast grew 251 percent during the period analyzed; refrigerated quiche grew by 40 percent; refrigerated breakfast entrees and frozen breakfast entrees were both up 32 percent; and frozen breakfast sandwiches grew 30 percent.
Along with store design and layout, and paying attention to product trends in the edible and non-edible grocery categories, c-stores can also remain relevant to grocery shoppers beyond the pandemic with some digital marketing ideas.
• Tremendous growth in pet categories — Pet brushes grew by 51 percent; pet repellent by 50 percent; pet medicine by 49 percent; and pet toys by 36 percent.
“Put your business on the map,” urges Devin Schumacher, founder of the digital marketing agency SERP. “With the technological advancements available, consumers rarely visit brick-and-mortar businesses without researching them first. People don’t walk around searching for c-stores; they look them up online.”
• Prep-free beverages in demand — Consumers are gravitating toward convenient beverages that don’t require any prep. Premixed cocktails were up 193 percent, and bottled coffee was up 25 percent.
With that in mind, he advises c-store operators to create a Google My Business profile and then promote it. This will allow that c-store to pop up in Google search engines, social media recommendations, and even GPS navigation apps.
customers generally come from, then incorporate the locations into your next campaigns.”
Location-based businesses like convenience stores should focus their marketing efforts on prospects within their service areas. “Targeting those from a different city will unnecessarily spike your ad spend,” cautioned Schumacher. “Identify where your most frequent
He believes partnering with delivery apps such as Postmates is also a must for c-stores in these times. “If there’s anything the recent lockdowns taught us, it’s that many people will avoid leaving the comfort of their homes as much as possible,” he said. CSN
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CBD in the C-store While product popularity continues to shift, c-stores are still primed to benefit from this category By Tammy Mastroberte WHILE CBD LAWS are still not standardized nationwide, consumer products derived from hemp became legal as part of the 2018 version of the U.S. Farm Bill, and 2019 saw explosive growth in the category. At the end of 2019, however, the category suffered slightly when the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using products with THC and CBD following an outbreak of lung injuries associated with the products.
Many consumers instead turned to topicals and other CBD products as replacements, according to Don Burke, senior vice president of Management Science Associates Inc. (MSA), a Pittsburghbased company focused on analytics and informatics. In fact, sales of topicals soared to No. 1 in the CBD category for a time; they recently dropped to No. 2 with gummies taking the top spot.
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“In 2021, gummies have returned to the best-selling product form in c-stores, followed by topicals and tinctures, and vape is starting to come back fairly strong as well,” Burke told Convenience Store News. Overall, CBD sales in the convenience channel have declined from where they were in 2019, and the COVID19 pandemic drove people online to shop for these products, which hurt c-stores, noted Mike Luce, president of Chicago-based High Yield Insights, a provider of data-driven insights about the cannabis market. The good news, though, is that awareness of CBD and hemp products is higher than ever, and sales projections are still on an upward curve, he said. “None of the spaces are saturated the way mainstream beer is,” said Luce. “There is a lot of competition within individual categories, such as gummies, but there is still room for growth, and CBD drinks are ideal for the c-store industry. Right now, CBD drinks are ranked among the highest categories that CBD consumers are not using but interested in using in the future.”
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Looking at the total adult population in the United States, only 16 percent are current CBD users, meaning they used a product within the past three months. The potential for growth in the category is revealed in the 84 percent who are not current users, Luce pointed out. “If you drill down, of that 84 percent, 46 percent expressed interest in trying CBD, and 13 percent are former CBD users that may come back,” he explained. Additionally, once the pandemic has passed and shopping patterns return to normal — with consumers commuting to and from work again — CBD sales are expected to grow once more in the retail space, along with the introduction of new cannabinoids such as CBG and CBN, said Burke. “There is also the emergence of Delta-8, which is a cannabinoid that offers similar effects as THC, but it’s not THC so it’s legal to sell in a c-store — although this is likely to change,” the MSA executive noted. There are some states that have already banned or restricted Delta-8 products, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington. “Connecticut, New York and some other states banned the products completely, and others like Michigan say they will treat it like marijuana,” said Luce.
The CBD Shopper Females are actually the majority of CBD users (60 percent) vs. males, with the bulk falling in the Generation Z age bracket (45 percent), according to research from High Yield Insights. Generation X makes up 28 percent of users, while boomers and seniors represent 26 percent. According to research from Management Science Associates, which surveyed more than 100,000 people in the U.S., the specific age range for male CBD users is between 18 and 49, while female CBD users fall within the 18- to 34-year-old range. “The typical CBD shopper is good news for c-stores because they are typically younger, liberal, and either students or blue-collar workers in skilled trades, such as plumbers, electricians and landscapers,” Burke reported. “It’s also far more likely that a tobacco consumer would be using CBD, which is more good news for c-stores as tobacco users are walking through the door several times per week.” In terms of the reasons CBD users shop for products, as of the research
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conducted in 2019 and 2020 by Management Science Associates, the No. 1 reason is to temporarily relieve minor aches and pains (77 percent). Other reasons include relieving chronic pain (75 percent), helping with anxiety and stress (73 percent), and helping with sleep (71 percent). Additionally, 67 percent cite using it for increased general wellness, and 66 percent use it to improve their physical health, showing there is a wellness component to the product, according to MSA. “Most people think of CBD as a wellness item, so if a c-store has a wellness or healthier options section in the store, it would make sense to market CBD with these items,” Burke advised. In fact, recent research by The Integer Group, a growth marketing agency that offers data-driven insights, suggests that consumers are shifting their CBD usage from ailment-based reasons such as pain and anxiety, to more wellness benefits such as an improved workout, and social occasions. This is especially true among younger consumers, noted Armand Parra, senior vice president of insight and strategy at the company, based in Lakewood, Colo.
“The typical CBD shopper is good news for c-stores because they are typically younger, liberal, and either students or blue-collar workers in skilled trades, such as plumbers, electricians and landscapers.” — Don Burke, Management Science Associates Inc.
“Quality and trust are the most important decision factors, and consumers are looking for credentials like certifications, grower information and testing results to verify product dosage and efficacy,” Parra pointed out.
What Are They Buying? MSA’s research shows convenience stores as the fourth most-popular retail option for those purchasing CBD, as 29 percent reported shopping for CBD in a c-store. The top choice, at 45 percent, was from a natural or specialty retailer, followed by a smoke or vape shop (39 percent), and direct from manufacturers (29 percent). Within the CBD category, there are many different product forms available. These include edibles, such as gummies; topicals, such as creams and lotions; tinctures and oils; vape pens and smokables; drinks; and even beer. Right now, gummies are the No. 1 product being sold, followed by topicals, tinctures and oils, vape pens and smokables, and drinks, according to Burke. Within the drinks category, which only represents 21 percent of the total space currently, non-carbonated water, fruit drinks, cola and energy/recovery shots make up 74 percent of the beverage dollars. Burke also noted that although topicals account for only 10 percent of the SKUs available, the category accounts for 26 percent of dollars, compared to vape, which accounts for 21 percent of the SKUs available, but only 3 percent of the dollars. “The products that best fit the c-store shopper and environment are edibles, beverages and oils/drops and tinctures,” said Parra. “Vapes/smokables, patches and alcoholic beverages are the CBD product forms that shoppers are currently least interested in purchasing.” While CBD beverages currently fall lower on the list in terms of demand, the category is seeing more products and options and, in some chains, is selling very well. At Betterment Retail Solutions, a West Des Moines, Iowa-based health and wellness company that connects up-and-coming brands with retailers, its No. 1 selling product in the category is flat CBD water. “There is infused coffee, energy drinks, and any type of beverage you can think of with CBD,” said Tony Sparks, the company’s senior vice president of marketing. “In the cold vault, I recommend grouping all CBD into the same space, at least initially. Since vault space for certain categories such as energy and sport are hard to cut into prime shelf space, splitting CBD beverages up by segment will not get them the visibility they need.” Sparks is seeing the smokable CBD segment perform well in c-stores as well, including products that look like actual cigarettes but have no tobacco, such as Vance Global CBD, which tested well for the company in c-stores, he noted.
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The Most Popular Forms of CBD According to data collected in 2019 and 2020 by Management Science Associates Inc., the most popular forms of CBD purchased at retail are: • Edibles, such as gummies (36 percent) • Topicals (32 percent) • Tinctures (29 percent) • Vaporizers/vape pens (22 percent) • Drinks (21 percent)
Best Practices for CBD C-stores that may have tried CBD products but didn’t find success should consider changing their approach and how they are marketing the products in their stores, according to Sparks. Many may have tried a turnkey program from distributors, but he recommends a multivendor approach to CBD. “We take a multi-vendor approach with floor and counter displays that are not just CBD, but may also have other functional products and brands in it as well,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to be all CBD or nothing.” He also suggests retailers “call out CBD” in their marketing so that customers know it’s available there — and do so in a big way. In fact, Betterment Retail Solutions tested neon signs that say CBD, aiming for customers to notice them when they walk up to the cold vault door. Every store with the sign saw an increase in sales, Sparks shared. CSN
Putting Technology in the Forefront Retailers are making plans to increase their tech investments and improve everything from data security to the customer experience By Angela Hanson
in the convenience store industry and its impact on retailers' future plans continually evolves based on current needs, emerging innovations, and the state of the industry at large.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
One year ago, the then-looming EMV liability shift deadline pushed c-store operators to focus on compliance. Today, there is no such singular driving force, yet technology is no less important to convenience retailers, who plan to increase their techrelated investments, according to the findings of the 2021 Convenience Store News Technology Study. Respondents to the annual study listed a broad range of business opportunities when asked about their technology-related priorities for the coming year. Unlike in 2020, when 20 percent of respondents stated that becoming EMV compliant was their single highest priority, no front-runner emerged this year. Rather, operators listed a variety of priorities at roughly equal rates. These priorities include replacing aging point-ofsale (POS) technology, developing greater business intelligence and reporting capabilities, employee training, and compelling customers from the fuel pump to the store. Improving the customer experience is also a high priority, with frictionless/ self-checkout technology, curbside pickup, and
108 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
providing better product/service information to customers among the most frequently mentioned options. Over the next year, more than half of respondents (52 percent) plan to direct at least part of their investments toward improving data security, and nearly half plan to invest in technologies to train employees, improve the use of loyalty data, and compel customers from the pump to the store. Operators are willing to spend to make these plans a reality. From 2019 to 2020, 71 percent of study participants reported increasing their technology budget, which encompasses everything from hardware and software to IT staff, cloud subscription fees, consulting and more. In 2021, 83 percent expect to spend just as much or more on technology and automation as they did in 2020. Additionally, four out of every five companies that reported a decreased or unchanged technology budget in 2020 planned to increase it this year.
Current & Future Technologies Much of retailers' current involvement in technology is directly related to customer interaction, such as social media (implemented by 69 percent of study respondents) and consumer-facing
Changes in Technology Budget: Past vs. Future 2019 to 2020
2021 vs. 2020
75% Will spend more
8% don't know
Will spend less
% INCREASE IN TECHNOLOGY BUDGET
8% Will spend about the same
8% 0.1% to 4.9%
5% to 9.9%
10% to 14.9%
15% to 19.9%
20% or more
websites (54 percent). Digital monitors in-store (49 percent), as well as mobile apps and digital loyalty programs (both at 46 percent), are also fairly widespread. Retailers most frequently listed text messaging to customers (40 percent), e-mail marketing and GPS/ geolocation alerts (both at 37 percent) as being planned for the future. On the forecourt, 46 percent of respondents report that they have digital monitors, and 31 percent have advertising/couponing. Of those that do not currently have advertising/couponing at the pump, nearly 30 percent plan to add it in the next one to two years. Few operators currently offer merchandise/foodservice ordering at the pump, but more than 34 percent report that they plan to add it in the future.
Current vs. Future Involvement in Technology Implemented
Plan to add
Digital monitors in-store
Digital loyalty program
EMV Compliance Despite being well past the April 2021 deadline that shifted outdoor EMV liability to convenience store and gas station operators, 58 percent of respondents are not yet fully EMV compliant at both their in-store POS and fuel pumps. More operators are EMV compliant in-store (77 percent) than at the pump (42 percent), but a majority of respondents say they have started the process for both. Just 11 percent of retailers say they have not begun the process at the POS, and 23 percent have not begun at their pumps. Among those not yet in full compliance, on average, approximately half of their networks are currently EMV compliant, and 60 percent expect to reach full compliance by the end of 2021. Thirteen percent expect to reach full compliance by the end of 2022, while 27 percent don’t expect to reach full compliance until sometime after 2022.
Digital monitors at pump
Data analytics platform
Text messaging to customers
Advertising/couponing at pump
The Ongoing Impact of COVID-19 The COVID-19 pandemic is commonly cited by industry observers as being a major contributor to increased rollout of contactless shopping options, but the reality is a bit more nuanced. Just 13 percent of retailers report that they sped up expansion and/or enhancement of
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CRM software Merchandise/foodservice ordering at pump
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existing contactless technology, delivery and curbside pickup options in response to the pandemic. However, 32 percent sped up implementation of new contactless technology, delivery and curbside pickup options; and 24 percent said the pandemic sparked their interest in exploring these options. Thirty-one percent stated that none of those options applied. Small and large operators had significantly different responses to the pandemic, though, possibly due to small operators having more limited resources to allocate to technology development overall. Just 4 percent of small operators sped up the expansion/enhancement of existing technology, compared to 21 percent of large operators; and 24 percent of small operators sped up implementation of new technology, compared to 38 percent of large operators. Additionally, a larger percentage of small operators (44 percent) reported that the pandemic did not impact their technology in any of the specified ways, vs. 21 percent of large operators.
Ordering & Fulfillment
Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Technology Development Total
Ninety-two percent of retailers that offer ordering via app also have website ordering, while just 69 percent of respondents that offer website ordering also offer ordering via app.
A third of respondents offer delivery, with 62 percent partnering with third-party delivery service DoorDash and 38 percent partnering with Uber Eats. Forty-seven percent of those without delivery said they plan to offer it in the future, while 53 percent have no plans to add delivery.
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13% 4% 21% 32%
Sped up implementation of new contactless technology, delivery and curbside pickup options
Sparked our interest in exploring contactless technology, delivery and curbside pickup options for the future
24% 28% 21% 31% 44%
None of the above 21%
EMV Compliance Compliance Status At POS
No, but started
No, and not started
Statistical significance at 95% level
Whatever the ordering method, 35 percent of respondents only allow customers to pick up their orders inside the store. Curbside pickup is offered by 41.3 percent of respondents. The availability of pumpside pickup saw a significant decline over the past year, going from 20.5 percent of respondents in 2020 to just 6.5 percent this year. This may indicate that out-of-store pickup options were associated with safety measures during the pandemic rather than standalone convenience, and are considered less necessary now following widespread reopening.
Sped up expansion and/ or enhancement of existing contactless technology, delivery and curbside pickup options
More than a third of convenience retailers currently offer mobile ordering via website, up from 19.6 percent a year ago, while just over a quarter offer mobile ordering via an app. Apps are likely to become the more popular option in the future, as 56 percent of respondents that don't currently offer ordering via app plan to do so in the future, while just 41 percent of those that don't offer ordering via website plan to add that in the future.
Statistical significance at 90% level
Expected Timing of Full EMV Compliance
End of 2022
Currently not fully EMV compliant at both POS and pump
End of 2021
Sometime after 2022
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Opportunities Driving Investment in Technologies in Coming Year
Payment Options A majority of retailers offer standard credit/debit and electronic benefits transfer (EBT) payment technologies, but they are increasingly considering alternative options. Looking ahead to the future, frictionless self-checkout technology is considered a top option as retailers look to give customers more control over their experience: 35 percent plan to add frictionless self-checkout using kiosks, 28 percent plan to add frictionless self-checkout using an app, and 35 percent plan to add frictionless self-checkout using AI/sensors.
Improve data security Employee training
Improve use of loyalty data
Compel customers from pump into store
Increase customer payment options
Better management of store labor expense
75% expect to spend more on technology this year than they did in 2020.
Half of respondents currently offer in-store mobile payment, but this is another option that is expected to increase over the next few years. Retailers significantly favor Near Field Communications (NFC) mobile payments over Quick Response (QR) mobile payments.
Provide better product/service information to customers
Optimize menu boards
On the forecourt, third-party mobile payment options such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are the second-most utilized payment technology following the ubiquitous credit/debit. A quarter of respondents indicate they plan to add third-party mobile payment in the future. Proprietary mobile payment is currently the least utilized payment technology at the pump, but 38 percent of retailers intend to add it in the future — more than any other option.
Loyalty Programs Just over half of respondents (52 percent) have a loyalty program, a figure that has held steady in recent years. More than seven in 10 of these operators describe their company's loyalty program as proprietary, marking the second straight year that such programs have outpaced those tied to a major oil brand.
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Better management of store level inventory/revenue
Integration of systems
Develop greater business intelligence and reporting capabilities
Provide store manager with decision tools
Developing personalized marketing capabilities
Mobile apps associated with loyalty programs continue to rise in popularity. Of the proprietary loyalty programs offered by c-store retailers, 29 percent are supported by a mobile app, 21 percent use a physical card, and 50 percent include both. Store locator is the most popular feature of the mobile apps, followed by money-saving elements such as vendor coupons, limited-time specials, and proprietary product coupons.
Social Media & Customer Feedback Eighty-five percent of convenience retailers utilize social media in their marketing plans. Facebook is by far the most popular platform used, followed by Twitter and Instagram. Companies primarily use social media to share content about promotions (cited by 91 percent) and events (77 percent). Social media posts about new vendor products, contests and community service initiatives are common as well. Despite the widespread use of social media, only 54 percent of respondents track feedback from customers, and most do so manually (64 percent), without the use of tools or programs other than Excel. This suggests that c-stores have room for improvement when it comes to streamlining the feedback pipeline and listening to their most vocal customers. CSN
The NACS Show Is Back The convenience store industry's premier expo is ready to resume course By Don Longo UNLESS THERE IS A MAJOR SETBACK in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 NACS Show will be open for business in October with few changes or restrictions compared to pre-COVID-19 exhibitions.
“Right now, the format and agenda for the 2021 NACS Show will be very similar to previous shows,” Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the industry's trade association, told Convenience Store News. The show is scheduled to be held at Chicago's McCormick Place on Oct. 5-8. Lenard assured CSNews that the association will continue to monitor everything show related, from transportation to hotels to the convention center's safety requirements. He pointed out that ”everything went smoothly” for the recently held World of Concrete show, which was held at McCormick Place June 8-10. ”That show is roughly the same-size expo as ours in both exhibitor space and attendance,” said Lenard. ”That's a really great sign.” One nod to the pandemic will be several COVID-19 related education sessions on the show's agenda. 116 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m
To help ensure safety, this year’s expo floor will have wider aisles to minimize traffic congestion and allow for social distancing.
“There's at least one session with 'COVID' in the title, and several other sessions allude to trends, such as home delivery, supply chain efficiency, new last-mile experiences, etc., that developed around the pandemic,” Lenard said. Other sessions will focus on the industry's current No. 1 challenge: the labor shortage. Another positive sign for the expo is that exhibitor space is more than 90 percent filled, and expectations are that show floor space will once again be sold out. Lenard expects more suppliers to sign up as travel restrictions at many companies expire in the third quarter of the year.
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Buyer attendance is tracking ahead of the last time the NACS Show was held in Chicago, which was October 2017. Although domestic buyer registration is up, Lenard said the association expects international attendance to be significantly below previous years' numbers due to the restrictions on international travel from countries still being heavily impacted by the virus.
One nod to the pandemic will be several COVID-19 related education sessions.
“I go to the show, no matter what,” said Jared Scheeler, CEO of Dickinson, N.D.based The Hub Convenience Stores Inc. ”The factors that make me want to be there are that I personally want to be a leading retailer. I also want to be a trailblazer. I want to experiment. It is easy to lose that inspiration. The NACS Show provides me inspiration on where I want to go with my business.” For those who are unable to attend, Lenard said, ”There will absolutely be some sort of post-show digital component,” but he also stated that there are no plans for the event to be a hybrid live/online show. Last year’s NACS Show was entirely virtual.
Commitment to Safety Safety is the top priority. “We have all kinds of protocols in place — even in normal years,” Lenard said. “We do 'what if' scenario planning every year to try to anticipate anything that might happen before it happens.” NACS has already taken steps to help ensure safety by building this year’s expo floor with wider aisles to minimize traffic congestion and allow for social distancing. Meeting rooms, general sessions, education sessions, workshops and public spaces will be configured according to the recommendations at the time of the show in October. As for a policy regarding attendee vaccinations, “we want everyone to be vaccinated, but we won't be asking attendees to provide proof of vaccination,” Lenard said. The facial masking policy is still evolving. NACS is closely monitoring health agency recommendations. Product sampling on the show floor will be slightly different as no self-serve sampling will be allowed.
NACS President & CEO Henry Armour anticipates a successful show.
According to the NACS Show website, as of press time, the association will implement and enforce protocols established by local and federal government agencies, which may include: • Encouraging social distancing in all common areas through signage and floor decals; • Face covering will likely be required; • Enhanced cleaning and sanitization with an emphasis on high traffic and touchpoint areas; and • Hand sanitizer stations located throughout the building and in every booth. NACS President and CEO Henry Armour anticipates a successful show. “Our industry is built upon connections — whether with loyal customers, dedicated coworkers, or suppliers who help us better our businesses,” said Armour. “And the NACS Show delivers those connections to new products and ideas that can help you see the future. I can't wait to see you in Chicago.” CSN
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The Myth of the Critical Female Boss Banishing this stereotype is a key step to advancing women to leadership roles
By Sarah Alter President & CEO Network of Executive Women
THE FORTUNE 500 for 2021 has yet again broken a record of more female CEOs than ever, carrying on last year’s trend in the same direction. Yet women still only make up 8.1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and one has to wonder what old biases might be continuing to contribute to this disparity.
The Myth of the Female Boss
We’ve all heard workplace myths — truths universally acknowledged about working in the corporate world. Based in feelings, not facts, they nestle deeply into workplace cultures and can be very difficult to uproot. Take the myth that remote employees are less productive, for example. Clearly disproven by research time and time again, and put to the ultimate test last year, this “myth” has no basis in fact. But it still has yet to be completely let go of in the wake of the pandemic.
Another possibility is that you expect a woman to manage in a softer way. According to a recent study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, both men and women react more negatively to criticism when it comes from a woman.
Another deeply ingrained myth — that women make “toxic” bosses — is also unfortunately still alive and well in our workplaces. Banishing it is a key step to advancing women to leadership roles.
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When critiqued by a woman in management, I sincerely hope your first reaction isn’t to lump her in with this problematic stereotype. It’s true that your boss may have poor management skills, or be unable to offer truly constructive criticism. That’s one possibility.
Your strong reaction to criticism could be rooted, if unconsciously, in old ideas about how women should use their voices.
Knowing how many women we lost from the workplace due to 2020’s “She-cession,” demolishing bias is more important now than it’s ever been. And it can be insidious, affecting our opinions of others even when we think we’re doing everything we can to be a good and supportive ally — and it can affect both women and men.
Fighting Bias First, take your temperature on the feedback itself. Examine how you would feel about it if it came from a male coworker at the same level as the woman who offered it. How would you feel? Would it seem less harsh? More par for the course?
Convenience Store News is pleased to continue this series of educational columns by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), coinciding with the annual CSNews Top Women in Convenience awards given out each fall. Seventy-four female managers, executives and directors who work in the convenience store industry are being honored in our 2021 program. In addition to being a presentation sponsor for the Top Women in Convenience program, NEW and CSNews have partnered to develop this series of columns directed at helping corporate leaders drive more inclusive company cultures. 2021 SPONSORS Founding & Presenting Sponsor:
This isn’t to say that all workplace behavior is appropriate, of course. True toxicity is poison to any workplace, and it’s worth analyzing whether the workplace around you is toxic in and of itself. Self-reflection doesn’t mean you should let bad behavior go unchecked; far from it. It just means a gut check is in order. Your strong reaction to criticism could be rooted, if unconsciously, in old ideas about how women should use their voices. For us all to push the cause of women forward, we must look inward and let go of the preconceptions that limit the potential for women to shine as leaders. CSN
Sarah Alter is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, a nonprofit learning, leadership and gender equality advocacy organization of 13,500 members (representing nearly 900 organizations), 300-plus national and regional corporate partners, and 22 regional groups in the United States and Canada. NEW advances gender equality and diversity in the retail, consumer goods, financial services and technology industries. Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.
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Foodservice First FriendShip Kitchen is making an impact in the competitive Columbus market By Don Longo
in convenience store foodservice are often focused on the largest chains. However, Tim Powell, managing principal of foodservice consulting firm FoodserviceIP, points out the real opportunity for growth lies among medium-sized chains that are aggressively increasing their foodservice profile and changing the way consumers think about c-store food.
THE GROWTH AND OPPORTUNITIES
At a Glance
FriendShip Kitchen Size: Two formats, 5,000 and 5,500 square feet Location: Columbus, Ohio Unique features: Restaurant-quality food, including FriendShip Famous Chicken; a spacious, modern retail environment; open kitchen; walk-in beer cave; touchfree airportstyle bathrooms
“Where is the growth? Mid-tier concepts that are growing their footprints,” Powell told Convenience Store News during a recent visit to the hypercompetitive Columbus, Ohio, market that includes Duchess Stores, GetGo, United Dairy Farmers, Speedway, Marathon and, most recently, Sheetz, which announced plans to open as many as 50 stores in the area. FriendShip, the retail division of Fremont, Ohio-based Beck Suppliers, represents the type of midsized retailer that is using foodservice and a strong corporate culture to differentiate itself and grow in this heartland market. The company, which also operates a thriving fuel distribution business to hundreds of independent dealers, a propane and heating oil division, a fuel transport
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business and a facilities division that builds and maintains fueling facilities and car washes, introduced its food-first FriendShip Kitchen brand concept in 2018. FriendShip Kitchen features restaurantquality food, including FriendShip Famous Chicken, fuel and a spacious modern retail environment, complete with a walk-in beer cave, open kitchen and touchfree airport-style bathrooms. FriendShip Kitchen now accounts for 15 of the retailer’s 28 stores, which stretch from the shores of Lake Erie, from Toledo to Cleveland. “Culture is the most important thing to our company. The key is getting the culture right,” said FriendShip President Greg Ehrlich, who sat down with CSNews at the company’s store in Lewis Center, about 20 miles north of downtown Columbus. Ehrlich, an industry veteran who previously served in leadership positions with Duchess Shoppes and Certified Oil, said FriendShip is focused on three main things: “Culture, brand, and data analytics.” Note that he listed culture first. Since
FriendShip President Greg Ehrlich presents store manager Kim Branham with the company’s prestigious 2021 Golden Chicken Award.
2012, the company’s mantra has been WACS, short for Wicked Awesome Customer Service. Under its employee recognition program, FriendShip hosts can win tickets to events and prizes valued at up to $1,500 for providing WACS. During CSNews’ visit, Ehrlich presented store manager Kim Branham with the company’s prestigious 2021 Golden Chicken Award. Branham has worked for FriendShip for 21 years, previously serving as general manager at stores in New Haven and Sandusky, Ohio. “Kim’s selflessness to move to Columbus to bring our culture to a new market has led to incredible results,” said Ehrlich. “Our guests rave about our food and service the same in this market as they do across our legacy market in northern Ohio.” Branham proudly showed off hundreds of sneaker stickers on her store’s walls denoting donations made by customers to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). “There’s a reason our name is FriendShip,” said Ehrlich, noting that the third-generation company’s co-owners Brian and Dean Beck have always placed a high priority on giving back to the community. The Beck family is noted for its philanthropy in the state of Ohio. The company donates and raises more than $500,000 annually, with its showcase event being a JDRF Poker Run, headed up by Kevin Campbell, director of operations. “This is our 12th annual JDRF Poker Run and we will raise over $50,000 this year,” noted Campbell. “We are so proud of all the company employees and their families who donate their time to make this event such a success.”
Building the Brand As Powell pointed out, midsized convenience retailers are really taking a strong position with foodservice. And that’s certainly the case with FriendShip. Through word of mouth and strategic brand marketing, the retailer has established a name for itself and for
its famous chicken (both regular and spicy), thick-cut fries and savory-crust pizza, Ehrlich said. In 2017, the company brought in former Wawa foodservice executive Ed Burcher to develop the FriendShip Kitchen concept. “Originally, we started with a conventional frozen chicken product from a traditional convenience store supplier, but we decided that if we are going to build this concept around FriendShip Famous Chicken, we would sell fresh, hand-battered chicken,” Ehrlich recalled. Kirk Matthews, formerly of TravelCenters of America, succeeded Burcher in April 2020. An established operations executive with a personable and values-driven leadership style, Matthews is now bringing his experience to expanding the Kitchen concept. Adding to the company’s experienced executive leadership team, Justin Jeffers was recently hired as vice president of fuel supply and logistics. Beck Suppliers was founded in 1950 by Virgil Beck, who sold fuel to farmers. Brothers Brian and Dean now run the company with three fourth-generation family members: Olivia Beck, Chelsea Carvalho and Luiz Carvalho, who are learning the business from the ground up. Ehrlich said FriendShip plans to continue its expansion. A new FriendShip Kitchen store is due to open soon in Marysville, a suburb northwest of Columbus. “We want to be Ohio’s No. 1 convenience store,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we want to be the biggest. Our goal is to be Ohio’s best in all of our core business divisions.” Asked about the company’s biggest challenge, Ehrlich is less worried about the intense competition in the market than he is about maintaining the workplace culture. “We don’t want to outgrow the culture,” he said. CSN S E P T E MBE R
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From the most established brand in the convenience store retailer space comes one of the highest honors in the industry: the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame. This is a must-attend gala event with some of the most inﬂuential retailers and suppliers in the c-store industry in attendance, honoring some of the industry’s most admired retailer and supplier executives.
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INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND
Serving the Customer Fueled by the pandemic, the world of c-store services has significantly expanded “Checking out” used to mean one thing: waiting in line, going up to a register staffed by an employee, and paying for the goods you wanted to purchase. Today, “checking out” has multiple meanings in the convenience store space: it can mean mobile ordering/payment and picking up goods curbside; it can mean online ordering/payment and getting goods delivered; it can mean self-checkout at an in-store kiosk; it can mean contactless checkout powered by sensors placed throughout the store; and the list goes on and on. Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways in which c-stores serve the customer have significantly expanded. The 2021 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed 1,500-plus consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month, uncovered the following insights around c-store services:
Convenience store shoppers are almost equally split when it comes to checkout at a register with human interaction vs.
53% At register with human interaction
Preferred Checkout Method
self-checkout with no interaction. Human interaction gets a slight edge.
of shoppers regularly use at least one expanded service at convenience stores
Usage of Specific Services at Convenience Stores ATM
Curbside pickup 6%
Nearly six in 10 c-store shoppers regularly use at least one “expanded service” at convenience stores. ATM and car wash continue to be mainstays in the channel, but newer services such as self-checkout, mobile payment and drive-thru round out the top five.
Consumers give strong satisfaction scores to all the services offered at c-stores, with contactless checkout using AI sensors topping the list at 90% very satisfied or satisfied. Very satisfied/satisfied Neutral Very unsatisfied/unsatisfied
146 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Satisfaction Using Service at Convenience Stores Contactless using AI sensors Order online, pickup in-store Mobile coupon/discount
Order online, pickup curbside
Mobile pay at pump
Mobile pay in-store
Contactless using kiosk
Contactless using app
17% 16% 16%
3% 5% 7%
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