CSN September 2023

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It’s a We Thing

Convenience Store News is seeking more partners for its diversity and inclusion initiative

EARLIER THIS YEAR, I had the pleasure of conducting a live Q&A session with inclusion strategist and author Amri B. Johnson, host of the Reconstructing Inclusion podcast. During our chat, Amri shared a wealth of knowledge, insights and advice on how to become “a future-fit organization” by investing in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) beyond just “window dressing.”

Four little words that Amri uttered during our hourlong conversation stuck with me the most: “It’s a we thing.” He spoke about how some organizations unintentionally create an us-versus-them dynamic when implementing DEI initiatives. Rather than creating belonging, companies can create “othering” for those within the organization who may feel like their identity isn’t relevant at that particular time. Instead, the goal is to identify DEI as a we thing by empowering all races, genders, orientations and ability levels to become their best selves.

“Replace us and them with we,” Amri said. “Make sure everybody understands that DEI is everyone and that we can put things in place that create the conditions for everyone. Everyone has a unique situation, but we can always create those conditions for everyone to thrive.”

Here at Convenience Store News, we also see DEI as a we thing.

Since June 2021, CSNews has been spearheading an industrywide initiative to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders in the convenience channel around diversity and inclusion. The


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

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

2023 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards

Silver, Data Journalism, January/April/June 2022

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

Bronze, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, March 2022

2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards

Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015

Bronze, Best Original Research, June 2015

2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Silver, Best Original Research, June 2015

platform is designed to be a catalyst for discussion, innovation, engagement and action.

Now, in our third year, we are focused on increasing participation in the initiative and achieving industrywide engagement that reaches all corners of the convenience channel — single-store owners, small operators, large operators, distributors, suppliers and solution providers.

To accomplish this, we are establishing three new steering committees around key DEI issues:

• Membership & Communication

• Minority Owned Supplier Initiative

• Training

CSNews is currently recruiting 10 to 12 members for each steering committee. These groups will meet quarterly and help identify industry best practices, develop programming, assist c-store retailers and distributors in achieving greater supplier diversity, and more.

Anyone interested in joining one of the steering committees should contact me at llisanti@ensembleiq.com. Any companies interested in underwriting opportunities should contact CSNews Brand Director Paula Lashinsky at plashinsky@ensembleiq.com.

Together, WE can create an industry where everyone is able to thrive.

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

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

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

2020 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine

Business to Business, Retail, Series of Articles, September 2019

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Business to Business, Retail, Website

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Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, May 2017

Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, June 2016

2016 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine

Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2015

Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, August 2015


Laura Aufleger OnCue Express

Billy Colemire Stinker Stores

Robert Falciani ExtraMile Convenience Stores

Jim Hachtel Core-Mark

Chris Hartman Rutter’s

Faheem Jamal CPD Energy Corp./ Chestnut Markets

Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments LLC

Vito Maurici McLane Co. Inc.

Jonathan Polonsky Plaid Pantries Inc.

Greg Scriver Kwik Trip Inc.

Tony Sparks Curby’s Express Market

Roy Strasburger StrasGlobal

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 SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 3

NACS Show Reflects a Changing Industry

There’s no better place to explore the many trends impacting the c-store business

AS THE CONVENIENCE STORE industry gathers next month in Atlanta for the 2023 NACS Show, I’m thinking about how much the business has changed from a few short years ago, specifically pre-COVID.

It is true that most of the strict mandates such as mandatory masking and vaccination requirements are over and, for the c-store industry at least, sales are back to normal. The industry reached a new revenue high last year, according to the annual Convenience Store News Industry Report. However, increased operating expenses in the form of labor costs and credit card transaction fees continue to eat away at the bottom line. This is no time for complacency.

An article I read recently in the Harvard Business Review pointed out how the pandemic played havoc with the labor market. “Working under the weight of chronic stress, financial insecurity and collective grief forced people to work harder and longer to get to the same goals. We became exhausted, self-efficacy decreased, and cynicism grew. It’s no wonder that people eventually hit the wall. But it was still shocking when nearly half of the global workforce said, almost simultaneously, ‘I quit!’”

Those labor challenges continue to have adverse effects on every link in the supply chain, even as American businesses try to put COVID behind them. Another trend impacting the c-store business that appears here to stay is the work-from-home phenomenon. The shift toward more hybrid work arrangements appears to be sustainable. This trend has had a major impact on daypart sales at convenience stores. The morning rush is now a more sustained queue of customers throughout the day.

Whatever your thoughts on diversity and inclusion, there’s also no getting around the fact that employees today demand a fairer workplace environment. A recent Gartner study noted that “organizations need to go beyond policies and develop philosophies” to hold on to good employees in the years ahead.

The NACS Show is a great place to explore these and other trends affecting your business. There are too many educational sessions for me to list them all here (more than 45 in total), but some of the most important topics being covered revolve around menu development in foodservice, cultivating an employee-centric culture, engaging customers through digital innovation, and the future of fuel retailing and the impact of electric vehicles.

This will be my 18th NACS Show. I intend to sit in on as many education sessions as possible, along with taking advantage of the networking events where I can pick the brains of some of the smartest people in the convenience store business.

I hope to see you at this year’s show.

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

4 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Increased operating expenses in the form of labor costs and credit card transaction fees continue to eat away at the bottom line. This is no time for complacency.
©2023 W r d s u r , ff ri g t r f rr d t g ri s d di g br ds t driv ur s s d r fit gr wt . t t ur r r s t tiv , +1 800 241 OKE, r visit www. . Visit us at the 2023 NACS Show, booth #B3115 REFRESHMENT RUNS IN THE FAMILY



34 Readying for the Future Momentum around electric vehicle charging is building in the c-store industry.


46 Ups & Downs

So far, 2023 is bringing a hodgepodge of results for key c-store product categories.


116 The New Convenience Imperative Delivery, pickup and drive-thru are quickly becoming necessities for the convenience channel.



3 It’s a We Thing Convenience Store News is seeking more partners for its diversity and inclusion initiative.


4 NACS Show Reflects a Changing Industry

There’s no better place to explore the many trends impacting the c-store business.

10 CSNews Online

22 New Products


28 But What About the Squirrels?

How to rid your business of unwanted visitors that are keeping legitimate customers away.


126 Sustaining an Inclusive Workplace

Chevron’s Neurodiverse Hiring Program benefits both the employees and the company.


130 Driving Forward

GetGo’s new drive-thru location provides a convenient option for customers on the move.


162 Making the Most of Every Visit

C-store shoppers point to deals as a top influencer in their pump-to-store decision.

CONTENTS SEPT 23 VOLUME 59 NUMBER 9 6 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
28 COVER STORY PAGE 34 130 22


Reach Acquisition Deal for 63 Stores

14 FDA’s Rule Over Premium Cigars Hits Judicial Roadblock

16 Fast Facts

18 Retailer Tidbits

20 Supplier Tidbits

21 Eye on Growth

21 Murphy USA & QuickChek Reap Benefits From PostIntegration Synergies


54 The Lowdown on the FDA Crackdown Convenience store operators must be in the know to avoid selling disposable e-cigarettes illegally.


60 Putting Foodservice Center Stage Highlights from the 2023 Convenience Foodservice Exchange event in Nashville, Tenn.


84 In Recovery Mode Product shortages and inflation are impacting the high-profit HBC category at c-stores.


96 Innovations in Car Washing Upgraded equipment, automation, subscriptions and truck washes are creating higher-end experiences for customers.


106 Customer Obsessed Convenience Store News’ 2023 Technology Leader of the Year, bp, embraces innovative tech solutions to meet the changing needs of the motoring public.

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Paula Lashinsky (917) 446-4117 - plashinsky@ensembleiq.com


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EXECUTIVE EDITOR Melissa Kress mkress@ensembleiq.com

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ASSOCIATE EDITOR Amanda Koprowski akoprowski@ensembleiq.com

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR EMERITUS Don Longo dlongo@ensembleiq.com


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8 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com CONTENTS SEPT 23 VOLUME 59 NUMBER 9
ROUNDUP 12 Casey’s & EG America
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 2023 by EnsembleIQ. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Convenience Store News, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr
The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the consent of the publisher. The publisher is not responsible for product claims and representations. CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS AFFILIATIONS Premier Trade Press Exhibitor
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Buc-ee’s to Take Legal Action Against Apparent Imitator

The retailer announced that it would protect its brand after a photo of Buk-II’s Super Mercado in Mexico went viral this summer. The store’s logo features a variation of the famous beaver wearing a red hat against a yellow circle depicted in Buc-ee’s logo.

Buc-ee’s Plans First Ohio Location


A 75,000-square-foot Buc-ee’s store will be built on a 35-acre site in Huber Heights, a suburb of Dayton, according to local news reports. The location, situated at the northeast intersection of Interstate 70 and State Route 235, will also feature a diesel repair facility.

FDA Issues Warnings to Distributors for Selling Illegal Disposable Vapor Products

The illegal products listed in the letters include e-cigarette products Elf Bar/EB Design, Esco Bars and Puff Max, the former two of which have been the focus of earlier FDA actions on retailers aimed at cutting down on illegal sales of youth-appealing tobacco products.

Wawa Tests All-Digital Convenience Store

Located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, the shelfless format provides touchscreens for customers to place their orders, which are then retrieved by Wawa associates from behind the counter. Customers may also place orders at the store via the Wawa app.

Kum & Go Unveils New Personalized Digital Experience

Its new mobile app and &Rewards program feature an all-new personalized interface customized to display unique information relevant to each customer. This includes the ability to designate a favorite Kum & Go store location and shopping recommendations based on past activity.


Rising prices due to ongoing inflation are causing many consumers to socialize and celebrate at home, presenting the opportunity for convenience stores to capture a larger share of off-premise alcoholic beverage sales. In this special “Deep Dive” report, a bonus supplement to the Convenience Store News 2023 Industry Report, we present exclusive data and insights into the beer, wine and liquor categories at convenience stores. For more exclusive stories, visit the Special Features section of csnews.com.


Flipz State Fair Flavors

Five Tips for Creating a Successful Bakery Program

A vital component of every convenience store foodservice program is the bakery case, which offers customers an everyday treat, at any time of day — a morning pick-me-up, an afternoon snack or a late night treat, writes Alyssa Barrett, customer marketing manager, convenience channel, for Rich Products Corp. “The Future of Fresh Bakery” study from Rich Products revealed that 31 percent of consumers say they’re purchasing more baked goods for an “anytime treat” now vs. previously. To succeed with bakery, five key recommendations for retailers are: know your shopper; create ambiance; offer variety; co-locate impulse drivers; and leverage loyalty.

Pladis introduces two new flavors to its Flipz chocolate-covered pretzel brand inspired by traditional state fair snacks: Strawberry Shortcake and Churros. Strawberry Shortcake Flipz balance salty and sweet, with pretzels coated in a fresh strawberry, sweet cream and buttery cake flavored coating. Churros Flipz are covered in a cinnamon sugar churro-flavored coating and drizzled with milk chocolate. The limited-edition flavors are available through September while supplies last.

Flipz Stamford, Conn. flipz.com

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE 1 3 4 5 10 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Contact your Tyson Foodservice Representative or visit tysonfoodservice.com for product info, resources and market-relevant solutions backed by our trusted brands.

Casey’s & EG America Reach Acquisition Deal for 63 Stores

CASEY’S GENERAL STORES INC. is adding 63 convenience stores in Kentucky and Tennessee to its network via an acquisition. The stores, which currently operate under the Minit Mart and Certified Oil banners, are owned by EG America.

The retailers expect the transaction to close later this year subject to customary regulatory approvals. No dollar amount for the deal was publicly released.

“One of the key pillars in our strategic plan is to accelerate our store growth over the next three years and bring Casey’s to more communities. This opportunity is an excellent strategic fit as we look to add locations in Kentucky and Tennessee, which are both within our existing distribution footprint,” said Casey’s President and CEO Darren Rebelez.

“We look forward to serving more guests in these markets and welcoming the team members from this transaction into the Casey’s family,” he added.

Casey’s is expected to retain the impacted employees at each store.

“We have built a strong and successful business over the years in these Certified Oil and Minit Mart stores, and we are proud of the hard work and dedication shown by our team members there,” said EG America President Nick Unkovic. “Casey’s is an excellent operator, and we believe these stores and team members will continue to thrive under their ownership.”

Westborough, Mass.-based EG America is a subsidiary of the U.K.-based EG Group.

EG Group acquired the 200-plus-store Minit Mart chain from TravelCenters of America in 2018 for $330.8 million. Six months later, the company acquired 69 Certified Oil-branded sites in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.

“EG Group is pleased to have found a new home for some of our Certified Oil and Minit Mart portfolio. This divestment will enable both parties to execute their strategic plans, respectively. For EG Group, this divestment also represents another important step in executing our deleveraging strategy,” added Zuber Issa, cofounder and co-CEO of EG Group.

Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s operates more than 2,500 convenience stores in the United States.

INDUSTRY ROUNDUP 12 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
The transaction is comprised of Minit Mart and Certified Oil sites in Kentucky and Tennessee
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FDA’s Rule Over Premium Cigars Hits Judicial Roadblock

The Aug. 9 decision brings an end to a seven-year legal battle

THE U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION’s (FDA) attempt to regulate premium cigars under its 2016 deeming rule has gone up in smoke. On Aug. 9, Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that vacates the agency’s deeming regulations that pertain to premium cigars.

As a result of the ruling, the regulation is cancelled or declared null and void, according to the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO).

Mehta issued the decision in a lawsuit filed by the Cigar Association of America (CAA), the Premium Cigar Association and the Cigar Rights of America, bringing an end to a seven-year legal battle. Following the ruling, cigars that meet the definition of a “premium cigar” will not be regulated by the FDA.

“This is a big victory for cigar enthusiasts across America. The evidence clearly showed the public would receive little benefit resulting from FDA regulation of premium cigars.

Moreover, regulation would add burdensome costs to all premium cigar manufacturers, which cannot be justified,” said CAA President David Ozgo.

The move comes one year after Mehta issued a ruling that the FDA’s decision to include premium cigars in the deeming regulations to exert regulatory authority over these products was arbitrary and capricious. In July 2022, the judge said the FDA failed to consider data submitted to it concerning the use of premium cigars and the health effects of such use.

Based on that decision, Mehta needed to determine whether to vacate those portions of the deeming regulation that regulated premium cigars or send the issue back to the FDA to correct the deficiencies in the provisions of the deeming regulations related to premium cigars.

As a result of Mehta’s decision to vacate those portions of the rule related to premium cigars, the FDA does not have an opportunity to correct the deeming regulations. The agency has 60 days to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, NATO said.

14 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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Two out of three convenience store retailers (66 percent) reported that their sales for the first seven months of 2023 were higher than their sales during the same period in 2022.



Buy some, get some and coupon deals were among the most popular retail foodservice outlet deal types, growing 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively, in the first quarter of 2023.

— Circana


In a recent survey, 45 percent of Americans expressed concern over electric vehicle charging accessibility, while 41 percent cited affordability as their priority when finding a charger.

— PDI Technologies

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Retailer Tidbits

Casey’s General Stores Inc. hit a milestone of providing 30 million meals through its partnership with Feeding America since joining forces in 2020. The retailer’s annual roundup at the register campaign supports the nonprofit organization.

Wawa Inc. expanded its dinner menu with the introduction of Wawa Pizza. The chain started rolling out pizza to select stores in early June and, as of late July, had completed the launch at more than 900 locations across the Mid-Atlantic and Florida.

Circle K and lottery app Jackpocket expanded their partnership to Massachusetts. As part of the Bay State launch, Jackpocket offered Circle K customers their first lottery ticket on the app for free.

Love’s Travel Stops also awarded 96 diesel technicians and mechanics more than $520,000 in lifetime achievement bonuses for reaching career milestones in billed repair labor.

Love’s Truck Care and Speedco recently celebrated the landmark of having 300 diesel technicians graduate from Love’s Truck Care Academy since its launch in April 2022. Love’s plans to double the number of diesel technician graduates over the next year.

7-Eleven Inc. introduced the Convenience Tour, an array of golf-inspired merchandise for fans of the brand who want to look good and feel good when hitting the range. Items include shirts, hats, golf balls and golf tees.

The Wills Group’s Dash In stores selected GSP to provide retail marketing services to the chain’s 55 locations. The program will use GSP’s AccuStore to deliver point-ofpurchase and in store-specific shipments with marketing guides tailored to the needs of each store.

18 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com INDUSTRY ROUNDUP
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Supplier Tidbits

Anheuser-Busch reached an agreement to sell eight beer and beverage brands to Tilray Brands Inc. Included in the deal are Shock Top, Breckenridge Brewery, Blue Point Brewing Co., 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Redhook Brewery, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Square Mile Cider Co. and HiBall Energy.

Altria Group teamed up with Stuzo to launch the tobacco company’s Digital Trade Program (DTP) and Altria Personalization Plus (P+) offerings for retailers, which include different personalized tiers that can integrate loyalty programs with identity verification.

NCR Corp. unveiled the names for the two companies that will form after its planned separation: NCR Voyix for its digital commerce business and NCR Atleos for its ATM business. The spinoff is expected to occur during the fourth quarter of 2023.

PDI Technologies acquired Skupos, a platform that connects independent convenience stores and consumer packaged goods brands. The move gives the company access to performance and activation at more than 25,000 independent sites.

Core-Mark International is relaunching Core-Mark Curated. As a key component of its Center of Excellence, the initiative serves as a startup accelerator and incubation program.

Juul Labs Inc. submitted a premarket tobacco application for its next-generation vapor platform to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The updated device uses technology to restrict both underage use and counterfeit pods.

20 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com INDUSTRY ROUNDUP
The sale also includes four production facilities and eight brewpubs across the United States.

Eye on Growth

MAPCO Express Inc. welcomed customers at its second checkout-free store. Located in Nashville, Tenn., the convenience store is powered by Grabango Inc.

QuikTrip Corp. has two locations under construction in Laredo, Texas, which are expected to open during February and March 2024. Both sites will be part of the retailer’s remote travel center network.

Buc-ee’s will break ground in 2024 on its first Louisiana store and begin operations in the city of Ruston in 2025. The planning process moved forward after the state legislature earmarked money for infrastructure construction to accommodate the site development.

Royal Farms opened its third location in North Carolina in New Bern at the end of July. The first two locations opened in Grandy and Greenville earlier in the year. Lumberton, Kinston and Jacksonville, N.C., locations will be opening later this year.

GPM Investments LLC, an ARKO Corp. subsidiary, opened a new Pride convenience store in South Windsor, Conn., earlier this summer. Sitting at 4,860 square feet, the site features a Chester’s Chicken alongside proprietary food offerings.

Rusty Lantern Market opened the doors to its third New Hampshire location — the 26th store in the company’s roster and its eighth store opening within the last 12 months. The 4,200-square-foot location includes a full kitchen and indoor and outdoor seating.

Murphy USA & QuickChek Reap Benefits From Post-Integration Synergies

Product innovation and promotions are driving bigger baskets across both chains

MORE THAN TWO YEARS after acquiring Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek Corp. for $645 million, Murphy USA Inc. is seeing significant benefits across the enterprise, President and CEO Andrew Clyde shared during the company’s earnings call in August.

Not only did QuickChek stores post record food and beverage sales during the second quarter of 2023 with record margin months in May and June, but the company is also yielding positive results from product and menu innovation along with enhanced promotional and marketing activities to help improve store performance. “The combined learnings of both companies are coalescing into sustainable and material performance drivers of the business,” Clyde said.

He noted that the QuickChek store format is the perfect test-and-learn environment to identify high-potential products that strongly overlap with Murphy USA customers. By developing products in partnership with wellknown national brands, the retailer is able to drive traffic and build baskets.

Murphy USA continues to innovate in its growing core categories, where the made-to-order

QuickChek menu is being realigned with consumer insights and fresh product preferences. This will lead to the introduction of new signature sandwiches in the second half of 2023.

El Dorado, Ark.-based Murphy USA’s total network comprises more than 1,500 stations primarily in the Southwest, Southeast, Midwest and Northeast regions of the United States.

SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 21
The store’s forecourt features six multiple product dispensers with 12 fuel pumps, two diesel dispensers with four fuel pumps, and five high-flow diesel dispensers with 10 fuel pumps.

MamaMancini’s On-The-Go Cups

MamaMancini’s On-The-Go Cups is a new line of fully cooked and microwave-ready meals. They come in five varieties that are intended to tap into the nostalgic meals made by grandma: Beef Meatballs, Turkey Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore, Sausage & Peppers, and Beef & Rice. According to the company, the recipes are all-natural, preservative and soy free, and contain no artificial ingredients. The packaging provides a 21-day shelf life from thaw. A refrigerated Feta & Olive Salad variety is also available. The 10-ounce cups, or two servings, come with a suggested retail price of $5.99.


Seagram’s Escapes Cocktails Margarita Variety Pack

Seagram’s Escapes introduces a 12-pack of margarita-inspired flavored malt beverages with its new Cocktails Margarita Variety Pack. The offering is intended to take advantage of the skinny margarita trend, which is up 51 percent over the last four years, according to the company. The variety pack includes Strawberry, Watermelon, Classic Lime and Prickly Pear flavors. Seagram’s Escapes Cocktails Margaritas contain just 100 calories per 12-ounce slim can.


Hi-Soft Salted Caramel Chews

Morinaga America Inc., the official distributor of Hi-Chew, is bringing Hi-Soft Salted Caramel Chews to the United States. A long-time favorite in Japan, the product has a sweet, velvety texture with a rich flavor balanced by a hint of salt. Hi-Soft Salted Caramel Chews will begin to roll out to select retailers nationwide in the fall of 2023. The candy will be offered in a 3-ounce peg bag for a suggested retail price of $3.59 or a 10.59-ounce standup pouch for a suggested retail price of $7.69. Prices will vary depending upon the market.


White Cheddar Harvest Snaps

Calbee’s Harvest Snaps adds a cheesy addition to its lineup of veggie snacks: White Cheddar. These new baked crisps combine the creamy, mellow taste of white cheddar with farm-picked green peas milled whole in-house, which are the first ingredient for maximum nutrition, according to the company. The plant-based snacks are packed with 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per serving. They are free of artificial flavors, preservatives and common allergens such as gluten, wheat, soy, nuts, peanuts and eggs. White Cheddar Harvest Snaps are available in a 3-ounce bag.


Heinz Remix Sauce Dispenser

Kraft Heinz Co.’s foodservice division debuts Heinz Remix, a customizable and IoT-enabled digital sauce dispenser that allows consumers to personalize their own flavor creations. Developed in six months from initial brief to the physical product, the dispenser can create more than 200 potential sauce combinations. The freestanding machine is touchscreen operated with a selection of bases that can be personalized further with one or more enhancers, such as jalapeño or mango, and set to a customer’s preferred intensity level (low, medium or high). The Heinz Remix dispenser will begin rolling out via a pilot program starting in late 2023 to early 2024.


NEW PRODUCTS 22 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

Building Long-Term Revenue Through Loyalty

C-store retailers can create personalized programs by leveraging data across the engagement ecosystem

DATA HAS BECOME the name of the game when it comes to competing successfully in the convenience arena. But chalking up a win won’t happen if you play that game using existing data alone. Collecting data throughout the engagement ecosystem, segmenting it and then creating personalized loyalty programs aimed at building longterm revenue are all key steps in scoring successfully.

“Twenty years ago, data capture was done by knowing your customers personally. The operator knew who came in everyday, what brand of soft drink they liked to buy, and often knew the names of their customers’ kids,” said Roy Strasburger, CEO of StrasGlobal, a provider of contract operations for gas stations and convenience stores, and cofounder of The Vision Group Network, an organization that brings together industry leaders in quarterly virtual meetings to create a knowledge base of experience and innovative ideas.

“This still holds true for owners and operators of single stores. But if you have multiple stores, more sophisticated loyalty programs have become necessary to maximize your sales and profit potential,” he noted. “The better you know your customer, the better you can meet their needs.”

Data Capture Strategies

There are several strategies convenience store retailers can use to capture data, according to Bonnie Woods, senior strategist at Paytronix, a provider of SaaS

customer experience management (CXM) solutions for c-stores and restaurants.

This includes surveys, which deliver qualitative data; loyalty programs and technology, which offer key metrics “especially when a seamless customer experience enables brands to engage through digital channels”; and social media, which Woods said many Paytronix brand partners use “to connect with guests and build a more robust data set for each customer.”

Whichever strategy retailers employ, data-gathering should be a gradual process, Strasburger stressed.

“Having a long profile data entry for someone to fill out when downloading the app is annoying and may lead to people abandoning the registration process.  The best idea is a registration protocol that only asks for the information that is crucial for your method of communication — text or email, for example — and, if you are doing online payment, payment information,” he said. “As the customer uses the app, ask an additional question every two or three interactions to gain demographic and preference data. This will allow you to build a robust profile over time without creating friction with the customer.”

Insights from the January 2023 report, “CLVG Currents of Change” — the first in a series of reports from the Convenience Leaders Vision Group (CLVG) — support

SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 23 Sponsored by

that advice. The inaugural meeting of the CLVG brought together c-store industry leaders to discuss a broad range of topics impacting convenience retailing today.

“While there was no defined limit as to how much [information to ask for] is too much, everyone agreed that you have to be sensitive to overreaching,” Strasburger relayed.

Offering incentives is one approach that can enhance the data-capture process.

“With any loyalty program, it is critical that guests are incentivized to identify themselves on every transaction, so marketers can build a complete guest profile,” Woods said.

Strasburger echoed this, stating that “customers are transaction-oriented — they will give us something if we give them something in return.”

Providing rewards and recognition to loyal customers without giving away something they already planned to pay for, he added, is the challenge.

“The loyalty perks should be items that provide either intangible rewards, such as recognition or experiences which drive an ‘emotional’ loyalty; offer the opportunity to upsell the customer such as a discount on a drink that is larger than the one they normally buy; or introduce the purchase of an item that is not part of their normal buying pattern — ‘if you like this, then you will probably like this,’” Strasburger explained.

Points of Engagement

Deciding how you’ll capture information about your customers is one step in playing the data game; figuring out when to connect with customers and what to ask at various points in the engagement ecosystem is another.

“The two critical phases are registration and the first halfdozen interactions,” said Strasburger, who stressed that the initial point of engagement should be as frictionless as possible and immediately rewarding. “Any type of friction — multiple screens to navigate, multiple questions to answer, manual data to enter, security codes,

passwords at each step of the way — will reduce the likelihood that the customer will use the app, even if they are shopping with you.”

Woods said the points of engagement should depend on the retailer’s goals at any given time. “On the business side, c-store brands should look at their strategic priorities and then look to loyalty as a way to build the data they’ll need to reach these goals,” she advised.

Stores with “somewhat less mature” loyalty programs should make sure the data is mapped to communicating the core program value, Woods noted. “And if the concern is customer lifecycle management, then the program data collection should focus on those problem areas that could negatively affect retention, acquisition or engagement.”

Maintaining engagement throughout the ecosystem in ways that help retailers achieve their goals without burdening customers is another challenge, according to Strasburger.

“Promotions and benefits need to be new and fresh,” he said, noting that one solution is to create a tiered program that provides additional benefits the more the app is used. For example, convenience store chain Texas Born (TXB) uses silver, gold and platinum levels, each one with a benefit multiplier or special access to individualized deals, Strasburger explained.

Segmenting the Data

Once operators have data in hand, they must analyze and organize it in ways that will help them build out and maintain an effective loyalty program.

“It’s really about using the data to make better decisions,” Woods said. “If you’ve collected data about purchasing habits, then you can cluster by items and categories and, through that, understand what a person is likely to purchase next or what their best category is. This can help drive them to new categories and increase basket size.”

Recency/frequency/monetary value (RFM) — a datadriven segmentation technique that can reveal when a customer’s last purchase was, how often they’ve purchased in the past, and how much they’ve spent overall — is another strategy that can help c-store retailers understand shopping cadence and overall customer lifetime value, she said.

“We also can understand whether a buyer is driven by merchandise, like coffee or snacks, or if they’re coming in for gas and making a purchase as a secondary action,” she added. “Then, there is the lifecycle of the customer, so we can understand whether they’re in the nurturing phase, an active member, or lapsed … and finally, we want to know what channels they’re using, so we can drive adoption of additional channels. For example, if a person is only shopping in the store, how do we move them to the mobile app? How can that drive additional revenue?”

Demographic information such as age, gender and zip

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code are the segments Strasburger is most interested in. “This can be married to the purchase history when your customer gives you their loyalty number to provide insight into the customer basket and the demographics associated with the purchase,” he said. “If this is done well, it can surprise the owner as to who their real customers actually are and shed a bright light on their buying habits and patterns.”

Best-in-Class Connections

How are successful convenience store operators using data to connect with customers and build long-term loyalty — and long-term revenue — in the process?

According to Woods, the best brands marry qualitative and quantitative data sets to personalize the guest experience. “Top brands focus more on reinforcing good behavior vs. focusing too heavily on generating net new behavior,” she explained. “It’s really about engaging with guests where they are, offering them choice and value in their preferred categories, and building deep relationships that increase customer lifetime value.”

The U-Drive Plus program from United Dairy Farmers (UDF) is one example of a loyalty program that has evolved significantly and successfully since its launch as a fuel rewards program more than 10 years ago. In fact, it took the top spot for the gas stations category in Newsweek’s “America’s Best Loyalty Programs” for 2023.

Today, the core of U-Drive Plus consists of everyday cents off, fuel rewards, U-Drive Plus pricing and market basket savings for all members. Registered members who provide more personal information enjoy additional perks, such as birthday rewards, weekly app freebies, targeted offers, and a low-price lock that automatically rolls back the price they pay to the lowest fuel price of the day.

These features drive customers in from the fuel pump to the c-store because “people don’t want to leave savings on the table,” Denise Jenkins, vice president of marketing, insights and loyalty for UDF, told Convenience Store News. “Often, if you can get them to come for gas, you can get them for something else.”

Flying J — No. 1 in the convenient stores category in Newsweek’s best loyalty programs ranking — is another retailer taking a creative approach to collecting data.

“When they launched their loyalty program, they offered every new member the chance to win $10,000 in their ‘Trace Adkins Ride for Rewards’ cash giveaway as a signup bonus,” said Strasburger. He called this “a great motivator to initiate action.”

Playing the data game in a way that builds robust loyalty programs is key for c-stores that want to thrive today — something Strasburger predicts will be even more imperative as society moves into what is certain to be an increasingly technology-driven future.

“Store loyalty programs are going to become more important with the growing use of electric vehicles. No longer will customers be fuel brand centric. It will be all about the store,” he concluded. “A good loyalty program will help a retailer stand out from the competition.” CSN

Tips for Playing the Loyalty Data Game

Looking for ways to gather and use data to build a successful loyalty program? Roy Strasburger, CEO of StrasGlobal and cofounder of The Vision Group Network, and Bonnie Woods, senior strategist at Paytronix, share tips on where to start.

Make It Easy — Ensure that the interface and user experience are as frictionless and intuitive as possible. “Ease of use is key,” Strasburger said.

Avoid Common Pitfalls — Going to your favorite app store and reading reviews of other companies’ loyalty apps is one way to discover how your program measures up, Strasburger noted. “You will get great insight from user comments about the pros and cons of the different apps, the issues with the user interface, and what pitfalls you can avoid when designing or redesigning your app,” he said.

Understand Your Customers — Key questions that your data should help answer, according to Woods, include: What did they buy? How often are they visiting? How many customers are you retaining? Where are they shopping?

Listen to Your Guests — “Customers want to be heard, so you need to understand what they do and don’t like about your program,” Woods advised. “This also means knowing how [the program] fits in the competitive landscape and how much perceived value is being delivered.”

Segment the Data as Finely as You Can — “You may only be able to put the information into two or three buckets, but that can be the start of a segmented strategy,” Strasburger said.

Don’t Drown in Data — “Determine initial long- and short-term strategic objectives and focus on data points that support those key initiatives,” Woods explained. “Determine what success looks like and focus on those data sets that support those objectives.”

Have a Plan to Keep Customers Engaged Over the Long Term — Communication with customers should always be new, interesting, potentially exclusive and nonrepetitive, Strasburger stressed. Depth of customer involvement can escalate over time. A customer who has been on your app for three years should have a different experience than a customer who has been with you for three months, he said.

Encourage Members to Use Their Points — More than 50 percent of customers will leave a loyalty program if their points have expired, so Strasburger recommends retailers always keep members engaged in ways that will encourage them to use those points.

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Sponsored by

Upping Your Game With Data

DATA LIES AT THE HEART of any major convenience store and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to building lasting guest relationships.

People have become accustomed to personalized experiences in their digital shopping and not just at digital brands like Amazon. Convenience stores also have seen a sharp increase in guests seeking personalized digital experiences. In fact, 71 percent expect companies to personalize their experience, and 76 percent get frustrated when that doesn’t happen, according to a 2021 study by McKinsey & Co.

Getting to that level of personalization means having access to the right data, and having the tools in place so that marketers can use that data to create a more relevant experience — and, through that, increase revenue.

At a minimum, a person should be able to see their last order at the top of a custom menu. But guests want more, like suggestions for an add-on item or something they are likely to purchase. To do that, you need to understand the purchasing habits of that individual, as well as those of people who have made similar purchases. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a significant role here.

Done right, this kind of experience happens without the guest entirely knowing that something is built just for them. Behind the scenes, a digital guest engagement platform is learning that guest’s visit cadence, their preferred items, and even the dayparts they generally choose.

Then, the marketers can use the platform to spring into action so that win-back programs reach a guest at just the right time while offering up the right item. Campaigns to promote a new food offering can reach the people who are most likely to act on it and help them feel seen.

Loyalty is about keeping guests coming back. If you’re just looking at rewards and discounts, you’re missing the bigger picture. Loyalty can do so much more and help raise customer lifetime value and, through that, long-term revenue.

Loyalty should be a foundational element in a convenience store brand’s broader marketing mix. Loyalty is not a campaign or a promotion, it is a long-term commitment to the customer relationship that is the most direct route to true connection of any of the marketing tools available. It considers the journey customers want to take with you and you want them to take with you.

An effective loyalty program is part of a broader digital guest engagement strategy that keeps your guests active in that journey and coming back for more. That journey must include elements like online ordering, mobile apps, CRM tools, and messaging.

Ensuring these elements work in concert is key to meeting the brand promise. Our data finds that people who use a brand’s native mobile app return more often, tip better and spend more than those using third-party apps. What’s more, they also tend to be part of the loyalty program, which means it’s easier to understand their preferences and easier to communicate with them directly.

The ability to personalize the experience meets customer expectations and drives a higher shopping cart. All this is to say, when you engage the guest fully across the whole platform, you can build those strong relationships that are at the core of the hospitality industry.

By Andrea Mulligan, Paytronix
SPECIAL SERIES: A ROADMAP FOR SUCCESS IN 2023 Sponsored by 26 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Andrea Mulligan is chief customer officer at Paytronix. She helps customers realize the full benefits of the Paytronix Customer Experience Platform by ensuring that every customer receives world-class service.

On Top Oat Milk Toppings

Rich Products Corp. presents On Top Oat Milk Toppings, which are intended to meet consumer and convenience store operator demand for nondairy options, customization, and social media-friendly drinks and desserts. Aimed at madeto-order beverage programs, the line includes: Soft Whip Pourable Topping, the industry’s first plant-based cold foam; Whipped Topping, a plant-based, whipped topping with superior stability; and Soft Whip, a creamy, pourable foam. The company believes oat milk provides operators with a better plant-based option for its coffee selections because it has fewer allergen concerns than nut milks.


Welch’s Zero Sugar Fruity Bites

Confectioner PIM Brands Inc. adds a new fruit snack to its product lineup: Welch’s Zero Sugar Fruity Bites. The treats are chewy, fruity and 100 percent sugar-free, with 25 percent fewer calories than the original Welch’s Fruit Snacks. They are also fat-free, gluten-free, aspartame-free and contain no preservatives. Welch’s Zero Sugar Fruity Bites are available in three varieties — Mixed Fruit, Berries ‘n Cherries and Island Fruits — with a retail price of approximately $3.99 per 3-ounce peg bag. Other packaging formats will roll out later in the year into early 2024.


Thin Mints Milk Chocolate Malt Balls

Hilco Sweets teamed up with the Girl Scouts of the USA to create its new Thin Mints Milk Chocolate Malt Balls, inspired by the popular Girl Scout cookie. The candy has a crunchy malted milk ball center coated in Girl Scout Thin Mints milk chocolate, creating a unique and decadent confection, according to the company. Thin Mints Milk Chocolate Malt Balls started being available for purchase in late summer 2023. The suggested retail price for a 4-ounce bag is $5.99, with bags shipped in cases of 12.


Monaco Margaritas

Atomic Brands’ Monaco Cocktails brings a new offering to the single-serve adult beverage category: ready-to-drink margaritas. Expanding upon the brand’s tequila portfolio, the line includes two distinct flavor profiles, Lime and Watermelon, with classic and spicy varieties for each. The company believes the line will allow it to capitalize on a fast-growing category as margaritas are the No. 1 bestselling cocktail in the United States, according to Nielsen. Monaco Margaritas are currently available at convenience stores nationwide for between $2.50 and $2.99 per 12-ounce can. Each can has a 9 percent ABV, with zero carbonation, malt or gluten.


Power Prep Wrap

Packaging manufacturer Novolex introduces Power Prep wrap for grab-and-go hot sandwiches and other freshly made foods. Made by Novolex brand Bagcraft, the nonfluorinated oil-and-grease-resistant paper is laminated and insulated to keep food tasting fresh as it moves from the freezer to thawing and reheating to hotplate at the point of sale. Power Prep is available as cut sheets in different sizes or as a roll, and can be custom printed to include branding and promotional messages. The wrap is ideal for convenience stores and other foodservice operators that provide prepared graband-go food options where maintaining consistent quality and food integrity is critical, the company stated.


SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 27

But What About the Squirrels?

How to rid your business of unwanted visitors that are keeping legitimate customers away

THIS IS PART TWO of a column that ran in the June issue of Convenience Store News If you didn’t have the chance to read that column (which was excellent, IMHO), allow me to bring you up to speed. My previous column talked about unwanted visitors.

I bludgeoned the analogy of a bird feeder to death in trying to make a point about the difference between having guests that you want vs. guests that you prefer not to have. The bird feeder is your convenience store. The birds are the customers who you work very hard to attract and are the reason you’re in business. The squirrels are those who hang around the bird feeder because it is easy to get food. The end result is that the squirrels scare off the birds. Not the optimal circumstances for when you are trying to run a business.

In this column, I want to go into the specifics of what I’m advising at a site that’s having this problem and provide you with the results that we are seeing in the first three months.

This location should be a successful convenience store and fuel site. It’s on the corner of a busy intersection (on the “downstream” side of the traffic light of the busiest street) and has excellent access. There is a dense residential area

around it and while there are some other convenience stores in the area, there is not a dominant player in the local market. However, the squirrels (sorry!) seem to be keeping the legitimate customers from frequenting the site as often as they want to.

My suggestion to the business owner was to use a three-prong approach.

The first objective was to clean up the site to make it more attractive to customers, especially female shoppers. When I arrived, the store looked like many urban convenience stores: heavy security bars on the windows, dirty forecourt area, peeling paint, a trashed dumpster corral and lots of signs covering up the windows.

A business must be presented to its customers in the best possible light. If someone thinks the owner doesn’t care about how the property looks, then they are going to think the owner doesn’t care about what happens on the property. This is an open invitation for people who have nothing better to do than hang around and create mischief.

I had the operator powerwash the sidewalks, the parking lot and the brick exterior of the building; repaint the

28 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
By Roy Strasburger, StrasGlobal


mansards and the parking poles; and restripe the parking lot. I encouraged him to take down all of the signage in the windows that was not required by local ordinance, paint the security bars on the windows and doors to match the rest of the color scheme and make them less imposing, and clean all the glass on the exterior.

Furthermore, inside the building, ceiling tiles that were stained were replaced, the interior walls repainted, the floors cleaned and signage removed from the windows of the cashier cage. The counter and backbar displays were rearranged so that the cashier had better sightlines within the store and into the parking lot (customers can see that the cashier can see them!). My goal was to enhance the appearance of the store without investing a lot of money.

The speakers create a sonic space that is uncomfortable for someone who is standing around for long periods of time. While the idea of playing the sound of a dentist drill at high volume is appealing, it’s not a practical solution, as we want our legitimate customers to continue to come into the store. Therefore, I have based the strategy on a modified definition of discomfort.

We want to create an environment that particular individuals would find uncomfortable. This is based on using music that the target audience doesn’t like to listen to, finds irritating after a while, or is music that makes them “uncool” in front of others. The music genres that I usually start with are classical opera, traditional country or smooth jazz, but sometimes you have to keep experimenting with the music to see what is effective for the specific location. The key is that the target demographic does not enjoy hearing it for an extended period of time, whereas our customers at worst will find it to be a minor disturbance and may not even notice the music as they make the short trip into and out of our store.

The final part of improving the store appearance was maximizing the lighting — making sure that the interior, exterior and the parking lot were all well-lit, and replacing bulbs in the signage frames that were burned out. The overall effect, especially at night, is a “fishbowl” where customers can see into the store before they walk in the door. We wanted high visibility into, and out of, the store.

The second objective was to install additional video cameras that are connected to an AI (artificial intelligence) enhanced software system, allowing me to analyze whether the steps that I am recommending are effective. With this system, the cameras can be monitored remotely, the videos are immediately stored in the cloud (so that someone cannot steal the DVR to remove the video), and I can track “incidents.” My goal is to provide the owner with hard data on whether the nuisance abatement measures are effective.

Objective three was to put speakers on the exterior of the building that provide a level of discomfort for those people loitering outside the business. Research has shown the effectiveness of playing music to move loiterers away from a property. We have used this method in our stores in the past and it seems to be an effective way to dissuade people from just hanging around the store.

With a sound program, there are three things to keep in mind. First, you must stay within the local noise ordinances. Second, if you’re playing music, it needs to be with a music program that pays the proper royalties and licenses for the commercial use of that music — just playing something off your phone is not legal. Third, the control of the music must not be left to the staff on duty because they are the ones that can be most heavily influenced/intimidated by the people who want to have the music turned off.

So far, the initial results are very promising. After the cleanup, the number of police incidents and calls dropped to almost zero after averaging about eight calls per month for the previous year. Anecdotal evidence from the staff is that fewer people are hanging out and when they do appear, they are loitering for a shorter amount of time. Sales seem to be increasing over the same period last year, but it’s going to take time for word to get around the community that things have changed and bring customers back into the store. The music program has been effective as well, by pushing those people who are still loitering around the area off our property and further away.

We are going to continue this program for the next six months to make sure it is sustainable. If that is the case, then we will have been able to accomplish our objectives of reducing the number of criminal nuisance instances at the site, increasing sales, and becoming a better neighbor to the community.

Hopefully, our birds will come back to the roost. 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. Strasburger is also cofounder of Vision Group Network, whose members discuss future trends, challenges and opportunities, and then share with all retailers and suppliers, regardless of the size of their business.

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

If someone thinks the owner doesn’t care about how the property looks, then they are going to think the owner doesn’t care about what happens on the property.
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RAM SALAZAR, Senior Director of Brand Strategy at Swisher shares why the slow burning nature of Natural Leaf cigarillos appeals to adult consumers who want to take their time, relax and enjoy the experience. Salazar tells Convenience Store News how research into the changing consumer preferences was incorporated into CRWNZ. “It is everything adult consumers are looking for,” she said.

What are the major trends in the OTP category?

Where is growth coming from?

RAM: CRWNZ is hitting the shelves during an exciting time for the category. Over the past five years, we’ve seen a shift in preference by adult consumers who are choosing Traditional Natural Leaf products more than ever. While the Large Cigar category has grown at a +1.1% five-year CAGR (2017-2022), the Traditional Natural Leaf sub-category outpaced Large Cigars during that time growing at a 6.0% five-year CAGR.

Can you discuss what consumers are looking for in the category?

RAM: Adult consumers want consistent quality delivered in every pack. Going back to the trends we’re seeing in the category, one of the reasons we feel adult consumers are drawn to a Natural Leaf product is the slower burning nature of the cigarillos, which allows them to take their time, relax and enjoy the experience. Certainly taste, freshness, and overall quality are just as important. CRWNZ delivers on everything adult consumers are looking for.

What is happening in the Natural Leaf segment?

What has your research found?

RAM: Natural Leaf products are becoming more popular, both with adult consumers, and retailers looking to drive sales. Adult consumers are willing to spend more per unit for a Natural Leaf product, especially if it delivers consistent quality, taste, and freshness. On the retail side, our partners see an average of $1.57 per unit with a Traditional Natural Leaf item, versus the $1.51 per unit for an HTL item. We feel CRWNZ can capture that momentum due to its unique branding, high quality, and superior experience.

How are you filling a gap in the Natural Leaf?

RAM: We know adult consumers are choosing Natural Leaf products more than ever in markets across the country. Our research indicates that nearly 75% of adult consumers

21-34 actively purchase multiple brands within the category. CRWNZ is poised to capture that energy by injecting a level of excitement for adult consumers who desire greater variety and higher quality.

Can you tell us more about CRWNZ?

RAM: Drawing on our experience and existing portfolio of Natural Leaf products, we conducted extensive research in developing the CRWNZ brand and product line, from the name, packaging, to the blend varieties offered. As we’ve talked about already, the Natural Leaf category is experiencing real momentum among adult consumers who prefer a slower burn and more relaxing experience. The intent is for CRWNZ to become a fresh face in the Natural Leaf category. The brand’s mission is to honor those who, through grit, and determination, embrace their inner hero, break through, and crown life’s victories. The bold packaging creative drove an 80% Top Purchase Intent score. The launch is being supported through a holistic digital media and an adult premises advertising plan that we believe will drive excitement around the brand, and higher sales for retail partners.

Where and how should CRWNZ be merchandised in C-stores?

RAM: CRWNZ packaging is bold, elevated, and unlike anything else in the Natural Leaf category. When positioned next to or near existing Natural Leaf brands, we feel it will draw considerable attention from adult consumers, compared to alternatives.

Are there promotional plans in the pipeline.

RAM: We are taking a holistic approach to promoting CRWNZ. While this is a national roll out, we are taking extra care to focus on markets where we know Natural Leaf products outperform other categories. Additional promotional pieces will roll out in 2024.

How can retailers gear up for demand for CRWNZ?

RAM: We would love to meet you at NACS, at Booth #B1333 We also encourage you to engage with your Swisher Sales Representative to learn more about CRWNZ and to begin placing orders ahead of the national launch. They are your direct source for all CRWNZ related information and promotional items. Our Customer Service Team can be reached during normal weekday business hours at 1(800) 874-9720, or anytime by fax at 1(800) 628-4675, and email at customerservice@swisher.com



WHILE THE UNITED STATES is at least 10 years or more away from a time when electric vehicle (EV) charging will become more popular than traditional fueling — with recent estimates stating that 45 percent of new car sales could be electric by 2035 — the EV market continues to grow.

The Alternative Fuels Data Center, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, listed almost 50,000 EV charging stations in operation in the U.S. as of October 2022, with 93 percent of them publicly accessible and 99 percent of them direct current (DC) fast chargers.

“We are seeing year-over-year increases in new vehicle sales transitioning over to electric,” said Tom Pocrnich, director of product management for EV charging at Dover Fueling Solutions, based in Austin, Texas. He noted that 5 percent of new vehicles purchased in 2022 were electric, up from 3 percent in 2021, and the number of EV registrations hit 7 percent in January 2023. “We are reaching a crucial inflection point and being shown in the marketplace up to 30 percent of new vehicles will be electric likely before 2030.”

34 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com COVER STORY
SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 35

In the convenience store industry, retailers across the nation are announcing plans to either introduce EV charging at their sites or expand upon already established networks. Travel centers are implementing EV charging, too, especially since they often cater to highway drivers.

Pilot Co. announced last year that it was building a network of 2,000 fast charging stations across its 500 travel centers. It is still in the process of doing so — in partnership with General Motors and EVgo chargers — with the aim of having 200 charging stations available by the end of 2023, said Matthew Dunn, head of mergers and acquisitions for the chain.

“The automotive industry has shifted into heavy EV production to meet its pressing goals and the national electrification infrastructure is doing its best to match that pace,” he explained. “Consumer interest is steadily increasing as more makes and models are available. However, widespread EV adoption is limited by lack of chargers nationwide in the places people travel most. Pilot is well equipped to meet the needs of American highways and offer drivers of all vehicles a safe and seamless road trip experience.”

While home and workplace represent the majority of where charging occurs, the remaining 20 to 30 percent will be shared not just by c-stores, but also by restaurants and other retailers, making for a competitive environment, according to Campbell, Calif.-based ChargePoint Inc., a provider of networked hardware and software solutions for charging electric vehicles.

“There are also a lot of companies entering the market that had nothing to do with fueling because they are looking at it as a complement to their business,” a ChargePoint spokesperson said.

One way Pilot is seeking to differentiate itself is by offering charging stations with a pull-through design and canopies that protect from the weather, similar to fuel pumps, as many charging stations that exist today at municipal buildings and parking lots do not provide the various amenities a travel center or a convenience store can offer.

“[Other] locations do not provide shelter from the elements, clean restrooms, Wi-Fi or refreshment offering,” said Dunn.

Retailers can gain access to grants and other funding to install EV charging at their locations through a number of programs that started with the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in November 2021. This created new U.S. Department of Transportation programs, including the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program offering $5 billion in funding, and the Discretionary Grant Program for Charging and Fueling Infrastructure offering $2.5 billion in funding.

“The biggest difference between this year and last year is all the funding, which is surging right now,” said Peter Rasmussen, CEO and founder of Convenience and Energy Advisors, a strategic consulting firm based in Boston. He noted that the first year of federal funding was released to establish EV charging every 50 miles on state travel corridors.

“If a c-store doesn’t apply, one of their competitors will get the funding and it might not even be another c-store,” Rasmussen cautioned. “For Level 3 fast chargers, you are talking over $100,000 and if a chain has multiple positions and needs a new transformer from the utility company, it could be close to a million dollars to invest.”

36 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com COVER STORY
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7Charge, a proprietary charging network, launched at select 7-Eleven stores in Florida, Texas, Colorado and California.

• 7-Eleven Inc. unveiled a proprietary electric vehicle charging network called 7Charge. Launched at select stores in Florida, Texas, Colorado and California, 7Charge sites allow customers to charge any EV make and model compatible with common CHAdeMO or Combined Charging System plug types, while a 7Charge app offers convenience to customers looking for a seamless charging and payment experience.

• Sheetz Inc. reached a milestone of more than 2 million electric vehicle charging sessions. The Mid-Atlantic chain installed its first EV charger in Pennsylvania in 2012. As of April, Sheetz had 650 electric vehicle chargers available at 95 of its stores, and the company said it’s still actively expanding the network across its footprint.

• Shell USA Inc. completed a $169 million acquisition of electric vehicle charging and media company Volta Inc. and now owns and operates one of the largest public EV charging networks in the United States. The company plans to scale the existing network and is shooting to have more than 500,000 charge points globally by 2025 and around 2.5 million charge points by 2030.

• BP announced plans in February to invest $1 billion by the end of 2023 on electric vehicle charge points across the United States. A cornerstone of this investment is its partnership with Hertz to bring fast charging infrastructure to Hertz locations in major cities including Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Several of the installations will include gigahub locations that will serve rideshare and taxi drivers, car rental customers and the general public at high-demand locations, such as airports.

• TravelCenters of America Inc. entered into an agreement with Electrify America to purchase DC fast chargers, with the goal of installing approximately 1,000 chargers at 200 TA and Petro locations along major highways over the next five years. The charging stations will be open to almost all brands of EVs and can deliver up to 350 kW to capable vehicles. Electrify America will install, operate and maintain the stations, as well as manage their design and development.

• Royal Farms celebrated the ribbon-cutting of a new Tesla Super Charger at its store in Gaithersburg, Md. The retailer’s relationship with Tesla began in 2017 and it currently has 14 locations with Tesla EV chargers. Additionally, Royal Farms finalized agreements with two leading EV charging network providers to upgrade its existing chargers at 22 non-Tesla locations in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

• Loop Neighborhood Market announced a partnership with FreeWire Technologies to introduce Boost Chargers to the convenience store chain’s existing locations. The retailer operates 51 stores across northern and southern California. Boost Chargers are compatible with all Level 3 EVs and Tesla vehicles (with an adapter).

• Circle K, the global convenience store brand of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., migrated its network of more than 600 public EV charging stations in Europe and North America onto the Driivz platform, an end-to-end smart EV charging and energy management software solution. According to the retailer, this move will enable it to scale the business and capture synergies across the countries and continents where Circle K operates.

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In March 2023, Global Partners LP, the Waltham, Mass.-based operator of Alltown Fresh convenience stores, announced that it had secured more than $800,000 in grants to deploy DC fast chargers at six locations. The company said it used an electric innovation strategist to educate and guide its strategy in the electric space, which helped it secure the funds.

“There are billions of dollars out there, but c-stores need to find a partner that is skilled in identifying where the money is and then helping them prepare an effective strategy to win the grant money,” a ChargePoint representative advised.

There are many decisions a convenience store operator needs to make before jumping into the EV charging market. The first one is whether to own the

charging stations or have them operated by a third party. If an operator chooses to own, they have more control over the entire ecosystem, which is essentially an extension of their brand, according to ChargePoint.

“Owning allows you to control the guest experience and when a company spends money to build out a brand and customize the guest experience, this is an important piece to also own. And it’s even more important because of the dwell time charging offers. The EV driver will be on your property for a longer period of time than most conventional fuel customers, so loyalty integration becomes super important to draw them into the store and push them toward certain products,” the company spokesperson explained.

Going with a third party may make sense for those

Industry experts maintain that the best option for an electric vehicle (EV) charger in a convenience store environment is a DC fast charger because it offers the most rapid charge.

Level 1 chargers offer a slow drip and are typically found at the home while Level 2 chargers, which are a step up, typically are found at big-box stores and grocery retailers. Level 1 offers about 5 miles of range per hour (RPH) and is most useful for times when a vehicle will be parked for several hours. Level 2 can offer 12 to 25 RPH depending on the type of EV and is ideal for times when a vehicle will be parked for at least an hour. DC fast charging can deliver 100 RPH or more, charging some EVs to 80 percent in just 20-30 minutes.

For the DC option, the majority of c-stores are charging for the electricity use. “For DC fast chargers, you can’t really provide that for free because of the electricity charge,” said Peter Rasmussen, CEO and

founder of Convenience and Energy Advisors, a strategic consulting firm based in Boston.

Outside of the c-store environment, customers can find Level 2 charging for free, but that’s because it operates at a much slower rate of charge, according to ChargePoint, a provider of networked hardware and software solutions for charging electric vehicles. A slower rate of charge is not a fit for a c-store because of the long dwell time it requires.

“The DC fast charger offers a premium charging experience,” a ChargePoint representative stated. “In c-stores, the DC chargers in almost every case, there will be a fee charged on a per kilowatt basis.”

While some c-stores may wish to offer free charging or a discounted rate to loyalty members — even limited to certain times of the day — ChargePoint believes most will and should be charging a fee for the use of DC chargers because it’s “a premium service.”

40 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

operators that don’t want to manage the process, but they will give up control of the guest experience. It’s important to negotiate with a third party to determine contract length and if a store will get access to any of the data captured.

“Contract length is important because it’s a dynamically changing industry and 10 years is a lifetime right now,” the ChargePoint spokesperson

noted. “C-stores need to think about what they are giving up with this route.”

Another key consideration that operators must prepare for is a possible demand charge from their electric company if they pull too much electricity at one location. To avoid this, Dover Fueling Solutions’ Pocrnich said it’s important to investigate if there is a need for a power

42 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com COVER STORY
BP and Hertz are partnering to bring fast charging infrastructure to Hertz locations in major cities.

upgrade, while also understanding the different rate structures because that will impact profitability.

“How much is it to purchase the electricity and then what do I sell it for are the two calculations needed to ensure return on investment,” he explained.

Pilot’s Dunn recommends each location in a chain be evaluated to see where grants are available, what electric companies are in the area, and where stations should be installed. This all takes “substantial resources and hours of collaboration and planning,” and can bring up challenges unique to each location, he acknowledged.

“Each site and location present a unique set of challenges that need to be solved — think of each site as its own complex Rubik’s Cube,” he said. “Now, imagine solving 500 Rubik’s Cubes in 500 different locations throughout the country, working with separate utilities and local government agencies in each, developing plans for each site based on their layout and available square footage.”

When entering the EV charging space, retailers must also consider the dwell time this offering brings into the picture and how they will capitalize on the added time a customer is spending onsite — with the goal of getting them into the store to make a purchase.

“Nobody is getting rich selling EV [charging], but the average dwell time is 23 minutes compared to five for gasoline, so you want to have good-quality public restrooms, packaged goods, an experience like a café or quality foodservice to entice them in the store,” Rasmussen said.

Just as fuel pumps offer video and audio aimed at enticing motorists to come inside the store, this can be done at an EV charger as well. Additionally, for retailers with an app, customers can be notified of offers while they’re charging and given rewards when they buy an in-store item.

“C-stores could geofence the EV chargers or the fuel court and send push notifications to encourage customers to come inside,” Rasmussen pointed out.

Pilot is working to fully integrate its myRewards Plus app to allow for EV charging transactions and loyalty rewards, said Dunn. The app is designed to provide professional drivers, motorists and RV travelers with ways to save money and time during every stop made in its network.

“We want EV drivers and passengers to feel welcome at our locations, access all of our amenities and have the same experience they were accustomed to when they were filling up with gas,” he said. CSN

44 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com COVER STORY


So far, 2023 is bringing a hodgepodge of results for key c-store product categories

FOLLOWING A CHALLENGING period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then an ensuing rebound in convenience store visits and sales, the industry experienced a mixed bag of results during the first half of 2023, with some product categories coasting on positive momentum and others suffering from the effects of inflation, supply chain challenges, high gas prices and more.

In some ways, the first six months of 2023 could be summed up as “more of the same” as some categories continued to do well, others saw a boost in dollar sales as unit volume lagged, and others posted negative results across the board.

Even if it could be a ways off, retail industry experts see light at the end of the tunnel.

“The first half of the year is over and the economy is still moving in the right direction,” said National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “While its rhythm, tone and pattern have slowed, it has not stalled, and recently revised data shows underlying strength that seems to be rolling forward.”

Inflation slowed for the 12th month in a row in June — the same month that consumer prices rose 3 percent annually, down from a 40-year high of 9.1 percent a year earlier. Additionally, consumer spending increased at an annual rate of 4.2 percent during the first quarter of 2023, four times the growth observed during the fourth quarter of 2022.

In particular, spending on food and beverage consumer packaged goods contributed to a late-spring boost in U.S. retail sales revenue, according to market research firm Circana, headquartered in Chicago.

“Consumers are engaged and spending, just not at full throttle,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry advisor for Circana. “Directional spending shifts coupled with unemployment elevation and recent air quality concerns in the U.S. could jolt a significant shift in consumer behavior. But, for the time being, consumers continue to seek little luxuries and are willing to pay a premium for most of their purchases.”

Whether these positive developments constitute a sign of better days on the way or just a brief break in an ongoing storm remains to be seen but, for the moment, U.S. convenience store operators have reason to both smile and frown.

The exclusive Convenience Store News 2023 Midyear Report Card, compiled in partnership with NielsenIQ,

46 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com


looks at dollar sales and unit volume metrics for January through June 2023 to evaluate which product categories are gaining vs. losing amidst today’s challenges.

The State of Cigarettes

Total convenience store industry sales of cigarettes declined in 2022, falling 3.3 percent, while unit volume in the category declined 7.6 percent, the largest drop in the last five years.

During the first half of 2023, the category came close to matching those prior-year changes, with cigarette dollar sales falling 3.9 percent and unit volume falling 7 percent.

The performance of economy/value cigarettes — with dollar sales rising 17.1 percent and unit volume up 14.4 percent — reflects consumers’ desire to save and get more for their money. Mid-level and premium/super premium cigarettes, meanwhile, both posted declines in dollar sales and unit volume, with the latter segment seeing the biggest drops.

The State of OTP

Despite a continuing multiyear slowdown, other tobacco products (OTP) had a better 2022 than traditional cigarettes. Total industry dollar sales rose 4.6 percent, while unit volume was slightly negative, falling 0.5 percent.

Dollar sales growth continued to shrink during the first six months of 2023, although the category still saw a 2.4 percent boost. Units were down further for the same period, declining by 2.7 percent.

Papers, pipe/cigarette tobacco and smokeless tobacco alternatives all saw growth in both dollar sales and unit volume, while smokeless and other tobacco/nicotine products saw dollar sales rise but units fall. Cigars and vaping products posted declines in both dollars and units.

The State of Packaged Beverages

Packaged beverages saw mixed results last year. Total industry sales rose 7.8 percent, the second-highest increase for the category within the last five years, but total unit volume declined 1.1 percent.

Results were more positive for the first six months of 2023, with a 10.3 percent increase in dollar sales. Unit volume staved off a decline and stayed flat at an increase of 0.2 percent.

Energy drinks, carbonated soft drinks and enhanced water carried the category by growing in both dollar sales and units. As the category leader, it was fitting that the energy drinks segment led the growth, rising 14.4 percent in dollar sales and 5.4 percent in unit volume.

All other packaged beverage segments posted increases in dollar sales but saw unit volume declines.

Source: NielsenIQ, June 2023 2023 FIRST HALF CIGARETTES DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Cigarettes -3.9% -7.0% Economy/value 17.1% 14.4% Mid-level -4.1% -6.0% Premium/super premium -5.2% -9.2% OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total OTP 2.4% -2.7% Cigars -4.1% -5.7% Other tobacco/nicotine products 10.5% -1.8% Papers 10.7% 7.1% Pipe/cigarette tobacco 15.1% 12.0% Smokeless 0.6% -5.2% Smokeless tobacco alternatives 52.5% 41.3% Vaping products -2.6% -15.6% PACKAGED BEVERAGES 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Packaged Beverages 10.3% 0.2% Carbonated soft drinks 9.6% 0.3% Energy drinks 14.4% 5.4% Enhanced water 10.7% 0.3% Iced tea 6.1% -3.6% Juice/juice drinks 5.9% -3.4% Other packaged beverages 9.3% -2.3% Ready-to-drink coffee 7.4% -2.6% Sports drinks 8.7% -2.9% Water 5.2% -6.0% BEER & MALT BEVERAGES 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Beer & Malt Beverages 4.8% 1.3% Alcoholic cider 16.1% 9.2% Alcoholic seltzer -9.6% -7.3% Budget/value 4.3% -1.6% Cheladas 21.7% 9.6% Flavored malt 21.9% 12.5% Imported beer 7.3% 3.8% Malt liquor (unflavored) 2.7% -3.3% Microbrews/craft 7.6% 7.1% Nonalcoholic beer 26.9% 14.2% Premium beer -1.0% -5.9% Premium plus/super premium 5.6% 3.2% 48 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

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The State of Beer & Malt Beverages

Sales of beer and malt beverages rebounded in 2022, after contracting following a post-pandemic bounceback. Total industry dollar sales in the category rose 4.1 percent, while total unit volume was flat at 0.1 percent growth.

During the first half of 2023, the category saw a slight uptick, with dollar sales increasing 4.8 percent and unit volume increasing 1.3 percent.

Imported beer, flavored malt beverages, craft beer/ microbrews, premium plus/super premium beer, cheladas, alcoholic cider and nonalcoholic beer all increased in both dollar sales and unit volume. Budget/value beer and unflavored malt liquor grew dollar sales but saw units decline.

Only premium beer and alcoholic seltzer dropped in both dollar sales and unit volume.

The State of Candy

Rising prices boosted the candy category in 2022, pushing total industry dollar sales up 12.7 percent, its highest sales growth in five years. However, total unit volume declined 1 percent, returning to a multiyear streak of negative numbers.

The first six months of 2023 saw a similar mismatch in results. Dollar sales continued to grow, rising 13.9 percent, but unit volume went in the opposite direction, falling 2.6 percent. Unsurprisingly, all candy segments saw a lift in dollar sales combined with more mixed results in unit volume.

Category leaders such as chocolate bars/packs, repacked peg candy and nonchocolate bars/packs posted healthy growth in dollars, but saw units decline. The segments seeing both dollars and units grow included seasonal candy, gum, breath mints and novelties.

The State of Salty Snacks

The salty snacks category had a similar sales trajectory to candy in 2022, surpassing its previous five-year high point in industry dollar sales growth to reach a 15.7 percent increase. Unit volume growth was much more modest, increasing 2.8 percent, but it stayed positive for the second year in a row after three consecutive years of decline.

In the first half of 2023, dollar sales of salty snacks were up a similar 15.6 percent. Most segments in the category posted double-digit percentage increases in dollar sales, with tortilla/corn chips leading the way with a 23.2 percent jump.

Unit volume growth overall slowed, however, rising just 1.5 percent. Potato chips, crackers and nuts/ seeds all saw dollar sales grow, but experienced decreases in unit volume.

The State of Grocery

After slowing down from a pandemic-driven boost,



2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Edible Grocery 14.6% 3.4% Breakfast cereal 14.3% 1.5% Condiments 8.8% 0.9% Other edible grocery 19.1% 5.2% Packaged coffee/tea -2.0% -8.8% Water/beverage enhancers 12.2% 4.0%

Source: NielsenIQ, June 2023

edible grocery sales spiked again in 2022, with total industry dollar sales rising 15.5 percent. Total unit volume jumped 8.2 percent, the category’s largest volume growth in the last five years.

Edible grocery showed continued strength during the first six months of 2023, posting a 14.6 percent increase in dollar sales. Unit volume growth experienced a softening, slowing to a 3.4 percent increase. Nearly all segments within the category grew in both dollars and units, with packaged coffee/tea the only one to post decreases in both.

50 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
C-store sales of nonedible grocery items in 2022 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Candy 13.9% -2.6% Breath mints 16.6% 1.0% Chocolate bars/packs 9.7% -5.0% Gum 24.1% 6.9% Nonchocolate bars/packs 10.8% -6.9% Novelties 110.8% 70.2% Repacked peg candy 16.5% -0.4% Seasonal candy 12.8% 2.6% 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Salty Snacks 15.6% 1.5% Crackers 8.3% -6.2% Mixed 15.3% 0.8% Nuts/seeds 6.7% -4.4% Other salty snacks 17.5% 3.5% Packaged ready-to-eat popcorn 16.0% 3.3% Potato chips 11.9% -1.1% Pretzels 16.9% 1.7% Puffed snacks 16.9% 4.2% Tortilla/corn chips 23.2% 8.5%
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rose 8.9 percent in total industry dollar sales and 3.6 percent in total unit volume, reversing prior-year decreases in both.

During the first half of 2023, dollar sales of nonedible grocery rose 6.8 percent, but unit volume declined 2.9 percent. Most segments saw dollar sales increase during this period, but only laundry care and paper/plastic/foil products also saw boosts in unit volume.

The State of General Merchandise

The general merchandise category saw total industry dollar sales growth slow to a 2.2 percent increase in 2022, but still turned in the third year in a row of positive momentum. Total unit volume, however, extended its five-plus years of decline and fell 3.1 percent.

The first half of 2023 proved to be rockier for the category as dollar sales grew by just 0.9 percent and unit volume was down with a 2.7 percent decrease.

Hardware/tools/housewares, video/audio tapes and other general merchandise saw growth in dollar sales and unit volume, while school/office supplies and seasonal products posted an increase in dollar sales but a decrease in units. All other category segments saw both dollar sales and unit volume decline.

The State of Health & Beauty Care

Total industry dollar sales of health and beauty care (HBC) products continued a four-year growth streak by rising 6.6 percent in 2022, the largest increase in the last five years. Total unit volume was slightly negative, falling 0.5 percent.

In comparison, during the first six months of 2023, the category saw a slight lift as dollar sales increased 6.8 percent and unit volume increased 0.6 percent.

Segment results within the category were a mixed bag. Vitamins/supplements was the only segment to see both dollar sales and unit volume increase. All other segments saw unit volume decline, but were split between dollar sales rising or falling. CSN


2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Nonedible Grocery 6.8% -2.9% Dish care 10.1% -1.5% Household care 1.3% -5.1% Laundry care 11.7% 4.6% Other nonedible grocery -17.1% -24.3% Paper/plastic/foil products 10.1% 0.1% Pet care 4.4% -7.7% GENERAL MERCHANDISE 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total General Merchandise 0.9% -2.7% Batteries -2.9% -9.9% Film/photo -67.5% -33.8% Hardware/tools/housewares 16.8% 13.6% Other general merchandise 34.3% 17.4% Personal protective equipment -75.7% -68.1% School/office supplies 4.9% -3.0% Seasonal 7.6% -9.1% Smoking accessories -4.0% -8.4% Telecommunications hardware -7.6% -13.0% Video/audio tapes 115.2% 120.2% Wearables/apparel 0.8% -3.6% HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE 2023 FIRST HALF DOLLAR SALES UNIT VOLUME % CHANGE VS. YA % CHANGE VS. YA Total Health & Beauty Care 6.8% 0.6% Analgesics -1.0% -8.5% Baby care 8.0% -11.7% Cosmetics -3.4% -1.2% Cough & cold remedies 3.6% -0.6% Family planning 1.9% -3.1% Grooming aids 2.9% -6.3% Liquid vitamins/ supplements/energy shots -2.7% -5.0% Other HBC -52.3% -25.8% Other internal OTC medications -3.6% -6.6% Personal hygiene -4.0% -13.9% Skin care/lotions/external care 1.5% -4.3% Smoking cessation 1.1% -1.8% Stomach remedies 5.1% -4.5% Vitamins/supplements 34.4% 26.5% 52 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FEATURE
“Consumers are engaged and spending, just not at full throttle.”
— Marshal Cohen, Circana
Source: NielsenIQ, June 2023

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The Lowdown on the

FDA Crackdown

Convenience store operators must be in the know to avoid selling disposable e-cigarettes illegally

THE GOVERNMENT is taking aim at the illegal e-cigarette business. Since early this year, a nationwide blitz has been underway by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on the illegal sale of popular disposable e-cigarettes.

“The FDA has initiated a higher level of enforcement on the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer levels by increasing the number of inspections, including inspections of retail stores,” Thomas Briant, retired executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), told Convenience Store News. “These retail inspections have focused on whether unauthorized flavored electronic cigarette/ vapor products are being sold in stores.”

The Warnings

In May, the FDA issued warning letters to 30 retailers, including one distributor, for illegally selling unauthorized tobacco products, which included various types of Puff and Hyde brand disposable e-cigarettes, including Puff Bar.

The agency maintains that it is dedicated to protecting the nation’s youth from tobacco products. According to the “2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey,” about 20 percent of youth e-cigarette users reported using Puff Bar or Hyde brand products. They were the most popular and third-most popular brands with youth, respectively, in 2022.

“We’re committed to holding all players in the supply chain — not just manufacturers but also retailers and distributors — accountable to the law,” stated FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf.

“Retailers and distributors play a key role in keeping unauthorized tobacco products off the shelves and if they fail to do so, we’re committed to taking appropriate action,” added Brian King, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

In June, the FDA issued more warning letters to 189 retailers for selling unauthorized tobacco products, specifically Elf Bar and Esco Bars products. Both brands are disposable e-cigarettes that come in flavors like bubblegum and cotton candy that have youth appeal.

Once again, King sent out a very pointed message. “All players in the supply chain — including retailers — have a role in keeping illegal e-cigarettes off the shelves,” he said at the time. “This latest blitz should be a wake-up call for retailers of Elf Bar and Esco Bars products nationwide. If they’re waiting for a personal invitation to comply with the law, they might just get it in the form of a warning letter or other action from the FDA.”

To be clear, Elf Bar and Esco Bars products, as well as Puff Bar and Hyde brand products, do not have the required marketing authorization from the FDA. To date, the FDA has authorized 23 tobacco flavored e-cigarette products and devices (see page 56 for approved items). These are the only products in the category that may be lawfully sold in the United States currently.

In another recent action, the FDA issued import alerts for all products under both the Elf Bar and Esco Bars brands. An import alert places these tobacco products on what is known as the “red list,” which makes them subject to detention without physical examination upon importation through a port of entry into the U.S.

On the distribution side, the FDA in late July issued warning letters to three distributors — ABS Distribution Inc., EC Supply Inc. and Easy Wholesale LLC — for selling and/or distributing multiple unauthorized e-cigarette products, including Elf Bar, EB Design, Esco Bars and Puff Max items.

The Aftermath

“Warning letters are generally the first step once an inspection reveals a violation of the law,” explained Ann Simoneau, director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement within the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “We will monitor to ensure these violations are corrected and if they are not, the recipient is at risk of further actions such as civil money penalties, seizures and injunctions.”

NATO’s Briant confirmed that if a retailer is inspected and found to be selling unauthorized products, the agency generally issues a warning letter first, which the retailer has 15 days to respond to in writing, explaining how it will become compliant with the law.

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“If the retailer does not come into compliance, then the FDA can conduct additional inspections of the store and issue civil money penalties — fines — that increase significantly for each additional violation,” Briant said. “The FDA also has the authority to seize unauthorized products, as well as potentially seek criminal prosecution.”

According to Simoneau, a majority of warning letter recipients voluntarily take corrective action. However, within the past year, the FDA did issue its first injunctions and civil money penalties against e-cigarette manufacturers.

“It is the agency’s intent to make these actions a routine component of its enforcement portfolio moving forward,” she said. “For example, since January 2023, the agency has issued 15 civil money penalties against manufacturers for the illegal sale of e-cigarettes.”

While this and harsher penalties haven’t happened at the retailer level yet, that

The Legal List

To date, the FDA has authorized 23 tobacco flavored e-cigarette products and devices, which are the only e-cigarettes that may be lawfully sold or distributed in the United States currently.

They are:

• Logic Regular Cartridge/ Capsule Package

• Logic Vapeleaf Cartridge/ Capsule Package

• Logic Vapeleaf Tobacco Vapor System

• Logic Pro Tobacco e-Liquid Package

• Logic Pro Capsule Tank System [1]

• Logic Pro Capsule Tank System [2]

• Logic Power Tobacco

e-Liquid Package

• Logic Power Rechargeable Kit

• NJOY Daily Rich Tobacco 4.5%

• NJOY Daily Extra Rich Tobacco 6%

• NJOY ACE Device

• NJOY ACE POD Classic

Tobacco 2.4%

• NJOY ACE POD Classic

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56 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com TOBACCO

doesn’t mean they’re not coming. Retailers currently selling unlawfully marketed e-cigarette products face a greater risk of more enforcement action on a second inspection, according to Bryan Haynes, a partner specializing in tobacco/nicotine with the national law firm Troutman Pepper.

He calls these legal issues “fairly black and white,” and encourages retailers that have and have not received warning letters to be prudent and stop selling unlawful products. “I would return them to the manufacturer or distributor,” he advised. “Continuing sales even in an effort to liquidate inventory would be risky.”

Haynes would like to see tobacco retailers get onboard only with suppliers that are FDA authorized or have a premarket tobacco application (PMTA) pending with the agency.

“The biggest thing for retailers is due diligence,” he said. “Ask for documentation that a PMTA was submitted … how it was received and accepted for filing and ultimately, for review. Those are verifications

that suppliers should be able to provide to retailers that they want to do business with.”

The Future

The FDA in 2020 issued a guidance document calling for the removal of cartridge or pod-based flavored electronic cigarettes (except tobacco and menthol flavors) from the marketplace. But the document did not call for the removal of flavored disposable e-cigarettes, Briant noted.

Since then, underage individuals have continued to use flavored disposable vaping products, including products for which the manufacturer may not have submitted a PMTA, which is required by law for a tobacco product to be authorized for sale in the U.S.

The aim of the FDA today is to continually refine its response time and enforcement. Recently, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health awarded funding for a new Center for Rapid Surveillance of Tobacco.

“The FDA is committed to keeping a finger on the pulse of the rapidly evolving e-cigarette landscape, including through a variety of scientific assets equipped to quickly identify products with high youth appeal,” King explained. “We will continue to use this data-driven approach across the entire supply chain.” CSN

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Putting Foodservice Center Stage

Highlights from the 2023 Convenience Foodservice Exchange event in Nashville, Tenn.

MORE THAN 70 CONVENIENCE retail executives and foodservice suppliers attended this year's Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX), presented by Convenience Store News

Held in Music City, the eighth-annual CFX event was an exclusive networking and experience-focused conference that gave attendees actionable knowledge and research to take back to their organizations and strengthen their foodservice business. The theme of this year's program was "Making Foodservice the Centerpiece of Your Convenience Store Business."

Multiple executives from leading foodfocused convenience store chains spoke at the event. Among the highlights were Chief Marketing Officer Tom Brennan's

opening address on how Casey's General Stores Inc. turned foodservice into a focal point of its operations, and Kwik Trip Inc. Retail Foodservice Director Paul Servais' talk on instilling a foodservice culture.

The agenda also included panel discussions, one-on-one networking, a local food trends tour, presentation of the 2023 Foodservice Innovators Awards, and a visit to Tri Star Energy's innovative Twice Daily/White Bison Coffee integrated concept store.

Sponsors of the 2023 Convenience Foodservice Exchange included gold sponsors Autofry/MTI Inc., BOHA! by TransAct Technologies Inc., Chain Link Services, Everest Ice and Water Systems, Finlays Americas, Hunt Brothers Pizza LLC, Southern Visions LLP, The J.M. Smucker Co., and Wasserstrom; silver sponsors Supplyit By Jera Concepts and Tyson Foods; and innovation zone sponsors 33 Degrees Convenience Connect, Kitchen Technology Innovations Integrated Control, and Smoodi.

60 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com


APRIL 2023


WE CARD makes a difference! Easy online ordering at wecard.org or, call 1-800-934-3968 Order 2024 Materials Refresh your retail locations with updated, effective We Card materials. Train employees Get trained at WECARD.ORG © 2023 The We Card Program, Inc. All rights reserved.


Convenience Store News talked to We Card President Doug Anderson about September We Card Awareness Month. Doug Anderson outlined steps retailers can take to make sure they’re doing their best to identify and deny underage purchase attempts of tobacco and vapor products.

Give us a brief history of We Card. What progress has the program made to curb violations?

Doug Anderson: We are celebrating our 28th year and are thrilled to have helped hundreds of thousands of retailers with education, training, and tools to prevent the underage sale of tobacco products.

Over the last 28 years, we’ve provided 1.1 million We Card kits, and equipped retailers with 7 million training tools. Those are big numbers.

The proof is in the numbers — the national reported sales rate to underage people was 40% in 1997, that’s four out of 10 successful buys. Today, that number is approximately 10% and is a testament to the positive impact We Card and its stakeholders have had on underage access to tobacco and vaping products.

We all know that one underage sale is unacceptable, and we continue to innovate and provide constant updates on changes to state and federal requirements — as well as evolving tobacco industry developments — to help retailers in their compliance efforts.

What’s the importance of September Awareness Month?

DA: Retailers are reminded to ramp up and renew their underage access prevention efforts. On September 1 st , retailers can order their 2024 We Card Materials, including the 2024 Renewal Kit and the 2024 We Card Age of Purchase Calendar.

In September we highlight retailer efforts to prevent underage access to tobacco and vaping products and how to renew educational efforts. Training and education are a constant commitment. Further, we gather support from state leaders such as Governor Proclamations which further highlight the importance of reducing underage access to age restricted products.

Beyond ordering the 2024 We Card materials, what other steps should retailers take?

DA: Newly-hired employees should be fully trained, and veteran employees should be re-trained using comprehensive eLearning training — either store developed or offered through We Card. We’ve learned through thousands of surveys and research that training is an ongoing process. We also offer a refresher course which we recommend for all employees.

Retailers need to know what’s required by the federal, state and local laws and should also learn through role playing practice. It’s important to know “What to Say” when carding and denying underage sales. All of this results in employees who can confidently do their job.

Further, we recommend mystery shopping to confirm employees are properly carding or scanning IDs — especially in the face of hefty fines and penalties if a retailer fails a government compliance check.

What are other benefits of using We Card’s tools?

DA: Retailers should start with our Guide to Best Practices to see how they measure up. Our ID Check-Up service uses age 21 or older checkers to gauge employee performance at carding customers.

We Card offers summaries of state law requirements which can sometimes be nuanced. States may require a different age to card from the Federal under 30-year-old mandate. There are other requirements too such as required state posted signs.

We Card training answers both simple and complex questions. One we hear often is, “if an employee carded a customer one day, do they need to do it again?” Hint, yes. We also train employees to handle confrontational situations and how to politely refuse a sale.

Bottom line is that we offer turnkey solutions for any size or type of retailer. Awareness Month is a vital month to help retailers focus on key skills needed to serve their communities responsibly.



Lessons From Kwik Trip on Instilling a Foodservice Culture

To be successful in foodservice today, a convenience store retailer must build and maintain a strong foodservice culture in its stores. This is easier said than done.

"If anyone tells you foodservice is easy, you know they're lying, right?" said Paul Servais, retail foodservice director for La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip, the operator of 850 convenience stores predominately in the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

Servais, a Kwik Trip veteran and one of the headline presenters at the 2023 Convenience Foodservice Exchange, spoke about the importance of instilling a foodservice culture from the start and securing buy-in across all levels of the organization, especially the CEO. He recalled how Kwik Trip's longtime leader Don Zietlow propelled its food business.

"I remember going to meetings, and I was a district leader at the time, and Don would stand in front of everybody in our company and he would tell the coworkers — they'd have a little chart on the side — that if we sell 50 cheeseburgers at every store and if we make 50 cents on every cheeseburger, it's gonna be this many dollars, it's gonna be this much profit. And if our profit grows by this much and we share those profits at the end of the year, this is how much it means to you," Servais recounted. "[Don] did that over and over and over again for many years and it was key to getting the buy-in of our 36,000 coworkers that we're gonna sell food."

Today, 21 years later, Kwik Trip is a leader in

convenience store foodservice. The chain, which specializes in grab-and-go offerings, positions its proprietary food and beverage centers at the very front of its stores, so they are the first thing customers see upon entering.

In its last fiscal year, Kwik Trip generated an impressive $1.2 billion in food sales.

"That was an achievement for us," Servais said, noting that this milestone would not have been possible without the company's 32 foodservice district leaders, a position established back in 2005 solely for the purpose of selling more food safely. "They were instrumental in us being successful in [reaching] $1.2 billion in food last year. I don't believe that would've happened without that group out there in the field.” "

The foodservice district leaders report to Servais and their position in the hierarchy is above a store leader, but below a district leader. Describing them as "the executioners," he said this position not only is crucial for maintaining foodservice consistency and ensuring food safety companywide, but also helps Kwik Trip define its career advancement opportunities. Only store leaders who have opened new stores and trained other store leaders can become foodservice district leaders, and only foodservice district leaders can become district leaders.

"Today in our company, there's 102 people in retail operations. When you include our foodservice district leaders, district leaders, the regionals, myself and the senior vice president of retail operations, 92 [of us] were a foodservice district leader at one point. So, when you talk about wanting to build the culture of food in your store, that's how you get it done. You gotta grow your own," Servais advised, acknowledging this has been 20 years in the making.

64 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
Kwik Trip's Paul Servais spoke about the importance of securing buy-in across all levels of the organization.

Casey's Shares Its Recipe for Success

Casey's General Stores Inc. may be a highly successful convenience store chain, but it's even better known for making foodservice the centerpiece of its business.

Reaching more than $1.2 billion in prepared food and dispensed beverage sales in 2022, Casey's Chief Merchandising Officer Tom Brennan estimates the Ankeny, Iowa-based chain should rank among the top 50 restaurant chains in the United States. Despite this, the company’s leadership sees plenty of room for growth. "We've got a ton of runway," Brennan said during his CFX keynote presentation.

In the fall of 2020, Casey's launched a branding update initiative that included a new logo and visual identity to match its contemporary guest experience. The changes did receive some pushback — "any time you change something that's been around for 50 years, your guests are going to let you know about it" — but the reaction also indicated that Casey's customers had a strong attachment to the brand, which is especially notable considering that more than half of its stores are located in towns of just 5,000 people or less, Brennan explained.

"We literally are a part of those communities, and we take a great sense of pride in that," he said.

Casey's also benefits from its reputation of having friendly in-store employees. "One thing that we consistently hear is our team member friendliness. Having spent some time in convenience [and QSR], that's typically not what you hear, right? You typically don't get a lot of credit for your team member friendliness," Brennan said, adding that Casey's makes a point of maintaining and building upon this.

Success also comes from leaning into the competitive advantages that make the brand different and unique. In Casey's case, this includes its rural footprint, self-distribution, digital experience (which includes more than 6.4 million rewards members, half of whom are actively engaged on a monthly basis), and its business trifecta of fuels, general merchandise and grocery, and prepared food.

Brennan encouraged his fellow retailers in the audience to consider ways they can profit across dayparts, noting that Casey's "iconic" pizza offering gives it more flexibility in meeting consumer needs regardless of the time of day. "Having that offering allows us to play across breakfast, lunch, dinner, even late night," he said. "For our stores that are open

late, we should have that offer available."

Casey's approach to foodservice has evolved since it was founded in 1968 and continues to do so, but one key aspect it refuses to change is its use of fresh, quality ingredients for its handmade-from-scratch pizzas. "We take a lot of pride in the quality that we deliver every single day," Brennan said. "We will not compromise on that quality."

He also shared Casey's winning formula for foodservice, which is a combination of innovation, execution and team. At the innovation stage of a new offering, the company asks whether it can achieve three key objectives:

• Desirability: If it's not a craveable product, it goes back to the drawing board.

• Feasibility: It must be feasible to execute, but trying to answer this question too early in the process is a bad idea.

• Viability: If it's not driving profitability, it's time to start over.

Once launched, a product must be executed consistently or it will fail, no matter how innovative it is. Consistent execution throughout a brand's footprint is where the team comes in.

"That happens because of people," Brennan said.

66 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
Casey's Tom Brennan shared the chain's winning formula for foodservice: innovation, execution and team.
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Defining & Refining Your Foodservice Identity

As the convenience foodservice space gets more crowded and competitive, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for brands to stand out by defining their foodservice identity, refining that identity and homing in on the quality of their offering. Executives from three top convenience store chains at different points in the foodservice journey shared their experiences and insights during a panel discussion at this year’s Convenience Foodservice Exchange.

Panelist Billy Colemire, director of marketing for Boise, Idaho-based Stinker Stores, said consistency and quality are what define its foodservice program. "We want to make sure we can develop a program that can be consistently executed across all sites and our customers experience the same type of quality when they come into any store," he explained.

Consistency and "having fresh, quality product available when it's needed most" is also high on the list for Louisville, Ky.-based bp/ Thorntons, which is still developing its foodservice identity, according to Greg Eckman, director of fresh food and proprietary beverages.

He emphasized, however, that brands are built on people, not products. "I think that's one of the biggest misconceptions that we all have. What are you known for? It's not gonna be a product, it's gonna be an experience that we're able to provide you consistently every single day," he said. “People love Chick-fil-A, and McDonald's has a following, and it's not because you're just in love with the food. You know it's gonna be there, you know it's gonna be consistent quality, and you know you're gonna feel a certain way about it."

Providing an experience that makes customers want to come back again and again is at the heart of Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go's foodservice identity. In fact, it's at the heart of the Kum & Go brand, from start to finish, noted Jac Moskalik, vice president of food innovation.

"We believe it's a fun brand. It's supposed to be a bit quirky, unique. And so, the thought process in our products is that when you come in, you kind of find the unexpected," she said.

Defining your foodservice identity from day one is the best approach, Colemire said, because it leads to more cohesiveness between the foodservice offering and all other aspects of the store. "You can build a whole store and the rest of your brand around what that foodservice brand is," he said.

Moskalik agreed, explaining that you must understand what your company's brand is, decide what you want to be known for, and then ask how the food program can support that. "It takes dedication to the program that you're committed to, with an open-minded tweak," she said.

Eckman spoke about the importance of establishing "foundational processes" that are not married to one product or another, but rather can support the evolution of a foodservice program.

"We say, can we build on this? Can we build menu extensions off of this? If you can put rice in a bowl, you can put something else in a bowl; you may make a salad. So, we really focus on these foundational processes and then we let the products kind of emerge over time," he said. "From my perspective, it's really tough to focus on a product out of the gate because what if the guest doesn't actually want that product and then you're married to it."

68 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
Panelists agreed a food program must support what a convenience retailer’s brand is.

Turning Today's Lessons Into Tomorrow's Profits

In the rapidly evolving convenience foodservice space, operators that are just beginning their journey in the category can benefit from the wisdom of chains that can trace their knowledge back decades. However, there's also plenty to learn from newer brands or those that are taking a new approach to staying competitive and in turn, redefining the c-store shopping experience for customers today and tomorrow. Three retailers shared their experiences with innovating and staking out distinct competitive positions as part of a panel discussion at CFX.

At Choice Market, one of the biggest foodservice opportunities can be found in exploring alternate store formats. In addition to its full-size stores in Denver, the retailer has seen very positive results from its fully autonomous Choice Mini-Mart, which launched at The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in October 2022 and offers highquality prepared food and natural groceries.

The mini-mart format is set to scale alongside standard Choice locations in a hub-andspoke growth model, expanding customers' access to fresh, convenient and healthy food by meeting them where they are. "We see this as an amazing use case for technology," said Choice CEO Mike Fogarty. "Things like hospitals are frankly underserved in terms of fresh food."

Health is a consideration for La Plata, Md.based Dash In Food Stores, the Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year in CSNews' 2023 Foodservice Innovators Awards. But that doesn't mean choosing customers who want

healthy items over customers who want more indulgent fare, according to Ben Lucky, category manager for foodservice.

He describes the company's approach as creating a "healthy halo" and offering items that fit in different points along the health spectrum. This includes options like Impossible Burgers and vegetarian flatbreads along with other menu experiments. At the same time, Dash In keeps its strengths and the things most consumers want in mind, and stays practical in what it can offer.

"You put all those things together and you give people options," Lucky said. "We're looking at trends, looking at how we can be better, using cleaner ingredients, using whatever we can to knock down artificial colors, artificial flavors — but we have our limitations."

Curby's Express Market, a concept that launched in early 2022 in Lubbock, Texas, has also reaped the benefits of balance, said Tony Sparks, head of customer wow! The store is 50 percent focused on quick-service restaurant style food and beverages — which generate 65 percent of its sales — and the other 50 percent focused on standard c-store offerings.

Curby's offers healthier, higher-quality offerings without going fully upscale in a way that doesn't meet the desires of its customers. "We wanted to be right down the center. We didn't want to alienate any particular customer or demographic," Sparks said.

Looking ahead, he advises retailers to explore made-toorder beverages, which can include coffee drinks, energy drink refreshers, custom tea drinks, craft sodas and more. "I sell twice as much made-to-order beverages as I do food. We do craft sodas, we do two different types of energy drinks. It's not popping up everywhere but, in certain parts of the U.S. it's exploding," he said.

70 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
Choice Market's Mike Fogarty, Dash In's Ben Lucky and Curby's Tony Sparks discussed how to stake out a distinct competitive position.

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SAFE STORAGE PRODUCTS Help Freshen Prepared Food Sales

As competition heats up between the convenience and foodservice channels, keeping the menu items you offer fresh and safe is imperative if you want to successfully compete in the prepared foods space. Convenience Store News asked Stephanie Eaton, Director of Strategic Accounts & Specialty Markets at Cambro Manufacturing, to discuss the impact proper storage solutions can have on the overall quality of stores’ prepared foods programs.

Convenience Store News: Stores naturally think about what to feature on their prepared foods menus — but they might not give much forethought to how they’re going to hold and transport those menu items. Why is storage throughout the food prep process so important?

STEPHANIE EATON: More than ever, c-stores are competing with restaurants for a share of foodservice dollars. Data shows that food quality and freshness are among the most important factors shoppers consider when purchasing prepared food at a c-store.1 That means they aren’t going to grab a sub, salad or wrap if it doesn’t look fresh or isn’t served at the right temperature. If they do make a purchase, they certainly won’t return if they discover wilted lettuce or a slightly stale sandwich roll when they sit down to eat their meal. The storage products stores use in their food prep areas are key components in providing fresh, high-quality food that today’s consumers demand.


“Since making the transition from traditional metal storage pans to the Cambro translucent pans, seal covers, and drains, we have seen many benefits. The freshness and appearance of the product in the pans has been the most noticeable. The vegetables stay crisper longer, and the proteins maintain their color much longer. We have also been able to increase our shelf life three-fold with this transition.”

“Cambro has been our partner for over 6 years. We started out small and buying just food pans because I could see the value and durability of these items. Within the past year and a half, we switched to Cambro’s shelving system. Everyone in the company can’t get over the sturdiness and ease of use compared to our previous shelving. That is what really drew me to this shelving. I had never seen a system that could be adjusted with such ease.”

CSN: What kind of storage solutions does Cambro offer?

SE: Our selection of durable, stain-, acid-, and odor-resistant containers includes CamSquares, Rounds, Food Pans, and Food Boxes with tight-fitting covers that keep foods fresh and safe at a variety of points throughout the kitchen.

Our Camshelving is corrosion-resistant and features a lifetime warranty against rust, guaranteeing a clean and sanitary surface to store prepared foods on. The shelving also features Camguard®, an antimicrobial protection permanently embedded into its shelf plates to discourage bacterial growth.

When designing our Ultimate Sheet Pan Rack, we took everything that was wrong with metal sheet pan racks and made it right. Instead of rusty and broken welds and wobbly, corroded casters, stores that use our racks enjoy easy-to-clean rails, no corrosion or broken welds and rust-free quiet casters.

CSN: What is unique about Cambro transport carts that help store both hot and cold prepared food safely?

SE: Our Pro Cart Ultra Pan Carriers — made with CFC-free, polyurethane insulation — retain hot or cold temperatures in the same cart at the same time. They’re ideal for maintaining safe food temperatures for hot subs, cold chicken Caesar wraps and more. And they can save up to 30% on energy costs versus other brands.

CSN: Cambro has a commitment to manufacturing products in the US. Why does that matter?

SE: Producing products locally alleviates supply chain problems that have been plaguing the industry. Cambro ensures more consistent availability and quicker delivery times, reducing the risk of disruptions that can occur with overseas manufacturing. It reinforces our brand’s reliability and aligns with the immediate needs and demands of c-stores today.

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hype cycle as it pertains to food, which should affect how retailers and suppliers respond to new innovations, according to Tom Bailey, senior consumer foods analyst at Rabobank.

Investment in disruptive food offerings rose significantly between 2014 and 2022, Bailey explained during a presentation at CFX. However, the foodservice market is different than other markets because consumer acceptance and heavy regulation play strong roles, he noted.

Bailey pointed to a resistance to insect-based protein and Italy banning lab-grown meat to protect its food heritage as examples. Additionally, he said the market has recently changed due to labor shortages, supply chain changes, interest rates and inflation, and other factors.

“There have been very few success stories of these disruptive food

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products really catching on with the consumer,” Bailey said. “It appears that the investor underestimated consumers’ willingness to revolutionize their diets. People's relationship with food is much more intimate than a lot of people realize.”

He described two types of innovation that occur in the food industry and elsewhere: disruptive and incremental. Disruptive innovation is typically more attention-getting and exciting, but that doesn't mean it ultimately makes the biggest difference, especially considering that consumers want the most value for their money when they make food purchases.

“Incremental innovation has historically been the true driving force of innovation and food,” Bailey said. “It's what moves the needle, what gets us to where we are today. It's small improvements on existing products in your existing infrastructure.”

The advantages of incremental innovation include being less risky, less costly and fitting within a company's supply chain.

He cited the launch of Doritos Locos Tacos at Taco Bell as an example of a successful incremental innovation.

With investments in foodservice disruptors down by a significant amount, the hype cycle appears to be over within the category, but that doesn't mean an end to foodservice innovation. Bailey pointed to Amara's Law, which describes how people “tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run, and we tend to underestimate the effect in the long run.”

He predicts that companies will shift back to incremental changes, and future disruptive products will be smaller in number and much more scrutinized.

“Eventually, the second and third generations of these products are going to come back. For things like plant-based beans, they're going to taste better, the texture's going to be worked out and it's going to be more accepted by consumers. If this disruption continues to fall along Amara's Law, then the future of disruption of innovation will be underestimated by us,” he said. “In other words, disruptive products that failed this time around are going to come back and exceed our expectations in the future.”

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Why Store Management Is Key to Foodservice Growth

Building a food-centric convenience store business requires operators to refocus on customers' food loyalty. This in turn requires new management skills that relate specifically to prepared food, as well as additional metrics for operations support and coaching.

To maximize their return on investment (ROI) on foodservice, owners and operations leaders can achieve impressive foodservice growth by looking for six key things that great c-store managers deliver, according to Tom Bandy, founder of BandyWorks.

Those six deliverables, he shared at the Convenience Foodservice Exchange event, are:

• Vision & culture support;

• Higher customer visit frequency;

• Market basket growth;

• Upselling profit growth;

• Operational transparency; and

• Food & store ROI.

To achieve their goals, store managers need to have both follow-up and alignment. "You can get away with forced compliance for a short period of time, but it's really rough in

this marketplace," Bandy pointed out. "Sometimes, people make a mistake — and this is where we spend a lot of time coaching — they back off of the follow-up. Then, you end up in a terrible place."

He referred to the "unhappy handouts" of the period during the COVID-19 pandemic when managers were so worried about losing employees that they let matters slide.

Coaching to build alignment, instead of forcing compliance, is what builds culture and buy-in from employees. "People want to know their work matters," he said.

The bigger the operation, the more difficult it is to achieve full alignment, but having procedures in place makes it easier to scale. Bandy recommended focusing on suggestive selling; keeping a full hot case; having strong signage; emphasizing "foundational" customer service; and above all, ensuring that the store is clean.

"Bottom line, how do we sell food without a store that's clean?" he questioned.

Additionally, while good customer service is not specific to foodservice, offering it and giving employees what they need to be able to offer it is a key part of foodservice success.

"Have you made these investments?" Bandy asked. "Some of them are going to go well, some of them are not. I encourage you to make sure you listen to what your store managers need." CSN

82 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FOODSERVICE
Tom Bandy of Bandyworks outlined six things that great c-store managers can deliver for foodservice growth.

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In Recovery Mode

Product shortages and inflation are impacting the high-profit HBC category at c-stores

A POUNDING HEADACHE or stuffy head cold cannot wait, making health and beauty care (HBC) the second most profitable convenience store category after ice. However, despite its “immediate need” nature, supply shortages and inflation are hitting HBC harder than other product categories. This is prompting some retailers and suppliers to seek alternative resources and keep tight reins on inventory.

Subcategories most affected by out-ofstocks include over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief, one of the biggest segments, as well as feminine hygiene. While overall c-store transactions and store traffic have improved, the HBC business is still feeling the fallout of COVID-19 related manufacturing shortages. On the pricing end, average retails across HBC increased 7.4 percent vs. last year, according to Nielsen. And in some segments, the increases were in the double digits.

“You can’t talk HBC without talking supply

chain,” said Cameron Baer, center store category manager for York, Pa.-based convenience store chain Rutter’s. “It hit HBC really hard; subcategories are still affected, requiring constant item changes. Other categories are closer to normal, but HBC has had a harder time recovering. We have pivoted many times, switching suppliers and switching back when inventory becomes available. It’s essential we offer what consumers are looking for.”

For most c-stores, HBC represents just 1 percent or less of in-store sales. But average gross margins in the category are significant, rising from 50.8 percent in 2021 to 51.95 percent in 2022, according to NACS data. HBC’s destination nature furthers its value.

“High margins make it important to retailers. It’s also crucial to shoppers, who must satisfy a need now. They might be on the road and have a headache or they forgot something. It’s important to be in stock, whether it’s analgesics or contraceptives,” said Don Stuart, managing partner at Cadent Consulting Group, headquartered in Wilton, Conn.

Favoring Food, Drug & Mass

With some ingredients in short supply, HBC vendors are

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favoring food, drug and mass accounts, which comprise the majority of their business and involve larger package sizes.

C-stores, in contrast, favor small packages merchandised in inline sections of about four feet, along with clip strip packets of OTC drugs and vitamins merchandised behind the register. Clip strip packaging is made specifically for convenience stores.

“Suppliers are focusing on large packages, which is generally what you don’t find in c-stores,” said Baer.

One component that has been difficult to procure is the Mylar-type film that lines single dose clip strip OTC packets. Ron Andrews, national sales manager at Elk Grove, Ill.-based Modern Aids Inc., explained that many packaging components come from overseas, namely China. While the pills are produced by major suppliers, Modern Aids makes its own clip strip packets. It also supplies c-stores with nail clippers and small packages of razors, shampoo and diapers.

The situation has become a huge headache as trial sizes of OTC pain, stomach and upper respiratory medicines comprise 73 percent of convenience channel HBC unit share and 51 percent of dollar share, according to Nielsen figures.

“Acetaminophen products have been toughest,” Andrews added. “We can’t order materials way out because of shelf-life limitations. Big boxes don’t need this packaging. You must be a smart inventory manager. This is our biggest issue.”

In feminine hygiene, certain tampon applicators have been hard to procure, said Michelle Ridder, director of category management at Lil’ Drug Store Products, an HBC supplier based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Consequently, Tampax’s percentage of the c-store segment dropped 9 points to 40 percent during the first half of the year, Nielsen data shows, while Playtex’s share increased from 8 percent to 12 percent, and Stayfree doubled its share to 8 percent.

“[This is] an example of how an immediate-need item is more important than brand,” Ridder pointed out. “I heard problems will persist into 2024.”

Baer echoed that it has been “hard to acquire” single-use and small multipacks of tampons. When it comes to brand, he reiterated Ridder’s thoughts: “Whether it’s changing a brand or having a different SKU, some product is better than none.”

Wallet Squeezing

No doubt, inflation is impacting spending. In c-store HBC, skincare has taken the hardest pricing hit (up 12.9 percent), driven by double-digit increases for Old Spice, Secret, Axe and Degree, said Nielsen. Feminine hygiene is a close second (up 12.6 percent), with the prices of eight top SKUs up double digits. Ridder reported that

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“You can’t talk HBC without talking supply chain. It hit HBC really hard; subcategories are still a ected, requiring constant item changes.”
— Cameron Baer, Rutter’s
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she has also seen steep condom price increases. “One major retailer increased them by $1.50,” she shared.

In OTC medications, inflation has driven single dose demand. “When the SRP [suggested retail price] rises, people just buy two pills to get the job done,” said Andrews. “The days of larger purchases are past. Price increases have changed many things.”

However, at Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express Corp., the opposite is sometimes true. “As costs have increased for one- and two-dose packages, many consumers are turning to larger packages for better value,” said Ryan Fasel, director of marketing for the convenience store chain. “Depending on need, a package of five to 10 doses costs less than double the cost of a one- to two-dose package.”

Still, single doses dominate. “Take-home packages are growing and have the highest ring, but single doses remain the majority of unit sales,” Fasel added. “The biggest challenge is finding the balance between single dose and take home to maximize dollars without sacrificing unit sales.”

While retailers and suppliers must profit, raising prices is tricky. They must carefully analyze what the market will bear. “It’s all about price elasticity,” said Andrew Csicsila, North American leader of the consumer products practice at AlixPartners in New York. “What are consumers looking to pay? What are competitors doing? You could argue that if prices go too high, too quickly, it will negatively impact consumers and the economy.”

Price acceptance does vary by retail channel. For instance, while big-box shoppers think about prices for planned market basket purchasing, c-store consumers often want one or two immediate-need items, even if the products are more expensive than elsewhere.

“In grocery stores, they buy a bunch of products,” said Csicsila. “In c-stores, they’re buying in individual situations, probably last minute because they ran out of toothpaste.”

HBC Opportunities

Despite the higher prices and shortages, there are some opportunities in the c-store HBC business. Depending on the retailer and market, these can include supplements (both traditional and “trendy”), private label and larger assortments.

During the pandemic, c-store vitamin and supplement sales skyrocketed. While growth has slowed, Mason Vitamins Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development Chuck Tacl believes there is room for growth in clip strip or peggable small packages.

“We think there’s a void, with strong household penetration after COVID,” he said. “Key areas people are looking for are immunity, sleep and stress relief. There’s maybe three to five items that would resonate.”

During the pandemic, the Miami Lakes, Fla.-based company launched Wellness to Go for c-stores. The peggable supplements contain ingredients like biotin, melatonin, green tea and ginger. Mason Vitamins also offers stick powders under its Mason Natural brands — the powders are designed to be poured into a beverage, shaken up and consumed.

Innovation in a category dominated by basics tends to grab attention. “Whenever retailers offer innovative items in new flavors and formats, it allows them to stand out against [their] competition,” said Kristen Thaler, category manager of the Center for Category Innovation at Temple, Texas-based distribution company McLane Co. Inc.

Tacl pointed out that retailers need to learn which products are reliable. Both packaging and ingredients are concerns. “The distributor, retailer, supplier and consumer need to be educated on what products are efficacious and which ones you should question. … I’ve seen gummy supplements in clear plastic. They need more stable, foil type packaging so the sun doesn’t break down effectiveness,” he said. “There’s opportunities in c-stores for reliable supplements.”

Family Express’ Fasel sees a role for supplements, but believes they must be monitored closely. “They can provide an initial sales boost, but can decline quickly.

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McLane offers a private label alternative under its Consumer Value Products banner, which spans multiple categories.
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When Light Falls Short, Sales and Security Do, Too


Since 1976, LSI Industries has been elevating the refueling and convenience store experience with state-ofthe-art lighting. Convenience Store News asked Brian Daley, LSI’s Director of Product Management, to explain how properly lighting the forecourt can more safely illuminate the customers’ path from the pump to your store — and brighten inside sales in the process.

Convenience Store News: Tell us about LSI’s long history in the lighting marketplace.

Brian Daley: LSI has been a technology forward company from the beginning. Our first light fixture, introduced more than four decades ago, was built specifically for use in gas station canopies. Back then, HID lighting was the brightest and best thing on the market; as lighting advanced, we introduced new products and led with technology. These advancements have brought us to where we are today, with the most efficient lighting we have ever had — LED. We were early adopters of this technology, engineering and designing it into our latest canopy lighting fixtures. Our innovation continues with industry-leading features that can save time in installation and maintenance, attract customers, increase sales, reduce energy costs, and give site owners the control systems they need to thrive.

CSN: Why is outside lighting so important for c-stores?

BD: Creating a visually safe environment that attracts customers is one of the most important things that convenience store lighting can do. When the forecourt — the area between the canopy and the store — is dark or under lit, customers are hesitant to make the journey into the store to extend their purchasing experience. They’ll fuel up and leave without heading inside, or they might drive past your location and head to a well-lit competitor’s store nearby. Either way, you lose sales — and perhaps that customer’s loyalty, too.

Recent industry data shows how important lighting can be: An above-average rating in outdoor lighting led to a 5.3% increase in foot traffic, while a below-average rating in the same category caused a proportionately higher (8.5%) decrease in traffic.1

CSN: How can LSI improve stores’ forecourt lighting?

BD: LSI Industries has introduced two groundbreaking patented technologies that set them apart in the refueling and convenience store sector.

The “Archer” curtain lighting system bathes the building in light, while LSI’s canopy deck fixtures utilize “Forward Throw” technology to illuminate a secure path from refueling points to the store entrance.

During a recent 90-day pilot involving over 50 petroleum retail sites, a remarkable 7% surge in in-store transactions was observed during evening hours. Additionally, the value of each transaction rose. Although gasoline sales saw a modest increase of just under 2%, diesel sales remained steady. This data implies a shift in customer demographics during the evening. Acquiring these new evening customers could lead to heightened daytime sales, as they become familiar with the site’s offerings, services, and loyalty programs.

Enhancing employee safety fosters happier, more committed staff, ultimately improving employee retention. Eliminating nighttime shadows and emphasizing customer safety reassure current customers and attract new ones, introducing them to your brand.

CSN: What benefits does your lighting deliver?

BD: Exterior lighting offers several benefits that give c-store operators a competitive advantage:

● It ensures customer safety. Well-lit parking lots reduce the risk of falls, trips, and other mishaps. Customers also feel more secure when they can easily see their surroundings and are less likely to encounter potential threats.

● It improves visibility. Exterior lighting allows customers and passersby to clearly see a refueling and c-store establishment from potentially miles away, attracting them to your site, advertising your offerings, and showcasing your business as bright and safer than the rest.

● It enhances security measures already in place. Proper lighting can help security personnel better monitor the area and respond more effectively to any incidents. It also deters those looking for an establishment with the dark environment they need to cause harm.

● It increases customer traffic. Customers are more likely to visit a store they perceive as safe and secure, and exterior lighting plays an important role in creating this perception.

1“Tracking Convenience Report: From the Pump to the C-Store,” PDI Technologies & GasBuddy, March 2023

We must be prepared to make assortment changes when that starts happening,” he said.

Most HBC products stocked at c-stores are from branded suppliers that consumers trust. “Sets are mainly comprised of national brands that consumers recognize,” Fasel added. “There’s more skepticism around fad and quick-fix products because they lack brand recognition.”

Rutter’s Baer avoids fad products. “How do you gain trial?” he said. “How do you make sure it’s going to stick? It’s a fad. We’re in the business of providing consumers with what they’re looking for.”

Private label HBC products, on the other hand, are not a fad. They have been proven to enable c-stores to generate even bigger margins while controlling package size and appearance.

“It also gives consumers options as to how much they want to spend,” said McLane’s Thaler. “Over the years, more trust has gone to private label as it has proven to have the same quality and reliability as popular brands."

The HBC category’s small size, though, makes private label only viable for large chains. According to Nielsen, just 6 percent of c-store HBC is private label vs. 17 percent in big-box channels.

“There’s an opportunity,” said Ridder of Lil’ Drug Store Products. “But only a few chains are large enough to generate the minimum volumes to justify more than a few storespecific private branded items.”

The largest U.S. convenience store chain 7-Eleven Inc. rolled out 24/7 LIFE about three years ago. The line, which encompasses several nonfood categories, includes OTC drugs, toiletries and other HBC items.

McLane offers a private label alternative under its Consumer Value Products (CVP) banner. CVP spans multiple categories. HBC items include bath tissue, ibuprofen, baby wipes, deodorant and OTC stomach relief. “It’s a great option for smaller retailers who want to incorporate private label into their strategy, but can’t offer a line of their own,” said Thaler.

Looking ahead, both inflation and material shortages are not expected to end soon. But whether it is through private label, supplier diversity or an emphasis on larger packages, c-stores are using creativity and resourcefulness to ensure products are there whenever shoppers have a headache or run out of toothpaste. CSN

Special Markets Spell Opportunity

For convenience stores in tourist, rural, low income and other special markets, there are often opportunities to expand health and beauty care (HBC) beyond the standard four-foot inline section. While c-stores will never rival big-box retailers, their convenient locations, expanded hours and in/out shopping experience make them a destination in these areas.

“We work with stores that are specific to the travel market,” said Jennifer Childers, data analyst at McLane Co. Inc. “In rural markets, the conversation is typically about a larger assortment because they’re more of a fill-in stopgap. Visiting a convenience store is more convenient and cost effective [fuel wise] than going to a big-box store that might be miles away.”

In low-income neighborhoods, shoppers may not own cars or have limited access to public transportation, so the c-store is their go-to place for diapers, haircare and other needs. “The convenience store acts like a shopping destination and a neighborhood resource,” said Kristen Thaler, category manager of the Center for Category Innovation at McLane. “It becomes a lifeline for those communities, filling personal care requirements. This demographic may also have limited budgets, so trial sizes are important.”

HBC is imperative for c-stores in heavily residential neighborhoods, regardless of income. Rutter’s newer stores can reach 13,000 square feet and have HBC sections that stretch to eight feet in certain markets. “In neighborhood locations, shoppers are often seeking larger packages as opposed to a person traveling who may need a four-pack of Advil to get through a car ride,” said Cameron Baer, Rutter’s center store category manager.

Business and tourist destinations and areas that attract hunters, anglers and campers also present opportunities. C-stores can offer products that shoppers may have forgotten and hotels don’t provide. “When we work with stores close to tourist areas, cruise lines or hotels, they’ll skew more heavily in personal care,” said Michelle Ridder, director of category management at Lil’ Drug Store Products. “Trial sizes of oral care and deodorant work well. Suncare is big, particularly if you’re in the store buying snacks and drinks to go on a boat.”

In such areas, Rutter’s too offers items not found in its usual assortment. “HBC becomes more important, particularly for sun and bug protection. Maybe they missed an item on a packing list or ran out mid-vacation,” said Baer. “In heavy campground areas, we have things you wouldn’t find in the average store.”

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Innovations in Car Washing

Upgraded equipment, automation, subscriptions and truck washes are creating higher-end experiences for customers

FROM UPGRADED equipment and automatic, appoperated bays to subscription-based services and the addition of truck washes, convenience store retailers are adding more profit to their bottom lines with onsite car washes.

While the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a boom to the car wash industry overall, many customers have continued the habit even after the pandemic, which has motivated c-stores across the country to renovate their washes and upgrade their offers, according to Ken Underhill, director of marketing at D&S Car Wash Supply, based in High Ridge, Mo.

“We have seen many c-stores renovating their car washes and replacing old machines with newer options that include lights and foam, as well as offering a more premium experience to their customers,” he noted.

The latest car wash technology offers a more advanced wash experience. In turn, operators are providing add-ons customers can choose for a higher-priced wash. Today’s equipment is able to do a 3D scan of a car to create “a far better and more efficient wash,” and customers can choose from higher-priced options such as waxing, triple foam and more, said Underhill.

“There are models that offer a variety of colors, smells, flashing LED lights and more to add

to the ambiance of the wash, and many c-stores are offering good, better, best and premium price points up to $15 for a wash,” he reported. “Most people go for the higher price points. The average person does not choose the basic bread-and-butter wash; they often go for the top or the middle.”

The newest trends in the car wash space include automatic washes, often activated by an app, which do not require an employee to operate them; the addition of higher-end truck washes; subscriptions plans; and giving customers a frictionless checkout experience.

At Love’s Travel Stops, based in Oklahoma City and operating more than 510 locations in 41 states, the chain now has three automated Love’s Truck Washes in operation in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas — with five more planned for the near future. All offer frictionless checkout to customers, according to Gary Price, executive vice president of Love’s.

“Our automated truck wash is powered by Whiting Systems wash gantries. The technology allows us to offer quality washes with quicker service than our competitors and we use a handheld point-of-sale system, so the wash technician can ring the driver up in a frictionless manner while he or she remains in the car,” he explained.

The Rise of Truck Washes

While car washes have been a common profit center

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for convenience stores for some time, truck washes are gaining popularity, especially with the introduction of automated versions that can wash a truck without additional employees in 12 to 15 minutes, according to Underhill. “For larger c-stores with the room, it can also be used for sprinter vans or RVs,” he noted.

Love’s added truck washes to its locations after asking customers what would help them in their line of business. Customers were “vocal that truck washes would be a big win for professional drivers, who are already using our facilities,” Price said, adding that the retailer felt that adding them would be “the next logical step” and add “a new layer of service.”

The company’s goal is to make Love’s Truck Wash as frictionless as possible, so drivers never have to get out of their trucks. A Love’s employee goes to the truck, asks the driver what service they want, and then collects payment with a portable point-of-sale device.

“Love’s understands the importance of getting back on the road quickly. Once a truck enters the bay, the goal is a 15-minute wash,” Price said, with box trailers and reefer trailers having a wash goal of four to seven minutes. “We aim for a wash quality that will rival our

competitors with shorter wait times, quicker service and a better value.”

Another c-store operator offering truck wash services is Warrenton Oil Co., based in Truesdale, Mo., and operating 59 FastLane convenience stores. The retailer has 17 car wash locations and one FastLane Truck Wash location, which offers truckers, campers, fleets and more an automatic wash experience. There are both attended and unattended wash options.

FastLane has three levels of car wash subscriptions and in May 2023, it announced the addition of a truck wash subscription option — the first in its region. The chain partners with Liquid Barcodes Inc., a global loyalty and digital marketing technology company that specializes in the convenience and foodservice industries, for its subscription offerings.

A Subscription Model

In addition to offering single wash packages carrying various price points, some c-stores are opting to offer car wash subscriptions of varying levels, allowing for unlimited washes and including add-ons such as washing tires, waxing or internal cleaning, depending on the level chosen, according to Saurabh Swarup, chief rainmaker at Liquid Barcodes, based in Fairfax, Va.

At FastLane, the chain’s three subscription plans are: Protect, Shine and Clean. These plans can be purchased directly from the FastLane app, as well as setting up an individual wash.

“The same thing can be taken to the next level with family plans so, instead of each person in a family signing up for a plan, they can purchase a family plan and then add members,” Swarup noted.

Retailers offering subscriptions get the advantage of guaranteed

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The addition of truck washes provides a new service to professional drivers who are already using Love’s facilities.
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CSNews sat down with Gilbert amirez Jr., marketing manager, Everest Ice and Water Systems, for a closeup look at ice and water vending machines and how c-stores can increase their earnings per square foot with these units in place.

Dedicated to achieving business growth through innovative, effective marketing strategies, Ramirez was named an honoree of Automatic Merchandiser & VendingMarketWatch. com’s 2022 40 Under 40 Awards in recognition of his contributions to the company.

C N: What makes purchasing ice and water vending machines a good business decision for c-stores?

G : Ice is always in demand. With a machine that produces ice continuously, c-stores will never lose a sale because they’re out of ice. Machines like ours can be installed outdoors; retailers can sell ice 24/7/365 without creating a space for the equipment inside the store. Also, there’s no inventory to buy or track, no dependence on supply chains or distributors; and no need for an employee to monitor the units.

Profit potential and ROI vary by model and options and how much ice operators are currently selling, but estimated yearly profit for our standard Everest VX model (no options) is $23,826.88, based on gross revenues of $25,093.75 less $1,266.88 in estimated costs. ROI happens in 1.89 to 2.10 years or less, depending on the factors stated earlier. Operators can make 10 pounds of ice for around $0.07 and sell it for $2 to $3—a gross margin of up to 98% and

a markup of more than 4000%.

C N: How can c-stores maximize the profitability of their ice and water vending machines?

G : Make them highly visible. Roadside c-stores do best with an outdoor spot, where people can see the machine as they drive by. If indoors, choose the front of the store. Our machines’ compact footprint—45 in. wide x 55 in. deep x 93.5 in. high— makes placement anywhere easy.

Operators might also use their online and social media channels to inform customers that they can always get ice at their store because the machine allows it. Once they know this, they’ll keep coming back. Plus, c-store retailers can customize the look of their machine to better reflect their c-store branding.

C N: What are the key functions and features of verest’s VX ice and water vending machines?

G : Everest VX machines produce uniform-shaped, 7/8-in. ice cubes on demand—640 pounds to 1,909 pounds in a 24-hour period. They’re the only ones on the market without complex, easily breakable mechanical parts. Ice is dispensed by our patented VersaVend rotating drum mechanism, preventing jams, minimizing maintenance needs and costs, and ensuring reliability. A proprietary Basecamp system allows operators to monitor their machines remotely and even dispense ice to waiting customers from wherever they are.

We also offer optional features. Cold Fusion energy recovery technology lets operators produce 30% more ice with 30% less electricity. Ice Shield disinfects the ice path, killing

viruses, mold, mildew, and biofilm. This means less time spent cleaning the ice maker. The All-Weather Package supports operation in lower temperatures. It includes industrial-grade foam insulation and an internal 220V outlet. Customization with c-stores’ name and logo is available.

All machines require simple utility hookups and single-phase electric service (220V), but no refrigeration. Industrial-grade components and an industrial-strength, corrosion-free, powder-coated steel frame ensure durability.

C N: What differentiates your company from its competitors?

G : We aren’t a franchisor, so we don’t collect any franchising and licensing fees just to use our name. Access to the Everest Service Team is free—no expensive service/maintenance contracts. We charge a flat delivery fee, and installation is simple. Other companies charge thousands for delivery which, with other fees for complicated installation, adds up to at least $4,000 for setup alone.


monthly income, while customers get to pay one fee for their monthly car washes — which is charged each month to the card on file.

Another option growing in popularity is prepaid washes, which targets those not wanting to commit to a recurring payment, said Swarup. This can still be done through an app, but the customer pays upfront at a discounted rate rather than an autorenewal plan.

“Starting with prepaid packages at a lower price, such as 10 for the price of eight, is actually a good way to get customers into the fold of a recurring subscription,” he said. “It allows them to test the waters first.”

In addition to individual and family subscription plans, c-stores also have the option of offering business plans. Similar to a family plan, a company can sign up a number of its drivers or vehicles and link them to the same plan for unlimited washes each month.

“Business plans can give [retailers] access to a new set of customers, and a business can

link a fleet of 20 cars to an account, for example,” Swarup said. “Some of our retail customers offer this as well as truck wash subscriptions for fleets of trucks.”

He also pointed out that when it comes to “unlimited,” there is often a cap or limit that’s imposed on each 30-day period despite the terminology. Some operators cap it at 30 washes a month, knowing a user will not come every day to wash their vehicle.

For those retailers with a proprietary branded app and loyalty program, many are incorporating their car and truck washes into them so that customers can access all services on the property from one point while earning loyalty points.

SERVICES Detect. React. Save. 800-972-7472 www.warrenrogers.com info@warrenrogers.com 102 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
“Starting with prepaid packages at a lower price, such as 10 for the price of eight, is actually a good way to get customers into the fold of a recurring subscription. It allows them to test the waters first.”
— Saurabh Swarup, Liquid Barcodes Inc.

“Customers earn points at Love’s Truck Wash locations just as they do at Love’s Truck Care or when they purchase items or fuel at the travel stops,” said Price. “Customers can also redeem points at all Love’s Truck Wash locations.”

Looking to the Future

For automated wash locations, operators are allowing customers to use the app itself to purchase and activate the car wash. The site and the app are connected and will know a person is there, so they simply have to click a button to start the wash, said Swarup.

“They don’t even have to roll down the window,” he said. “The backend systems know they are there and starting the wash. And c-stores can even push through a game customers can play while in the car wash where they will win a free [hot] coffee or iced coffee inside the store.”

Next up is further customization of

the wash system itself, including having a customized voice announcer that directs the driver though the process, which up until this point has been generic, according to Underhill. This is already in the works.

“We are coming out with an entirely customizable, programmable system, so operators can have different voices and even commercials played where they thank the customers for their business. If the person is a member, it can talk to them using their name,” he explained. “There is even going to be clips where they can use voices from celebrities, so it will be a wide range of fun things.” CSN

104 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com SERVICES

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Customer Obsessed

Convenience Store News' 2023 Technology Leader of the Year, bp, embraces innovative tech solutions to meet the changing needs of the motoring public

JUST AS THERE ARE familiar convenience store banners, there are well-known names associated with the forecourt. Whether customers recognize it by the company’s initials or its telltale green, yellow and white logo, bp stands out as a leader on the forecourt.

However, the company is making great strides to move past being just an energy company and really leaning into convenience. In 2019, bp and its joint venture partner ArcLight Capital acquired Thorntons, the more than 200-store chain based in Louisville, Ky. In late summer 2021, bp ramped up its presence when it bought out ArcLight Capital to become the sole owner of Thorntons — giving it a solid foothold outside of its existing five-state footprint on the West Coast.

Moving into this year, the company took another leap into the brick-and-mortar space with its $1.3 billion acquisition of Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America Inc. (TA). The deal, which closed on

May 15, 2023, added 280-plus locations to bp's network that complement its existing off-highway convenience and mobility business.

Coupled with the opening of its first ampm stores in New York, bp is now firmly planted in the convenience channel. In fact, convenience is one of bp's five “strategic transition growth engines” in which it aims to significantly grow investment through this decade. According to the company, from 2023 to 2030, roughly half of its cumulative $55 billion to $65 billion transition growth engine investment will go into convenience, bioenergy and electric vehicle (EV) charging.

It is for bp's moves around convenience and future mobility needs that Convenience Store News selected the company as its 2023 Technology Leader of the Year. This annual award goes to a technology leader (individual or company) who not only contributes to the success of their organization, but also to the advancement and growth of the convenience store industry as a whole.

Setting the Stage for Growth

Meeting the changing needs of the motoring public — and

106 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Thorntons has seen strong adoption of various frictionless checkout options.
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embracing them — has been a theme for bp and its marketers for several years. With the growing interest in electric vehicles and the need for charging stations coast to coast, the company's recent deal for TA puts it in an ideal position to reduce what is known as range anxiety.

"EV charging is a huge opportunity. The reason that we're putting some emphasis on it, I think, is that the future success of retail sites is really going to depend on your ability to be customer obsessed and meet the needs of guests," said Greg

bp’s Strategic Transition  Growth


• Convenience

• EV charging

• Bioenergy

• Renewables

• Hydrogen

Franks, senior vice president, mobility & convenience, Americas for bp. "As the world goes through a transition, we want to be able to help them with whatever their needs are."

Its tie-up with TA does more than give bp a commanding presence on U.S. highways; it pushes the company further along in its goals to expand in the convenience space.

"We've tried to be very clear with everyone that our ambition is to grow. We want to grow in the U.S. We want to grow our convenience. We have our five transition growth engines, and TA cuts across four of those," Franks said.

“We intend to invest in EV charging; in convenience; in biofuels; renewables and natural gas; and down the road, hydrogen. With those transition growth engines and TA cutting across each one of those strategically, it makes all the sense in the world,” he added.

Digital Ambition

In a channel that has traditionally taken a wait-and-see approach to trying new things, bp stands among the few that are not afraid to test the waters. This is highlighted by the company's passion for digital solutions.

Pointing to bp's intention to be customer obsessed, Franks said giving its guests the avenue to transact with its stores digitally drives bp's digital ambition to be best in class. To bring this ambition to life, the company is investing in talent and capabilities to deliver a best-in-class digital experience.

As an example, bp is re-platforming for growth with modern point-of-sale (POS) architecture, and it is exploring opportunities for loyalty and e-commerce platforms.

"We're piloting, we're testing, we're growing, but our commitment is strong. By bringing in the talent, making the investments and then also listening to customers and seeing what others are doing in the market, we believe that as we go on this journey over the next couple of years, we'll absolutely be best in class with our

TECHNOLOGY 108 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
BP’s acquisition of Thorntons gave the retailer a foothold outside of its existing five-state footprint on the West Coast.

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digital offer," Franks explained.

Additionally, bp has been rolling out different frictionless checkout options in its stores, including digital checkout and traditional self-checkout kiosks. According to the executive, there has been "great adoption" of the traditional solution, and he highlighted Thorntons’ success.

"As we improve our digital estate and move toward our digital ambition, I think you're going to see us be able to offer even beyond the frictionless. Our ability to offer delivery or order ahead or these other things that consumers are really looking for," Franks said. "They want things the way they want it, when they want it and where they want it, right? So, we've got to be able to meet that need.

"Our ability to pilot, learn, fail fast and pivot, and go on is something that we're really leaning into," he shared.

When it comes to exploring new ideas, the company is in a unique position having the BP Amoco Marketers Association (BPAMA) as well as its ampm franchisees to work with, listen to and learn from. They are comprised of "savvy business leaders" who are close to their customers and have insights to share, according to Franks.

"Within the [BPAMA], we have working groups; we have leaders who give us consumer feedback and we're listening. The members of the BPAMA are our customers and we want to be customer obsessed on this journey," he said. "We listen to them and that thought process goes into what we develop and the pilots we try.

“Sometimes, we pull back and we change directions. I think that's a real differentiator for us — that we have that long-term relationship with really savvy businesspeople that we're able to get the insights from, but that we also listen to and learn from," he continued.

Down the Road

Looking toward the future, Franks cites the upgrading of the company's c-store POS architecture as a foundation on which to build. "We think this is going to underpin everything that we want to do and in a very agile way, we want to begin adding capabilities over the next two years," he said.

The cloud-based POS architecture will

Removing the Friction

In August, bp officially opened an ampm ASAP Grab and Go store in San Francisco's Chase Center. The autonomous checkout store, powered by Verizon Business technology, originally launched as a pilot during the 2022-23 NBA season for fans of the Golden State Warriors.

Now fully operational for all events at the Chase Center, the location offers visitors quick and convenient ways to purchase food and beverage items.

"The ampm ASAP Grab and Go store is a perfect opportunity to leverage innovative technology that will enhance the fans' food and beverage experience at Chase Center," said Warriors Chief Commercial Officer Mike Kitts. "Innovation is a core component of our business, and both Verizon and ampm have a laser focus on creating opportunities to enhance the customer experience."

The new store format allows guests to pick up prepackaged snacks, candy, freshly baked cookies and beverages without going through a checkout line. Through Verizon Business and AiFi technology, guests tap, swipe or insert a credit card upon entering the store. After selecting their preferred items, they walk through the exit gate and the items are automatically charged to their card without cashier interaction or any wait time required.

"Our innovative self-checkout technology allows customers at Chase Center to spend less time in line and more time enjoying Warriors games," said Lisa Blalock, vice president, U.S. Convenience for bp. "We are excited about putting this technology into action at Chase Center, and we look forward to more innovations at ampm locations."

In addition to the convenience it offers guests, the ampm ASAP Grab and Go store uses backend store analytics and computer vision to also ensure available stock and prevent shrinkage, with the intention of driving efficiency while helping manage overall costs.

TECHNOLOGY 110 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

provide a platform for loyalty and fuel, as well as delivery and bp's EV network down the road. The company's vision, he explained, is for a commercial driver to interact with bp's brands during the workday and come back with their family in the evening and engage with the brands on the retail side — and one day, return to charge their electric vehicle on the weekend.

"They can do all of this in one consumer experience. That's what we're driving toward and that's what I think you're going to see come to life over the

next couple of years," Franks said, adding that bp's interest and ambition to invest and become best in class will be a differentiator.

"And digital is something that is going to be very valued by dealers and our branded marketers within our system because, you know, these things are very expensive to do and it's not easy for small businesses to do this," he pointed out.

"For us to be able to bring resources to bear, being customer obsessed and having them involved in it, and then be able to leverage that across our entire network with dealers, branded marketers and our own company-owned locations, Thorntons and ampm, that is really going to differentiate us and it's something that I think, over time, will make dealers and jobbers want to be a part of the bp brand," Franks predicted. CSN

"The future success of retail sites is really going to depend on your ability to be customer obsessed and meet the needs of guests. As the world goes through a transition, we want to be able to help them with whatever their needs are."
Traditional and autonomous ampm locations play a key role in bp's digital ambition to be best in class. TECHNOLOGY 114 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
— Greg Franks, bp
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Delivery, pickup and drive-thru are quickly becoming necessities for the convenience channel

FOOD DELIVERY and pickup started in the restaurant space years ago with a few brands offering it nationwide, such as Pizza Hut and Domino's. Over time, more restaurants jumped into the mix, and suddenly options like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Grubhub became popular for food orders. This trend continued into other forms of retail, with Amazon today enabling consumers to get almost anything delivered straight to their door — in some cases, within a couple of hours.

It was the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that took delivery and pickup, as well as drive-thru, to a whole new level of popularity. And more than three years later, it is still going strong.

“It’s fair to say consumers were changing before the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated those changes and now consumers discovered these services are nice to engage with and expect brands to have them,” said Greg Franks, senior vice president of mobility and convenience, Americas at bp, based in Warrenville, Ill.

Foodservice remains an important piece of the delivery, pickup and drive-thru experience, although many convenience stores have expanded these services to include other in-store items.

Whether it’s a coffee chain, quick-service restaurant (QSR) or a fast-casual option, consumers are conditioned for delivery, pickup and drive-thru, so c-stores offering food options need them as well, according to Kay Segal, founder and managing partner of Business Accelerator Team, a convenience consulting firm based in Phoenix.

“If convenience retailers want to truly compete with other foodservice outlets, and not just other convenience stores, these consumer-desired delivery mechanisms are a must,” she said.

What’s more is that c-stores have a unique value proposition to offer consumers that restaurants and QSRs only offering food and beverages do not: access to nonfood items.

“It’s a massive opportunity for c-stores because they are uniquely positioned,” said Carl Turner, CEO of Swipeby, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company that helps retailers offer e-commerce options like online ordering, pickup and delivery. “I can get my pizza, a six-pack of beer and chips at a c-store, and I can’t do that at McDonald’s or other food places, which is a great combo option in states where it’s legal.”

Diving Into Delivery & Pickup

While both delivery and pickup have been growing in popularity for years, delivery in many areas leads the

116 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com FEATURE
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From Pump to Point of Sale: Shep Digital Solutions Steers Fuel Customers into C-Stores

More than 70% of customers gas up and drive away without entering the store. Seeking to change the metrics, Brian Nelson leveraged his more than 15 years of experience in retail merchandising and programmatic shopper marketing to find a solution. He is a Founding Partner and President of Shep Digital Solutions, a proprietary merchandising technology platform that helps drive fuel customers into stores.

Nelson talked with Convenience Store News about how Shep makes digital shopper-marketing more approachable and provides tools to help retailers differentiate themselves from competitors.

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way, with a 17 percent growth rate in 2021 and 2022, cited John Nelson, CEO of Vroom Delivery, a Chicago-based supplier that offers an e-commerce solution for pickup and delivery specifically designed for the convenience store market.

“Our research shows 88 percent of all orders through our platform in 2021 were delivery and in 2022, delivery made up 84 percent,” he said. “It does vary, where some chains do 99 percent delivery and others do more pickup. It depends on the nature and location of the chain.”

Whereas some c-stores jump into both delivery and pickup at the same time, others choose to start with one and expand as they go. The same is true for what products are offered — some start with foodservice only and then expand to additional in-store products, while others are the reverse.

“Many stores are picking one or the other first and then as they get capabilities and have data available, they move to other offerings,” said Abbey Karel, vice president of business development, convenience retailing at Bounteous. The Chicago-based company partners with brands, including c-stores, to create transformative digital experiences.

At Quality Oil Co., operator of more than 50 Quality Mart stores, the retailer started earlier this year offering packaged products through the

With Swipeby, customers can place an order online via the Swipeby app or a white label app. Swipeby then processes the payment, sends the order to the store and if a customer opts for delivery, the order is sent out to the company’s network of partners to fulfill it.

“The COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for Quality Mart attempting home delivery and developing an in-store pickup option,” said Michael Robb, the chain’s vice president of marketing. “We started with packaged goods already on our store shelves but, over time, we will consider broadening our offerings to delivery of hot foods such as coffee, hot dogs or pizza.”

At Vroom Delivery, the top categories for orders include age-restricted items such as alcohol and tobacco. According to Nelson, while c-stores may want to offer foodservice because it’s their highest-margin category, allowing other items to be delivered not only makes the basket larger, but also may convert nonfoodservice customers into foodservice customers.

It also depends on the location and the customers in the area. “We can look at two different chains in the same state and one that is more rural with a robust foodservice offering might have 60 percent

Swipeby platform. The Winston-Salem-based chain will consider expanding into food in the future.
FEATURE 120 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
A drive-thru gives c-store retailers the ability to get items into the hands of more customers.

foodservice items in their basket, while one 100 miles down the road in an urban environment has 90 percent consumer packaged goods,” he explained.

There are people searching online for on-demand milk delivery or on-demand beer delivery, Nelson noted, so by offering additional products outside of foodservice, c-stores can meet the needs of those consumers and then introduce foodservice products as a result.

“Maybe there is a Papa John’s customer that you deliver a six-pack of beer or milk [to], and then they realize they can get pizza from you. Now, you have converted that customer to a higher-margin item,” he said.

Working With Third-Party Delivery

Companies like Swipeby and Vroom allow retailers to retain control of the ordering process and own the data from it, whereas partnering only with a third party like DoorDash does not offer these options. Retailers can choose to either do the delivery portion in-house or partner with third parties to handle only the delivery piece for them.

“In the last year, everyone we’ve signed up has fully opted into the third-party delivery system because it’s easy to plug into and the way we have it structured with rates, it really doesn’t cost them much,” Nelson pointed out.

For those looking to dive into delivery quickly without investment in technology, partnering directly with companies like Uber Eats, DoorDash or Grubhub allows a c-store to get its offerings in front of a new market where consumers can order directly from these thirdparty apps, which also handle the delivery.

BP, which has a large dealer network of operators as well as company-owned and -operated stores, has an agreement in place with Uber Eats, which is becoming available to dealers across its network. However, the company is also investing in its own digital ecosystem to grow its internal capabilities, Franks relayed.

“We have a large network of dealers with a lot of different technology solutions and they wanted to offer delivery, so we partnered in the here and now, but plan to evolve our capabilities,” he said. “Third parties have a lot of expertise and it’s an ‘instant on,’ so it enables us to invest in the customer and provide what they want as we continue to grow our own platforms.”

Among the drawbacks of third-party arrangements are higher fees (between 20 and 30 percent per transaction), a lack of control and the inability to access or own the data, said Segal of Business Accelerator Team. She believes the only real advantage is getting marketing through their network.

“With something like Uber Eats, you have the potential to access new customers who will find you and your products, and some see it more as a marketing channel than e-commerce,” added Swipeby’s Turner. “The downside is the cost and not having access to any customer data because the delivery company collects it and uses it to their advantage.”

Also, the third-party company has complete control over where to funnel orders. If a chain signs up to give 20 percent revenue share to them, but a competing

122 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

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store in the area is giving them 30 percent, they will funnel people to the higher-revenue share because they will make more money, according to Turner. “They will also send people to their own ghost warehouse like DoorDash’s Dash Mart stores,” he cautioned.

In the future, industry experts and retailers believe c-stores will be offering a mix of off-premise options in order to compete. Those who are not yet in this space should be evaluating their options and dedicating resources to doing it right, said Vroom Delivery’s Nelson.

“E-commerce and delivery has to be a real investment and not just a project, because it will become the future for a lot of stores,” he stated.

Franks of bp, though, recommends c-store retailers start by knowing what their customers want before jumping into delivery or pickup options, and avoid trying to offer everything to everyone all at once.

“Start small and listen to your customer as you continue to build capabilities,” he said. “Then, you will have something the customer will really like and be more willing to engage with. In the end, the customer has all the say, as it should be, and c-stores will have to offer all of these things to compete.”

Dabbling in Drive-Thru

In addition to delivery and pickup, some c-stores are creating new locations with a drive-thru to get food, beverages and in-store items into the hands of more customers. Convenience store retailers already offering this option include Wawa Inc., 7-Eleven Inc. and GetGo Café + Market, the c-store subsidiary of Giant Eagle Inc.

There are things to consider, however, before jumping into the drive-thru space.

For example, adding a drive-thru window in the c-store environment requires planning because of the nature of the sites. As a result, it is often

easier to add the option to new construction rather than existing locations. “Unlike traditional QSR outlets, c-stores are more complex with fuel and car wash. A great deal of thought must go into the development of the total site,” said Segal. “I have seen more c-stores adding drive-thru and working through the ergonomic issues of the sites in order to accommodate it.”

Adding a drive-thru to a store also often requires a larger footprint and more land, so there has to be a return on investment for a c-store to consider it, noted Bounteous’ Karel.

Still, despite the challenges, there are c-stores taking the plunge and industry experts expect more will do so in the future. Convenience stores are in a great position to compete with Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and even Walmart, according to Turner, who also pointed out that people especially like to use a drive-thru to grab a coffee, other beverage or a bite to eat.

At a convenience store, “people are already in their cars getting gas, so they can easily drive up and collect their order,” he said. CSN

FEATURE 124 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
“If convenience retailers want to truly compete with other foodservice outlets, and not just other convenience stores, these consumer-desired delivery mechanisms are a must.”
— Kay Segal, Business Accelerator Team
The popularity of in-store and curbside pickup was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Sustaining an Inclusive Workplace

Chevron’s Neurodiverse Hiring Program benefits both the employees and the company

CHEVRON STATIONS INC. (CSI) is committed to creating and maintaining a productive and inclusive work environment, one where perceptions of people are based on their abilities, not their disabilities.

A key piece of this commitment is the company’s Neurodiverse Hiring Program, through which CSI works with nonprofit organizations to hire candidates with various neurodiverse situations or disabilities, such as Autism, Asperger’s and other spectrum-related conditions.

The program got its start in 2019 as the CSI Diversity and Inclusion Hiring Initiative, a neurodiversity employment pilot program that placed 10 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in positions at CSI stations in California’s Central Coast region, including Santa Barbara. For the pilot, the retailer partnered with PathPoint, a nonprofit agency that supports people with developmental disabilities by helping them strengthen workplace abilities, build life skills and develop meaningful relationships. CSI developed the role of Station Support Representative (SSR), tailored for the neurodiverse hires.

The pilot was a success and in 2020, CSI’s general manager approved the

Neurodiverse Hiring Program to move forward and be represented across all CSI approved locations.

Since then, the retailer has sought out new agencies to support all its districts, and is now working with more than 10 nonprofit organizations that provide CSI with clients who are ready to join the workforce. Today, a total of 62 SSRs are working at stations throughout California, and the Seattle area was added recently. The program has been sanctioned by the Chevron Corp. Global Office of Diversity, and it’s been recognized with multiple awards.

The program is ongoing with plans to continue staffing locations with SSRs. The retailer’s objective is to place SSRs at critically staffed locations, where support is needed. The overall goal of the program is to have neurodiverse hires represent 2 percent of CSI’s Customer Service Representative workforce and help address current hiring challenges.

To learn more, Convenience Store News recently caught up with Julie Beltran, a training specialist for CSI’s company-owned, company-operated (COCO) retail stations and one of two coordinators for the Neurodiverse Hiring Program.

CSN: What is the hiring process for the Neurodiverse Hiring Program?

Beltran: The nonprofit agencies have job developers who work with people with disabilities, teaching life skills and preparing their clients to enter the workforce. Once they have a client ready to work, they apply online for the SSR position. I meet with the selected business consultants and station managers to introduce them to the program, set up the interview, and then the hiring process begins.

CSN: What is the onboarding process for the new hires?

Beltran: Our Recruiting Team Lead created a job description, interview

126 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Michael (left) and Philip are among 62 Station Support Representatives — a role tailored for neurodiverse hires — working at Chevron stations today.

packet and hiring process that were all supported by our Human Resources Department. The Training Department then created Station Support Representative training materials, SSR Onboarding and SSR Annual Recertification, which is computer-based training that is taken when hired and annually.

CSN: Please explain the role of the Station Support Representatives in the stores.

Beltran: Responsibilities of the SSR include merchandising shelves, merchandising beverage areas, stocking vendor deliveries, general maintenance, cleaning fuel dispensers and restrooms, customer service, and other station support as needed with ongoing development support from CSI. The Station Support Representative is accompanied by a job coach from the Department of Rehabilitation to support them and provide guidance throughout their daily tasks.

CSN: How does the program benefit the Station Support Representatives?

Beltran: The program gives an opportunity for employment at a well-established corporation. We pride ourselves in providing quality fuel and convenience store offerings, and excellent customer service. We provide a safe place to work in a team environment. This program provides an opportunity to create independence and financial stability, and being part of the community can also help provide a sense of self-worth.

The SSR is hired as an employee of Chevron Stations Inc. and has all the same benefits, including up to 20 hours per weekly pay via direct deposit, vacation accrual for part-time employees, health and wellness benefits available for purchase, 401(k)/retirement savings plan eligibility, Educational Tuition Assistance Reimbursement, CSI Loyalty, and Service Anniversary Program. There is also an opportunity for promotion to a Customer Service Representative position.

CSN: How does the program benefit the Chevron organization and its workforce?

Beltran: Recently, we have implemented the program to our critically staffed locations and the retention rate of our SSRs is 86 percent. Six of the SSRs who were

originally hired in 2019 just celebrated their four-year anniversaries. We have a need to keep our stores fully staffed and the SSR position has provided support for our everyday tasks. SSRs have proven to be reliable, consistent and valuable contributors to our workforce. And it gives our employees the opportunity to work in a diverse and inclusive environment.

CSN: What does this program mean to you personally? Beltran: In 2019, the pilot was rolled out when my job responsibilities included overseeing stations in the Los Angeles and Ventura County areas. Two of the stores I managed became part of the Neurodiverse Hiring Program and four Station Support Representatives were hired in my territory [those celebrating their four-year anniversaries]. During the pilot, I attended training sessions provided by PathPoint to prepare myself and my employees on how to work, communicate and understand the diversity of disabilities.

This program means the world to me because I have the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life by providing a job at a company that cares about people. Our motto is “People First, Excellence Always.” On this journey, it really opened my eyes to the need for employers to invest in hiring people with disabilities. The majority of our SSRs are on the spectrum and have Autism. I have learned that only 8 percent of people with disabilities have jobs. I value the opportunity to continue to mentor station employees by sharing the experience of working with someone who is disabled, giving back to the community, and creating a diverse and inclusive workforce.

When I check in with the managers, they share their experiences with me. Some examples include: “Julio is the best employee I have working here, he works harder than anyone;” “Alan is my right-hand man, I don’t know if I could work without him;” and “Samantha always greets the customers with a smile!” Five of our SSRs recently received the Employee of the Month award. I stopped into the Santa Barbara station to congratulate our SSR Philip on his four-year anniversary and he said he loves his job and loves to come to work. CSN

The Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion program is part of The Convenience Inclusion Initiative, a Convenience Store News platform that champions a modern-day convenience store industry where current and emerging leaders foster an inclusive work culture that celebrates differences, allows team members to bring their whole selves to work, and enables companies to benefit from diversity of thought and background.

AN EYE ON D&I 128 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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Driving Forward

GetGo’s new drive-thru location provides a convenient option for customers on the move

At a Glance GetGo

Opened: February 2023

Location: 6800 Center

Street, Mentor, Ohio

Size: 4,200 square feet

Unique features: First GetGo Café + Market drive-thru created from the ground up; fully stocked store and full made-to-order menu available to both drive-thru customers and walk-in guests; new beverage offerings including bean-tocup coffee, nitro and cold brew; conveniently located adjacent to a Giant Eagle supermarket

DRIVE-THRUS have been a part of the American landscape since the 1920s, although they initially involved carhops delivering food. The first modern drive-thru concepts appeared in California about a decade later and by the 1970s, they overtook drive-in restaurants in number.

While a few convenience store chains have incorporated the concept into their branding since their founding — such as drive-thru grocery market Swiss Farm Stores — this ode to the automobile has still largely remained the domain of quick-service restaurants.

That’s changed over the last few years with largescale c-store retailers like Wawa Inc. and RaceTrac Inc. starting to invest in drive-thru concepts more seriously. And now, you can add Giant Eagle Inc.’s GetGo Café + Market chain to this select group.

This year, GetGo opened its first drivethru built from the ground up in Mentor, Ohio. The grand-opening celebration on Feb. 2 featured live music, giveaways, raffle drawings, food and beverage samples, and celebrity appearances including

Ohio football legend Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns serving as a guest team member on drive-thru duty.

Considering GetGo’s focus on fresh food, this move seemed only natural, according to Brandon Daniels, the retailer’s public relations manager.

“From a business standpoint, we take a food-first approach, meaning we put a high priority on our fresh food and our delicious made-to-order menu. One look inside our kitchens and you’ll see that we take our role as a restaurant seriously,” he said. “We like to say that we’re a restaurant first, and that we also happen to have a convenience store and sell fuel.”

GetGo is sensitive to its guests’ needs, particularly when it comes to creating a more convenient dining experience for customers who may be looking for a quicker option, especially when dealing with outside demands such as carpooling with kids or avoiding unexpectedly nasty weather.

The site of this new store was also advantageous. It is situated next to the parking lot of a Giant Eagle supermarket and is

130 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

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NEXT™ 2.0 Trays Before

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The NEXT™ 2.0 Tray Merchandising System allows retailers to increase merchandising space and improve product visibility. Each item remains faced and visible to the customer for easy product selection.

By incorporating the NEXT™ 2.0 System into a planogram, retailers can expand the selection of products beyond the limits of peg hooks and put more product in its place. This usually translates to an additional row of merchandise and up to 25-30% more facings in a given section.

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labor with pull-out trays for easy restocking and cycle counting of inventory

sandwiched between high-traffic roads.

“We saw a unique opportunity to … capitalize on the heavy vehicle traffic in this area,” Daniels said. “In addition to those who make this GetGo their destination, we get additional guests stopping by after a grocery shopping trip and those who make an impulse stop when driving by.”

Though the Mentor store is technically the second GetGo drive-thru in the region — an earlier remodel added one to an existing location — it is the first to incorporate the option directly into its initial design. This meant GetGo needed to make some adjustments to its usual store layout.

“The entire store is a bit smaller to allow room for the drive-thru lanes. As such, the center store is a bit smaller than what you’ll typically find at our other GetGo Café + Market locations,” said Daniels, noting that this location is 4,200 square feet and has six fuel pumps.

A smaller store, however, doesn’t mean fewer options. GetGo’s full made-to-order menu is available to drive-thru guests, as well as a selection of store products, packaged beverages, snacks and food that can be ordered via touchscreen

kiosks. If a customer can’t find a specific item on the drive-thru’s kiosk, they can ask the team member manning the window to retrieve it for them.

Meanwhile, walk-in guests still have access to a fully stocked store, along with the retailer’s newest beverage offerings. In February, GetGo announced the completion of a chainwide upgrade to its coffee program with the installation of new bean-to-cup coffee machines and the introduction of nitro and cold brew coffees.

While the company continues to evaluate the execution of this drive-thru concept, the initial customer response has been positive, with guests appreciating the added convenience.

Even with GetGo taking a cautious approach to the new venture, the retailer sees plenty of potential, with many of the stores already planned in the future for Ohio incorporating drive-thrus into their initial designs.

“Our plan is to continue testing this drive-thru concept at more of our new stores as we continue to grow and expand throughout the region. We have many locations in development throughout Ohio that will be opening in the next two years. Many of them were designed to include a drive-thru, just like the one at the store in Mentor,” Daniels said.

And the Pittsburgh-based chain isn’t just focusing on the Buckeye State for expansion. GetGo is “actively growing” with several new stores in development, he reported, while setting plans for additional stores in its current markets and working on plans to enter new markets.

“We also have some exciting growth plans for our car wash division, WetGo,” Daniels added. “We opened our first standalone WetGo location in Castle Shannon, Pa., in April and we have several new locations opening this year in Pennsylvania and Ohio.” CSN

STORE SPOTLIGHT 132 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Despite a smaller retail footprint, both drive-thru and walk-in guests have access to a fully stocked store.
C-store Display Racks HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION 134 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION Car Wash Services 138 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION Foodservice Grab N Go SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 139
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION E-Cigs/E-Vape Products 140 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION Car Wash Services 144 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION POS/Equipment/Supplies C-store Merchandise Displays SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 145
HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION Financial Services General Merchandise 146 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

Beverage Cocktail Mixes

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Service Oils
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Signs/Services Sunglasses SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 149
Services CLASSIFIEDS 150 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
CLASSIFIEDS Credit Card Processing / Merchant Services SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 151
CLASSIFIEDS Air Vacs 152 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
CLASSIFIEDS Credit Card Processing / Merchant Services SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 153
CLASSIFIEDS ATMs Air Vacs 154 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
CLASSIFIEDS Credit Card Processing / Merchant Services SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 155
CLASSIFIEDS Equipment/Supplies
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SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 157

E-Cigs/E-Vapes Products

E-Cigs/E-Vapes Products

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CLASSIFIEDS Sunglasses SEPTEMBER 2023 Convenience Store News 159
CLASSIFIEDS Credit Card Processing Coffee and Tea Services Age Verifier ATM’s 160 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
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Making the Most of Every Visit

C-store shoppers point to deals as a top influencer in their pump-to-store decision

From made-to-order food and beverages to exclusive private-label products that cannot be found anywhere else, convenience store operators are investing heavily in enhancing their in-store offers. Still, however, only 7 percent of the convenience store shoppers surveyed for the 2023 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study — which polled 1,500 consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month — said they purchase in-store items every time they stop for fuel. The research also revealed:

The Top Convenience Store Shopping Occasions

60% While running other errands

41% Special trips from home

36% While traveling for pleasure

34% While traveling to and from work/school

14% While traveling for business

The top five factors that influence the pump-to-store decision are:

1. Was feeling hungry/thirsty

2. Loyalty program

3. Mobile app promotion

4. Promotional signage

5. Banners/window signs

Loyalty program o ers and mobile app deals have the best chance of enticing hungry/thirsty motorists to enter the store after fueling up.


YEAR OVER YEAR, work/school travel has bounced back as a key c-store shopping occasion after hitting a low during the pandemic.

Frequency of Purchasing In-Store Items When Stopping for Fuel

While the number of shoppers who buy in-store items every time when fueling up remains low, there was a 5 POINT JUMP YEAR OVER YEAR in the percentage who say they do so almost every time.

BOOSTING SERVICES can also be an effective way to compel fuel customers into the store, especially with Generation Z and millennial consumers. While 65% of all shoppers say they regularly use at least one service at a c-store, this number jumps to 80% for millennials and to 83% for Gen Z.

Drive-thru service and Wi-Fi availability are particularly favored by Gen Z.

162 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com
Every time Almost every time Some of the time Rarely Never 7% 32% 12% 1% 48% offer

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