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Convenience Store News October 2022

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

INNOVATION SURGE The convenience store industry is listening, learning and evolving to give customers what they want.

Volume 58, Number 10

THE YEAR’S BEST NEW C-STORE PRODUCTS OCTOBER 2022

CSNEWS.COM

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Breaking the Mold The convenience story industry’s ingenuity is on full display right now EACH YEAR, Convenience Store News sets aside one issue as our “Innovation Issue,” but the truth is we could fill every page of every issue this year with innovation coverage given how much renovation, modernization and imagination is happening in the industry right now.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the convenience store industry to change its way of doing business, and greatly accelerated the adoption of new technologies. Now, more than two years out from the onset of the pandemic, as c-store retailers are no longer having to put out fires left and right, and scurry to figure out ways to get their products into the hands of consumers on lockdown, there’s been time for reflection and thinking about the future. Our cover story this issue, aptly titled “Innovation Surge” (see page 34), examines how the convenience store industry is listening, learning and evolving to give customers what they want — no easy task — and spotlights how various operators are meeting the challenge. For instance, 7-Eleven Inc. continues to reimagine the customer shopping experience as it brings more “Evolution Stores” to the market. For each new store, the nation’s largest c-store chain alters the design and product mix based on customer feedback and shopping habits.

By the same token, listening to its customers led High’s to move to a dual food and technology focus, while still maintaining its connection to the brand’s heritage of dairy and ice cream. High’s unveiled a new flagship store in mid-July that the retailer is confident gives the brand a signature point of difference in the market and keep it relevant to customers. Kum & Go, meanwhile, is rolling out a new fresh food program at its stores that was developed based on numerous studies conducted on types of customers, what they desire from food on the go, and how their shopping habits and trends are changing both now and in the future. During the course of our reporting for this issue, High’s Senior Vice President Brad Chivington told us: “Innovation means staying relevant to our customers — making sure that we are continuously exceeding their expectations. We do this by listening to their feedback and creating points of difference from our competitors.” I can think of no better way to sum up the imperative that faces all c-store operators today. The old way of doing business is not an option anymore. And as more c-store retailers roll out impressive new prototypes and overhaul their existing stores, it’s going to become harder and harder for the operators not keeping pace to stay competitive and stay in business. For comments, please contact Linda Lisanti, Editor-in-Chief, at llisanti@ensembleiq.com.

EDITORIAL EXCELLENCE AWARDS (2016-2022)

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD

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

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

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

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

2022 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, March 2022 Winner, Business to Business, Food & Beverage, Series of Articles, October 2021 Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, September 2021 2020 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Series of Articles, September 2019 2018 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Website Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2017 Business to Business, Editorial Use of Data, June 2017 2017 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, May 2017 Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, June 2016 2016 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2015 Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, August 2015

Laura Aufleger OnCue Express

Ray Johnson Speedee Mart

Chad Beck Core-Mark

Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments LLC

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

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

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VIEWPOINT

Leadership Day Returns Past, present and future leaders will gather in Charlotte next month for recognition and education hiatus due to the pandemic, the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame and Future Leaders in Convenience returned as live events last year. Although both were produced virtually via video conferencing in 2020, I was reminded last year of the personal interaction, networking and education that goes on at these two co-located in-person events that make them special.

AFTER A ONE-YEAR

In 2019, I coined the term “Leadership Day” in the convenience store industry to describe this special gathering of past, present and future leaders of our industry. This year’s Leadership Day, consisting of the 36th annual Hall of Fame dinner and the fifth annual Future Leaders in Convenience (FLIC) Summit, will be held Nov. 21 in Charlotte, N.C.

I was reminded last year of the personal interaction, networking and education that goes on at these two co-located in-person events that make them special.

The day will begin with the largest group of emerging leaders we’ve ever honored. Thirty-three young and talented convenience industry people will take the stage to accept their FLIC awards and participate in a unique, interactive workshop designed to hone their leadership skills and help them overcome whatever challenges they face in today’s business world. Last year’s emcee, Matt Domingo, senior director of external communications for Reynolds American Inc., advised the FLIC honorees to lend a helping hand and offer advice not only to their direct reports, but also to other colleagues around them. Guest speaker Roy Strasburger, CEO of StrasGlobal, added that leaders should strive to pay it forward. “We are all young enough to still create whatever legacy we want,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be financial or even tangible. It could be as much or as little as someone saying, ‘Roy was a good and fair person’ when I wasn’t standing in front of them.”

This year’s FLIC program promises to be just as strong, with additional workshop and interactive sessions added. Among our guest speakers are Doug Haugh, president of Parkland USA; Danielle Mattiussi, former vice president of retail operations for Maverik — Adventure’s First Stop; and Stephanie Myers, media and public relations manager for Pilot Co. Our thanks goes to founding sponsor Reynolds for its support of this important industry initiative. The day will be capped off with the induction of the newest retailer and supplier members of the CSNews Hall of Fame, and the presentation of the 2022 Retailer Executive of the Year award. This year’s Hall of Fame inductees are Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., and Brent Cotten, vice president of customer and industry affairs at The Hershey Co. In addition, Haugh will be honored as the 2022 Retailer Executive of the Year. Hall of Fame sponsors include Altria, BIC, Hershey, Mondelez and Reynolds. If you are interested in attending or sponsoring this year’s Hall of Fame or Future Leaders in Convenience event, please contact our Vice President/Brand Director Paula Lashinsky at plashinsky@ensembleiq.com. I hope you plan to be a part of this educational and celebratory day. For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editorial Director Emeritus, at dlongo@ensembleiq.com.

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CONTENTS OCT 22

VOLUME 58 N UMB ER 10

100

COVER STORY PAGE 34

102 FEATURES

DEPARTMENTS

COVER STORY

EDITOR’S NOTE

AN EYE ON D&I

4 Breaking the Mold The convenience story industry’s ingenuity is on full display right now.

100 The Metrics of Diversity & Inclusion To succeed in their initiatives, companies need to know where they are starting from and where they intend to go.

VIEWPOINT

STORE SPOTLIGHT

6 Leadership Day Returns Past, present and future leaders will gather in Charlotte next month for recognition and education.

102 Food Forward Fuel City’s newest convenience store reintroduces Chester’s Chicken to the Fort Worth area.

34 Innovation Surge The convenience store industry is listening, learning and evolving to give customers what they want. FEATURE

52 Meeting Consumers’ Evolving Needs Comfort and indulgence items dominate this year’s Best New Products Awards winners.

INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

12 CSNews Online 26 New Products

52

126 Contactless Convenience C-store shoppers are growing fonder of contactless shopping options.

SMALL OPERATOR

28 Investing in the Right Technology How should small operators decide where to spend their precious dollars?

26 8 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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CONTENTS OCT 22

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14

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

BRAND MANAGEMENT Vice President/Group Brand Director Paula Lashinsky (917) 446-4117 plashinsky@ensembleiq.com EDITORIAL Editor-in-Chief

Linda Lisanti llisanti@ensembleiq.com

Executive Editor

Melissa Kress mkress@ensembleiq.com

Senior Editor

Angela Hanson ahanson@ensembleiq.com

Managing Editor

INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

CATEGORY MANAGEMENT

14 GPM Investments Grows Its Southeast Footprint

FOODSERVICE

16 Federal Reform of Credit Card Competition Heats Up

70 Evolving in Excellence Casey’s leads the 11th class of Foodservice Innovators Awards winners.

18 Eye on Growth 18 Fast Facts 20 Retailer Tidbits 22 Supplier Tidbits

TOBACCO

78 Riding the Tobacco Rollercoaster Looming regulation and economic pressures weigh heavily on the business.

Danielle Romano dromano@ensembleiq.com

Associate Editor

Sanestina Hunter shunter@ensembleiq.com

Editorial Director Emeritus

Don Longo dlongo@ensembleiq.com

Contributing Editor

Renée M. Covino reneek@aol.com

Contributing Editor

Tammy Mastroberte tmastroberte@gmail.com

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

Rachel McGaffigan rmcgaffigan@ensembleiq.com

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

Ron Lowy rlowy@ensembleiq.com

Associate Publisher & Midwest Sales Manager Kelly Fischer (773) 992-4464 kfischer@ensembleiq.com Account Executive & Classified Advertising Terry Kanganis (917) 634-7471 tkanganis@ensembleiq.com Classified Production Manager Mary Beth Medley (856) 809-0050 marybeth@marybethmedley.com AUDIENCE

TECHNOLOGY 94 Putting Itself Out of Business Convenience Store News’ 2022 Technology Leader of the Year, Sheetz Inc., stays focused on evolving its business.

HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

84 Assessing the Health of the HBC Category The convenience channel can build upon the recent success this category has enjoyed. CBD

90 Suited for CBD This fast-moving category holds promise for convenience stores.

List Rental (914) 309-3378

MeritDirect Marie Briganti

Subscriber Services/Customer Care Toll-Free: (877) 687-7321 Fax: (888) 520-3608

contact@csnews.com

PROJECT MANAGEMENT/PRODUCTION/ART Creative Director (973) 607-1320

Colette Magliaro cmagliaro@ensembleiq.com

Advertising/Production Manager (773) 992-4418

Ed Ward eward@ensembleiq.com

Art Director (973) 607-1321

Lauren DiMeo ldimeo@ensembleiq.com

CORPORATE OFFICERS Chief Executive Officer

94

Jennifer Litterick

Chief Financial Officer

Jane Volland

Chief People Officer

Ann Jadown

Executive Vice President, Production

Derek Estey

Executive Vice President, Content & Communications

Joe Territo

CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS AFFILIATIONS Premier Trade Press Exhibitor

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

Convenience Store News (ISSN 0194-8733; USPS 515-950) is published 12 times per year, monthly, by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Subscription rates: Subscription rate in the United States: $125 one year; $230 two year; $14 single issue copy; Canada and Mexico: $150 one year; $270 two year; $16 single issue copy; Foreign: $170 one year; $325 two year; $16 single issue copy; Digital One year, digital $87; two year, $161. Periodical postage paid at Chicago, IL 60631, and additional mailing addresses. Copyright 2022 by EnsembleIQ. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Convenience Store News, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631.

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CSNEWS ONLINE

SPECIAL FEATURE TOP VIEWED STORIES

1

Merchandising Strategies Shift With Rise of Self-Checkout

Because self-checkout skews toward smaller baskets and quick fill-in trips, shoppers utilizing the technology have to wait for a shorter time and in different queue areas. As a result, retailers have a limited window of opportunity to engage customers with front-end merchandising, and strategies that worked before may not work now.

2

Wawa Selects Site for First Alabama Convenience Store

3

Performance Food Group Brings Convenience Ops Under Core-Mark Banner

4

7-Eleven’s Sale of 70-Plus Stores Opens Door for Small Operators

The chain’s first location in the state will be located at Twin Beech Road and Highway 98 in Fairhope. An opening date has not yet been set by the Pennsylvania-based retailer.

The decision came a year after Performance Food Group (PFG) closed on its acquisition of Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc., which followed PFG’s 2019 deal for Eby-Brown Co. LLC. Now operating as Core-Mark, the convenience business of PFG services more than 50,000 customers through 39 distribution centers across the United States and Canada.

Thirty-five of the sites being offered are fee-owned properties and the remaining are leaseholds. All sites are being sold without convenience store branding.

5

VIDEO: A Blueprint for Foodservice Success From improved branding to menu innovation to navigating supply chain challenges, every aspect of today’s rapidly changing convenience foodservice market was addressed at the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange event, presented by Convenience Store News. The annual event is a networking and experience-focused conference designed to give attendees actionable knowledge, insights and research to strengthen their foodservice businesses. Presentation and panel discussion highlights included the importance of differentiation; the ways that small ideas can have big value; and the importance of embracing continuous improvement. For more videos, visit the Special Features section of csnews.com.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Has Robust Pipeline of Future Stores

During the first quarter of its 2023 fiscal year, the convenience store retailer expanded its network by building 30 new sites. The company also has 55 sites currently under construction, according to President and CEO Brian Hannasch.

EXPERT VIEWPOINT

Strategy Creates Success As the line between restaurant and convenience retail continues to blur, it’s critical that c-stores — particularly those that serve food — offer more robust pickup and delivery options in order to stay competitive, writes Kevin Rice, executive vice president at digital growth partner Bounteous. He advised that retailers plan for the long-term and start a delivery program using third-party delivery services (3PDs); then strategically create their own delivery channels and transition to using 3PDs solely as a delivery fulfillment service; and finally use loyalty to reacquire customers from 3PDs, converting them with enticing loyalty programs and offers to purchase directly from their own app and website.

MOST VIEWED NEW PRODUCT

Gilbarco Veeder-Root Passport POS Containerization & Edge Computing Gilbarco Veeder-Root’s latest initiative aims to increase the reliability and flexibility of its Passport Point-of-Sale (POS) by leveraging edge computing with Acumera’s Reliant Platform in the convenience store environment. The containerization development currently in progress for Passport POS simplifies the traditional POS architecture, enabling faster updates and increased overall uptime and resiliency, according to the company. Running Passport as a container-based application on Acumera’s Reliant Platform allows for full local redundancy of the POS even when internet connectivity fails. Gilbarco Veeder-Root Greensboro, N.C. gilbarco.com

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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

GPM Investments Grows Its Southeast Footprint The company’s $375 million deal with Transit Energy Group brings it into two new markets GPM INVESTMENTS LLC reached

a deal to acquire approximately 150 convenience stores from Transit Energy Group (TEG). The agreement also includes fuel supply rights to approximately 200 dealers; commercial, government and industrial customers; and TEG’s bulk storage, distribution and transportation assets, all in the southeastern United States.

value for ARKO stockholders and valuable synergies given our existing footprint and proven strategy of adding value to strong local brands while keeping jobs in place,” he added. Greenville, S.C.-based TEG, currently owned by ECP, is a privately held convenience store and wholesale fuel company in the southeast U.S.

With the roughly $375 million transaction, Richmond, Va.-based GPM will expand its retail footprint to Alabama and Mississippi.

The acquisition is expected to increase ARKO’s store count to more than 1,530 convenience stores and expand the company’s wholesale segment to more than 1,800 sites.

GPM is a wholly owned subsidiary of ARKO Corp. The acquisition is part of ARKO’s strategic focus on growth and generating long-term stockholder value with its convenience, wholesale and fleet fueling platform.

Including retail and wholesale, the acquisition is expected to add approximately 285 million gallons of fuel, the majority branded, to the approximately 2 billion gallons the company currently sells annually, according to ARKO.

“We believe this significant, accretive acquisition will drive strategic growth with the addition of an exceptional team, well-known stores and other assets to our family of community brands,” said Arie Kotler, president, chairman and CEO of ARKO.

“ARKO will add value to our stores with their diverse offerings, and ably serve our many loyal retail and wholesale customers,” said Stephen Lattig, president and CEO of TEG. “TEG would not be the success it is today if it were not for the dedication of its team members. We are excited that our team and company are joining a growing and dynamic organization.”

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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Federal Reform of Credit Card Competition Heats Up Retail groups applaud the bipartisan efforts in Congress to address high swipe fees U.S. REPS. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Lance Gooden (R-Texas) introduced a bipartisan bill that takes aim at the high swipe fees that are paid by businesses and passed on to customers. It is companion legislation to the Senate’s Credit Card Competition Act of 2022.

NACS endorsed both the House and Senate versions of the legislation. The association noted that convenience store swipe fees totaled $14 billion in 2021, which was a 26 percent increase over the previous year. During the first half of 2022, credit card swipe fees were up another 33 percent.

“Credit card companies and mega banks keep finding new ways to squeeze our small retailers in Vermont,” Welch said. “In a well-functioning market there is competition and choice. That does not exist in our current credit card network market.

“These fees are simply outrageous because there is no competition. Our stores compete every day for consumers’ business — as does every other business in the country,” said NACS President and CEO Henry Armour. “This competition also drives innovation. In the broken credit card market, no competition means a lack of innovation and an open invitation for these large multinational corporations to continually increase rates and take advantage of a system that only benefits them.”

“This bipartisan bill will correct that and bring much needed competition to the VisaMastercard duopoly,” he continued. “This long-overdue bill will help our small businesses thrive and lower household costs for families at a time when they really need it.” The bill follows the U.S. Senate version, S. 4674, that Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) introduced in July. If passed into law, the Credit Card Competition Act would require the largest U.S. banks that issue Visa or Mastercard credit cards to allow transactions to be processed over at least two unaffiliated card payment networks.

According to payments consulting firm CMSPI, credit card routing competition would reduce swipe fees by $11 billion or more annually. The National Retail Federation stated that the introduction of the House bill shows that the pro-consumer legislation is rapidly gaining momentum in Congress. The Retail Industry Leaders Association joined in applauding the House bill.

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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Eye on Growth

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. and Millat Convenience Ltd entered into a master license agreement that will bring the Circle K banner to South Africa. The first store in the Gauteng province will open later this month. Yesway acquired nine Tres Amigos convenience stores in Texas. Each store features 2,828 square feet of merchandising space and six fueling stations. Refuel Operating Co. purchased the assets of Premier Stores Inc. The transaction includes six Great Stops convenience stores in the Greensboro, N.C., market.

Offen Petroleum closed on its acquisition of the wholesale division of G&S Oil Products. The deal adds 40 customers that operate under the Conoco, Phillips 66 and Sinclair brands to Offen’s footprint. CrossAmerica Partners LP entered into a deal to pick up some assets from Community Service Stations Inc. The limited partnership will acquire wholesale fuel supply contracts to 39 dealer-owned locations, 34 subjobber accounts, and two commission sites.

In addition, the deal includes five unbranded motor fuel customers.

7E CO Holdings LLC, a chain of 60 convenience stores with locations in Texas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, is buying Dino Stop Convenience Stores. With the pact, Tony Wied, president of Dino Stop, exits the industry.

The new store serves as Onvo’s flagship travel center.

Rusty Lantern Markets acquired the fourstore Mallard Mart convenience store chain in mid-August, enhancing its footprint in Maine. The stores have begun transitioning to the Rusty Lantern banner.

Onvo opened the first ground-up construction of its new store prototype in Dorrance, Pa., marking the retailer’s first travel center in Luzerne County.

Global Partners LP is expanding in the Mid-Atlantic region with the acquisition of Tidewater Convenience Inc. The transaction includes 14 company-operated sites and one company-owned commission marketing location.

FAST FACTS

3.3% 85% 5B A 20-second increase in wait time in a traditional checkout lane results in a 3.3 percent to 4.8 percent increase in front-end sales.

Approximately 85 percent of chocolate and candy sold today comes in packaging that contains 200 calories or less per pack.

— VideoMining

— National Confectioners Association

In the 12 months ending July 2022, Gen Zers made 5 billion restaurant visits; 4.3 billion of those visits were to quick-service restaurants. — The NPD Group

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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Retailer Tidbits

7-Eleven Inc. launched 7Collection, an online merchandise shop featuring exclusive apparel and accessories inspired by 7-Eleven and its fan-favorite products like Big Gulp and Slurpee drinks. Alltown Fresh partnered with Mable to provide wholesale distribution of local specialty foods to its stores. The move is part of the retailer’s efforts to source products from local farms, bakeries and vendors. Kum & Go LC is rolling out Car IQ Pay for fleet drivers. In partnership with Car IQ, the retailer’s more than 400 locations across the Midwest will go live with the fleet payment option this fall. Cal’s Convenience Inc. teamed up with Paytronix Inc. to launch the retailer’s new My Rewards loyalty program. Members earn and redeem rewards both at the register and at the pump. Maverik — Adventure’s First Stop is expanding its pilot food waste program

To date, the retailer has donated 276,878 pounds of surplus food.

in partnership with Feeding America. The program currently donates surplus food from 87 convenience stores. Sheetz Inc. celebrated Truck Driver Appreciation Week by reducing the price of diesel fuel to $4.49 per gallon. The lower price went into effect Sept. 5 and ran through Sept. 30. Circle K expanded its relationship with NCR Corp. Under the pact, NCR activated its Allpoint ATM network at more than 3,500 Circle K stores across 30 states.

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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

becoming the first “Official Fruit Chew of Duke Athletics.” Hi-Chew will host on-site activations and product sampling for fans during select home games.

Supplier Tidbits The company also agreed to comply with a series of injunctive terms limiting its marketing and sales practices.

Juul Labs Inc. reached a $438.5 million agreement with 34 states and territories to settle an investigation into its marketing and sales practices. Tyson Foods Inc. will invest $200 million at its beef plant in Amarillo, Texas. The project involves a 143,000-square-foot addition to the existing complex to house upgraded team member wellbeing areas. Mars Inc. and Instacart are teaming up to offer same-day delivery of more than 40 Mars brands. The move allows Mars to reach consumers on their smartphones and laptops. Hi-Chew signed a three-year partnership deal with Duke University Athletics,

ParTech Inc. acquired MENU Technologies AG, an omnichannel ordering solution for international restaurant brands. The acquisition adds an online ordering component to PAR’s suite of unified commerce solutions.

PDI rebranded to PDI Technologies. The update includes a new logo and website that reflect the organization’s ongoing commitments and investments in support of industry transformation. CDE Services Inc. will market and deploy TruAge to convenience stores nationwide, including its existing network of 27,000 retailers serviced by goEBT. TruAge is an age-verification system for retailers.

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ATTRACTING MORE C-STORE CUSTOMERS WITH COFFEE With challenging headwinds such as inflation hitting it’s highest level in 40 years, C-Stores must implement upgraded solutions for higher profitability. With limited resources and time, consumers are now more selective of their in-store purchases. They are not only looking for high-quality and convenience, but they are also more spending conscious. What if there was a way to upgrade and build excitement around your beverage program while meeting consumer expectations? By providing a full-scale, top-quality coffee program, you are providing consistent, reliable hot and cold coffee options all day long!

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with The Hershey Company’s Nick Hansen, vice president of convenience, food service and specialty

The Hershey Company’s Nick Hansen Shares Basket-Building Strategies (HINT) MEET CONSUMERS WHERE THEY ARE Convenience Store News: There is a lot of discussion about increased food costs, but that hasn’t impacted snacks. Tell us about the category dynamics. Nick Hansen: Snacking continues to perform extremely well, with strong growth trends across various snacking segments. Given the current inflationary environment, we continue to keep a close eye on both dollar and unit trends while working with retailers on strategies to drive conversion. In addition, we are closely monitoring other dynamics to include fuel prices and return-to-office, which impact trips and in-store visits. Consumers have always turned to the convenience channel to meet their daily on-the-go snacking needs. During Covid, many consumers also turned to convenience stores for their fill-in trip needs inbetween stock-up trips. We have seen strong stickiness on that behavior and continued growth in larger pack sizes across snacking.

CSN: How have consumer snacking behaviors changed and what do these trends mean for the C-store industry? NH: We continue to see snacking occasions/frequency increase throughout the day. While this trend was emerging prior to the pandemic, it has continued to accelerate as consumer mobility increases and diverge from three main meals to various snacks throughout the day.

as sweet snacks in the morning and CMG, salty, savory and other snacking in the afternoon/evening. Another idea is to cross-merchandise items that are frequently purchased together during certain times of the day—for example, Reese’s Snack Cake or Snack Bar and coffee during the morning. Reese’s Snack Cakes have been a key growth contributor to the pre-packaged pastry/bakery category during the pandemic. Absent this key innovation item, the category would have been negative, but saw growth due to the new item’s strong performance upon launch in summer of 2020. While CMG is a key in-store destination, it is also highly impulsive and responds well to merchandising throughout the store and by transaction zones. For example: • In aisle, strike zone optimization within the aisle is critical to allow convenient/quick shopping for pre-planned purchases because it follows the consumer decision process. • Secondary merchandising outside of the aisle including shippers and under-the-counter for impulsive purchases.

We have also seen an increase in sharing occasions across snacking, which is driving increased sales across larger pack sizes. Whether it’s more summer road trips or get-togethers with families and friends, consumers are sharing more of the snacks they love.

While convenience stores are the ultimate destination for impulse on-the-go snacks, we’ve seen the basket evolve as consumers stock-up on a variety of snacks to meet future snacking occasions. The consumer wants to have a variety of snacks on hand to meet their craving at the time of consumption.

There is a heightened level of consumer participation in seasons. The pandemic shed a light on the importance of family traditions, nostalgia and celebrations. In turn, consumers continue to seek out their favorite seasonal treats to help them make the most of the season.

There are ample opportunities to pair C-store trip drivers and build basket. For example, CMG is purchased with another item 87% of the time. Items frequently in the basket with CMG are salty/savory snacks, fountain drinks [soda or coffee depending on time of day] and made-to-order or pre-packaged food.

A seamless digital experience and strong loyalty platform can really accelerate impulse snacking occasions, dayparts and showcase snacking innovation. Consumers continue to demand a seamless digital experience to bring it all together via mobile ordering, curbside pick-up and customized loyalty programs.

Suggestive sell with merchandising units next to those categories helps build baskets. Leverage top brands, specifically of CMG in these cross-merchandising opportunities because they have high household penetration, are highly impulsive and deliver high margins.

CSN: How can retailers optimize these trends and build sales throughout the day? NH: It is all about meeting consumers where they are at in their daily routine. Retailers should lean into items that peak during certain times of the day to drive both impulse and planned purchases, such

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Big Deal Brewing Beer Labatt USA, Barstool Sports and Spittin’ Chiclets, a hockey podcast, have joined forces to launch Big Deal Brewing. The collaboration is described as a refreshing, high-quality beer for hockey fans and beer drinkers alike. The first beer under the Big Deal Brewing umbrella will be Big Deal Brewing Original Golden Ale, a super-premium golden ale. Labatt USA and Barstool Sports have been marketing partners since 2019 and have focused a lot of their brand activation efforts around the Spittin’ Chiclets franchise. Big Deal Brewing Original Golden Ale will be available in select cities in the United States and Canada this fall. LABATT USA • BUFFALO, N.Y. • LABATTUSA.COM

Planters Sweet & Spicy Peanuts Planters introduces Sweet & Spicy Peanuts, the first innovation from the brand since joining Hormel Foods in 2021. This “irresistible” snack is dry roasted with honey and dried red chili peppers, and then seasoned with salt for a crunchy and satisfying taste, according to the company. Available nationwide, Planters Sweet & Spicy Peanuts come in a 1.75-ounce size for on-the-go snackers, as well as a 16-ounce bottle. HORMEL FOODS CORP. • AUSTIN, MINN. • PLANTERS.COM

Push Pop Gummy Pop-its Bazooka Candy Brands added Push Pop Gummy Pop-its to its Push Pop portfolio. The new product features mouthwatering gummies that consumers will love, coupled with an interactive, refillable container that makes the experience a treat from start to finish, the company stated. Push Pop Gummy Pop-its come in an assortment of consumerfavorite flavors, including Strawberry, Blue Raspberry, Berry Blast, and Watermelon. BAZOOKA CANDY BRANDS • CHICAGO • BAZOOKACANDYBRANDS.COM

Coffee Mate Plant-Based Almond & Oat Milk Creamers Coffee mate is bringing Plant-Based Almond & Oat Milk Creamers to consumers. Available in two flavors, French Vanilla and Caramel, the creamers combine the most beloved flavors of Coffee mate with a smooth, blended base of oat and almond milk, according to the company. Both flavors are available in a 28-ounce bottle with a suggested retail price of $4.29. NESTLÉ • ARLINGTON, VA. • GOODNES.COM/COFFEEMATE

Cutlerease Triple-Tower Base Stand Waddington North America, a Novolex brand, released a new stand for Cutlerease, its patented dispenser that offers customers one disposable utensil at a time. The new stand is available in a triple-tower base to hold forks, knives, spoons, or any combination of the three. Standing at 28 inches high, the stand is both sturdy and easy to assemble and can be set up anywhere, saving more space for foodservice operations. NOVOLEX • HARTSVILLE, S.C. • NOVOLEX.COM

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Pillsbury Mini Soft Baked Cookies Confetti General Mills adds confetti flavor to its Pillsbury Mini Soft Baked Cookies line. The individually wrapped, bite-sized cookies appeal to shoppers looking for an indulgent snack they can eat on the go, and provide convenience store retailers with a fun option for their sweet snack set. They are sold in bulk quantities of nine boxes, each containing six 3-ounce bags. Pillsbury Mini Soft Baked Cookies Confetti carries a suggested retail price of $1.69. GENERAL MILLS CONVENIENCE • MINNEAPOLIS • GENERALMILLSCF.COM

Flipz & Turtles Chocolates Flipz, known for its white fudge and chocolate covered pretzels, and Turtles, known for its peanut, chocolate and caramel clusters, introduce three new innovations. Last year, Flipz debuted STUFF’D milk chocolate peanut butter pretzel nuggets and now, these salty and sweet bite-sized treats are coated in white fudge. They are available in a 3.5-ounce bag ($2.99) and a 6-ounce resealable bag ($3.79). Also new from the brand is Flipz Clusterz Pretzels & Caramel Bites Bars ($1.19), which are clusters of salty, crunchy pretzels and caramel coated in milk chocolate. The Turtles brand is giving its Caramel Nut Cluster a new variety with the Turtles Dark Chocolate Pecan Bites. It is available in a standup bag ($4.29) and a bar ($1.69). PLADIS GLOBAL • LONDON • PLADISGLOBAL.COM

Twang Partners New Flavors Twang Partners, maker of the Original Beer Salt since 1986, released two new flavors. Cucumber Chili Lime and Grapefruit flavored salts are available now for a limited time. They are not only good with beer, but also formulated to pair well with seltzers, according to the company. They come in 24-count displays, clip strips, and shippers. TWANG PARTNERS LLC • SAN ANTONIO • TWANG.COM

CBD Living Full-Spectrum CBD + THC Gummies CBD Living expands its product line into full-spectrum hemp extract with the introduction of CBD Living Full-Spectrum CBD + THC Gummies. The pomegranate flavored gummies contain 25 milligrams of Nano CBD and 5 milligrams of Nano THC per serving. They are vegan and non-GMO. The new product is manufactured using CBD Living’s proprietary Water Soluble Technology, which allows for fastacting results — typically within 30 minutes. CBD LIVING • CORONA, CALIF. • CBDLIVING.COM

Parkview DualCoat Containers New from Commercial Zone Products, the Parkview DualCoat series of steel trash and recycling containers features a two-step coating process that makes them the most durable metal containers to date, the company stated. Constructed from heavygauge steel and built in the United States, the 34-gallon units are offered with an open-top lid or canopy lid, and each unit is equipped with a security cable and anchor kit. Available in standard black, the units include gray trash and blue recycling logos. Personalization options are offered to add a company logo to give the containers a custom look and to amplify a company’s brand image. COMMERCIAL ZONE PRODUCTS • MILWAUKEE • COMMERCIALZONE.COM

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SMALL OPERATOR

Investing in the Right Technology How should small operators decide where to spend their precious dollars? By Tammy Mastroberte WITH ALL THE advancements in retail technology, it’s hard to imagine a convenience store without any tech. Whether it’s the point-of-sale (POS), back office, security cameras or tools for human resources, there are more options today to automate the store and improve business efficiency and decisions than ever before. And while the large c-store chains have bigger budgets and more options to choose from, there have been major advances made in technology specifically geared toward the industry’s single-store owners and small operators.

Paul, Minn. “How much time or money is this going to save me? Will I be better able to report what is going on in the store? Will this technology open doors for me to other programs? Will I be able to access rebates or other marketing funds that were not available without it?” At Rhodes Convenience Stores, a 30-store operator based in Cape Girardeau, Mo., there are always open discussions happening around technology, and the company tries to think “outside the box,” according to Duane Statler, vice president of information technology. The company does its research and tries to quantify where technology can help them save in some way.

So then, how should a small operator decide where to spend their more limited budgets?

“We look at the benefits a technology can provide, like helping our team and making their job easier,” he explained. “What are we gaining from it? From a business standpoint, will it make me better and efficient? Then, we look at the cost and say, ‘Is this worth it to me?’”

“Calculate the return on investment (ROI) before investing in a technology,” advised Steve Morris, president of Retail Management Inc., based in St.

Although vendors will often share figures for what a chain can expect to save, Statler does not rely on this information to make a decision about investing in new technology. In fact, he has not looked at any new technology recently that

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offers a large money savings upfront, and so the chain does not use this as a main indicator to purchase. “I haven’t looked at anything in a while that shows we will save $50,000 if we spend $200,000. It’s more about if it’s going to help make the business better. It has to have an end of making us better one way or another — better for customers and better for our employees. Then, we can decide if we can swallow the cost,” Statler said. Budget should be considered along with strategy depending on how large the chain is and how rapidly it plans to grow in the future, noted Peter Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Convenience and Energy Advisors, based in Boston. If there is a growth plan in place, chains should start by deciding if they want to adopt a less expensive technology option and then invest in bigger, more robust technology as the growth occurs, or if they want to invest in the larger option upfront. “A smaller chain or one-store operator can start with a less expensive option that offers less features, and then upgrade as time goes on if they grow,” he said. “It all depends on the strategy and what they want to get out of it.”

Essential Technologies Regardless of chain size, having a POS and backoffice solution is a necessity in today’s c-store world. The ability to pull reports from the POS to see what products are selling and how much, and also having the ability to reconcile that with ordering is “business 101,” according to Morris. “It’s so essential, I wouldn’t open the doors without it,” he stressed. If a single store or small chain is not selling gasoline, or offering unbranded fuel, there are a lot of economical options when it comes to a POS, including some that run with an iPad, Rasmussen pointed out. However, if a store or chain has branded gasoline, they often have a list of approved POS vendors to choose from, which is usually NCR, Verifone or Gilbarco, he explained. “Rapid POS is iOS based, but doesn’t work with branded gasoline,” he said. “If you are not selling gas, you have a lot of other options and the barrier to entry is easier. Also, for backoffice systems, it’s important to choose a solution you can

Considering EV Charging? Investigate Now Electric vehicle (EV) charging is gaining steam in some states and no matter what size a convenience store chain is, or if it’s a singlestore owner, EV charging is something to watch, especially if stores are near a highway, according to Peter Rasmussen, founder and CEO of Convenience and Energy Advisors, based in Boston. In fact, it’s actually something to investigate now because funding is being made available throughout the United States. On Nov. 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which included significant funding for EV charging to the tune of $5 billion going directly to each state to deploy EV charging. “The federal allocation applied a percentage to each state, and the state had to submit plans by Aug. 1 to the federal government so funding would be released, and retailers and other locations could begin to apply for the funding,” Rasmussen noted. He encourages retailers of every size to look into what is available in their state through the state’s Department of Transportation and take advantage of the funding while it is available. “This funding removes the barrier to entry right now and while gas will be important for a long time, if you are not thinking about EV now, it could make you irrelevant in the future,” he said. “You could also miss out on the opportunity to have a lot of the infrastructure funded.” build off of that is plug and play to integrate with other things in the future.” One option to consider linking to a POS is security cameras. Many top POS vendors will integrate into DVR security systems to link sales transactions with video so that stores can monitor for internal and external theft, according to Rasmussen. “Start with the fundamentals, making sure it will easily connect to other technology if you plan to grow bigger,” he said. “The POS and back office will give you the facts and data to make the right decisions. Otherwise, you might think you are doing well or that you have a problem when that isn’t the case.” When choosing technology as a smaller operator, the goal is to keep things simple. The support, maintenance and upgrades should be

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SMALL OPERATOR

accessible and doable — and, in some cases, can even be outsourced to a third-party if a company does not have an internal information technology (IT) department, Rasmussen said. It’s also important to check with vendors about how they support you when something goes wrong to avoid downtime, especially for the POS. “When something breaks — because it will — what is in the service level agreement in terms of repair, replacement and remedy?” Morris posed. “Will they respond in 24 hours or 36 hours? Also, what are the upgrade costs and what schedule does the vendor have for upgrades? These need to be looked at upfront.” Several years ago, the Rhodes chain went through a process to eliminate downtime with a network failover system, so if a store’s internet provider went down, they would still be able to process credit cards. This is definitely something to consider when investing in technology to keep a store and chain running, advised Statler. “This is a necessary setup we went through because years ago, cash was king and credit was 30 percent of the business. Now, credit and debit is 75 percent,” he noted. “We have technology that automatically switches us to cellular if the Internet goes down, so our downtime is nil. It’s something all the big chains have now.” The equipment comes with a one-time fee of roughly $500, and then companies can get failover SIM cards from AT&T or Verizon for $10 a month. If the internet is down for a couple of days, it might cost around $30 in SIM cards, which is “nothing compared to 800 mad customers who want to use credit or debit cards,” Statler said.

Next-Level Upgrades While security cameras are essential for any store to monitor theft, upgrading them to a higher quality and integrating them into a POS is something all c-store chains should consider as they grow. This integration allows a store to track voids, refunds and other types of internal theft. “It’s not that you can’t open the doors without it, but it’s nice to have and can offer peace of mind when it comes to tracking theft,” Morris noted. At Rhodes, the company recently dove

“We look at the benefits a technology can provide, like helping our team and making their job easier. What are we gaining from it? From a business standpoint, will it make me better and efficient? Then, we look at the cost and say, ‘Is this worth it to me?’” — Duane Statler, Rhodes Convenience Stores into fraud analysis, including cameras that can read license plates to catch theft. While single stores and small chains don’t always want to spend the money, Statler maintains that it is important to put security first and invest in automated systems to monitor for theft and fraud. “As we have grown, we try to think more like criminals to see how people will try and steal, use fraudulent credit cards, steal loyalty points, or break into our computer network,” he said. “There are companies that can help single stores and small chains with managed services.” Another technology to consider, even for a small chain, is finding a company to handle payroll that also offers employee self-service options. While large chains will often invest in sophisticated workforce management systems, there are many payroll providers that offer mobile apps to smaller chains that employees can utilize for time and attendance, swapping shifts, and more. While smaller chains don’t need the “Cadillac version” of payroll integration, wage and hour compliance or new employee onboarding, Morris noted that many payroll providers can offer simple solutions at affordable rates. “The workforce is demanding access to see their pay, swap shifts and log in using an app. For the single stores and small chains who struggle to keep up with the big guys, they now have something available to them on a smaller and more affordable scale,” he said. Rhodes Convenience Stores uses Paycom for its full human resources system to manage employees, and is working with the vendor to improve its labor scheduler, said Statler. Through the system, the company’s employees can manage their benefits and insurance selections and maintain time approval and paycheck approval via a mobile app. “We started with ADP, but we grew from 400 employees to 950 over the past 10 years and wanted to find a solution that could do onboarding, performance reviews, training programs and offer the selfservice, so we are using Paycom and their mobile app,” he explained. “For the younger generation, their phone is their way of life and it’s natural for them to get their schedules through a mobile phone and make shift changes.” The next steps for the retailer are to start automating fuel pricing changes and its digital menuboards to save employee the time overseeing and making these changes at the store level. One of the most important things to be aware of when choosing new technology is to not “overcomplicate things,” Statler said. “Overall, you want it to be simple to support.” CSN

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COVER STORY

INNOVATION SURGE

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The convenience store industry is listening, learning and evolving to give customers what they want BY ANGELA HANSON, LINDA LISANTI & DANIELLE ROMANO

INNOVATION HAS come to mean many things in the convenience store industry, and the definition is constantly evolving as consumers adopt new lifestyles, routines and preferences. Going back to the industry’s early beginnings when dairy stores decided to add non-dairy categories to create a more convenient one-stop shop, the industry has had a long history and clear legacy for responding quickly to changing and evolving market conditions through innovative ideas and business solutions, said Joseph Bona, founding partner and president of Bona Design Lab, which works with retailers to create successful retail formats. “The industry’s entrepreneurial spirit and capacity to embrace change is what paved the way for expanded hours of operation, which ultimately became the standard for all retail operations. That was followed by expanding their reach through new categories like fuel pumps, self-service beverages, QSR-like food offers, adoption of new technologies from touchscreen ordering/ payment systems to mobile apps and click-and-pay options, [to] elevating the entire retail experience,” he noted.

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It’s true that many of these product and service innovations were met with skepticism when they were first adopted. But in the end, Bona believes they show how the convenience store industry’s versatility, vision and innovative thinking has resulted in a “reliable and relevant retail format that continues to fit into most consumers’ busy lives.”

healthier convenience store food’ from the beginning — giving customers something different, including healthier, better-quality options in the food space, without sacrificing convenience store roots of being a quick, convenient stop,” Jac Moskalik, Kum & Go’s vice president of food innovation, told Convenience Store News.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the definition of innovation in the U.S. convenience channel has evolved at a record pace. “COVID restrictions accelerated innovation in a lot of areas; the obvious is technology,” said Ed Burcher, a partner with Phoenix-based Business Accelerator Team, which works with retailers to accelerate their growth and profitability.

The key, she believes, is to balance innovation and familiarity. “We’re also after the concept of ‘empowered choices,’” she said. “On the healthier front, we want customers to feel good about their choices and what they put in their bodies with healthier and craveable offerings. But we also want to offer their long-time favorites, so they can indulge if that’s what is right for them that day.”

“The more advanced chains used the situation to adapt and adopt new ways of doing business. Ones that were just getting started on their technology journey relied on third parties for things like preordering, delivery and fulfillment,” he explained.

This balance extends to the menu itself, which features selections that would traditionally fit in a quick-service restaurant (QSR) setting, with the guiding tagline of “Real, Fresh, Fast Eats.”

Today, there are a lot more options, as suppliers have caught up with ways to provide solutions in a more cost-effective way, according to Burcher. Areas like third-party ordering and delivery provided muchneeded services during the pandemic, but came with various issues — not the least of which was the c-store not “owning” the customer. Now, there are solutions that allow for the retailer to interact, transact and communicate with the guest.

“We are setting up our ingredient quality standards; that isn’t normally found in the c-store space. Our menu offers ingredients you wouldn’t typically expect, such as brown rice in our lunch/dinner bowls, spinach in our breakfast bowls,” said Natasha Ratzlaff, Kum & Go’s director of category management, food. “But we are still bringing the fun c-store flair to the menu. Some of the toppings on our menu offerings include Takis, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Corn Nuts — all of which you’d typically expect to find only in center store.”

“Innovation is extremely important today, and can come in many formats,” Burcher said, citing new or upgraded items, entirely new categories, using local and regional suppliers to stock items not available at the larger chains, and innovating around processes. “There can be small or large changes in process that can improve speed, quality and accuracy if approached with the lens of: How do we make this better?”

To guide the development process, Kum & Go conducted numerous studies on types of customers, what they desire from food on the go, and how their shopping habits and trends are changing both now and in the future. The retailer also learned a great deal from the new food program’s initial pilots in Arkansas and Nebraska.

Balancing Innovation & Familiarity Kum & Go LC takes a deceptively simple approach to innovation. The Des Moines, Iowa-based convenience store retailer defines the word as giving its customers what they want, when they want it, where they want it — something easier said than done in a rapidly changing market.

Kum & Go’s menu innovation will have a long-term effect on how it plans stores. New-build locations are being constructed with the new food program in mind; even if they won’t open with the offering in place, they are being built in a way that will make it easier to retrofit them in the future. The program’s rollout is expected to be completed in the Des Moines market this year, followed by Colorado starting in mid-2023 with the Colorado Springs market.

One thing more c-store customers want than ever before is quality, convenient food. Kum & Go met that demand by rolling out a new fresh food menu at its stores in and around Little Rock, Ark., in 2021. The offering of made-to-order grain bowls, premium sandwiches and blended smoothies has since expanded in availability and will eventually reach all Kum & Go stores in the coming years. “We’ve been after this idea of ‘democratizing

“We will always be in a state of innovation and feedback,” Moskalik said. “That’s how we feel we will continue to grow and succeed.” Serving Customers on Their Terms At High’s, adding innovative technology is supporting the Baltimore-based convenience store retailer’s primary competitive strategy of improving the customer experience. The chain has been focusing on upgrading technology

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COVER STORY

at the site level for several years now. When High’s planned out its new flagship store in Owings Mills, Md., which is also the chain’s 60th location, it decided to emphasize new technology as a key offering. The flagship store, which opened in mid-July, offers a variety of the most up-to-date technology options with the goal of making every shopping experience that much smoother. “We strive to provide solutions for every customer that visits our store,” said Meghan Mattern, advertising and social media manager for High’s. Such solutions range from touchscreen ordering points to frictionless payment. The most recent update is the addition of self-checkout kiosks and mobile ordering through the High’s Rewards app, which allows customers to choose the payment experience they find most convenient. “Customers can skip the line and check out at any point during their visit,” Mattern noted. A fundamental aspect of innovation for High’s is the ability to keep moving in pursuit of better ways to fulfill customer needs and wants. “Innovation means staying relevant to our customers — making sure that we are continuously exceeding their expectations,” said Senior Vice President Brad Chivington. “We do this by listening to their feedback and creating points of difference from our competitors.” Listening to its customers led High’s, a division of Carroll Independent Fuel Co., to move to a dual food and technology focus, while still maintaining its connection to the brand’s heritage of dairy and ice cream. The flagship store is as an extension of the brand’s five-year optimization project, which began in 2019. The goal is to present a fresh, relevant brand and offer across its footprint. High’s has sought to develop a signature point of difference in the marketplace — warm, inviting and delivering a premier experience with a wow factor. Future High’s stores will have the same size, footprint and offering of the flagship store, but the company is prepared to step into the future with a flexible mindset. “[We] always try to take what we have learned and adjust our concept as needed,” Chivington said. Testing, learning and adapting is an approach being used also by the nation’s largest convenience store retailer, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc., as it brings more “Evolution Stores” to the market. The Evolution Store concept originated in 2019 and was inspired by 7-Eleven’s desire to reimagine the customer shopping experience to attract new customers and increase the frequency of existing

“Innovation means staying relevant to our customers — making sure that we are continuously exceeding their expectations. We do this by listening to their feedback and creating points of difference from our competitors.” — Brad Chivington, High’s

customers. The concept serves as a testing ground for customers to try the brand’s latest products and innovations in a “revolutionary” store format. For each new store, 7-Eleven alters the design and product mix based on customer feedback and shopping habits. Oftentimes, minor changes such as building deeper shelves or increasing counter space can make a significant difference in improving the customer experience, according to Molly Long, the company’s vice president of store evolution and design. 7-Eleven cut the ribbon on the latest iteration of its Evolution Store earlier this summer. The site is the fifth Evolution Store in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and ninth in the country. “Evolution Stores are unique in that they offer a high standard of convenience retailing, yet no two stores are the same,” Long said. “We are very intentional about selecting sites for our Evolution Stores. We like to test a variety of store sizes and location types to see how different consumers with unique needs respond to these concepts. We also factor in the needs of the local community, so we will consider population density, traffic and demographics when selecting a location.” Reaching New Horizons For decades, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Co. has prioritized meeting the needs of its guests in order to be the preferred stop for all drivers. However, the travel center operator recognizes that the methods of doing so have evolved significantly over the past five to 10 years. Pilot announced in March that it was embarking on a three-year, $1 billion initiative to overhaul hundreds of its travel centers across the country and improve the Pilot experience. The project, dubbed “New Horizons,” will include full remodels of 400-plus Pilot and Flying J locations, as well as upgrades at several other sites.

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COVER STORY

During the New Horizons development process, Pilot sought out thorough feedback from both customers and employees, and came away with several key insights and priorities. For instance, professional drivers — people who “live on the road” — overwhelmingly spoke in favor of clean, comfortable showers, which led to Pilot bringing every facility up to a minimum brand standard. Additionally, restrooms are getting brighter lighting and added capacity. Whether they’re professional drivers or average travelers, all Pilot guests value the ability to get in and out quickly. The average non-remodeled Pilot location has four points of sale, but updated technology such as self-checkout is adding three to four new options at remodeled stores. “We continue to look for ways to help with the changing needs of our drivers, to make things easier,” explained Allison Cornish, the company’s vice president of store modernization. “It’s a lot of fun to go out there and learn and listen — to take those things and put them into action.” Using technology as a major driver of innovation, self-checkout makes it easier to take care of multiple guests at the same time. Meanwhile, Pilot’s mobile app now provides a personalized, connected experience from the gas pump to the store. “It really starts with the app,” Cornish said. Food is a top priority as well, cited by 60 percent of the drivers surveyed, so most Pilot locations will add new food options where possible. The retailer is also expanding retail offerings at well over 90 percent of its locations to provide a wider breadth of options. On the forecourt, Pilot is adding new technology in the form of fast chargers at up to 500 locations through a partnership with General Motors and the EVgo fast-charging network. “We haven’t stopped. Getting information and feedback is not one and done,” said Cornish, who noted that innovation is “part of the core of the company.” One notable aspect of the New Horizons initiative is that while every remodeled location is being brought up to a particular standard for a consistent experience, the company’s travel centers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which requires the retailer to evaluate each site separately to determine its unique needs and what is important to its guests and team members. “Every location is its own puzzle,” she said. Although New Horizons is a new project for Pilot, the drive to improve itself isn’t. The primary difference is that New Horizons is a companywide effort to

double down and invest in updating the entire experience, according to Cornish. “We always had a history of innovation, but more piecemeal,” she said, explaining that factors such as alternative fuels and a tougher labor market prompted Pilot to take this big step in order to remain an industry leader. “This is the time now.” More Evolution to Come While there’s undoubtedly been an innovation surge since the pandemic, the general consensus is that the pace of innovation in the U.S. convenience store industry is not going to slow down. Bona expects c-store retailers to lead the way in studying and learning how to adjust and embrace multiple fueling choices, from renewables to ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, electric vehicle charging, and any other new fuel sources that may come along. “As the industry transitions away from traditional combustible fuels, new and different consumer behaviors will drive new and different product and service opportunities, with convenience operators leading and innovating the next evolution of retail,” he said. Bona also wonders if drive-thru is going to prove to be a flash-in-the-pan idea, or will it lead to a more innovative and convenient way of transacting? “We already see some chains exploring drivethru-only formats without fuel, so the early learning is already underway,” he noted. “Where any of this leads, no one knows for certain. But what is certain is that the industry will serve a more fuel-efficient society whose consumers will continue to require a place to stop for a variety of fueling and personal indulgent and immediate consumption needs as they autonomously travel from point A to point B.” Following the guest’s journey and the various “missions” to see how the experience can improve in the future is how Burcher sees the role of innovation further evolving in the industry. This may mean going where others will not go in order to stand out from the crowd. It may also mean eliminating products or services that are no longer resonating. He foresees several factors driving more innovation in the industry, including electric vehicles impacting the site and its use; improving customization, accuracy and speed in the fresh food journey; and linking payment, rewards and order history to make the guest experience more seamless. “Think about the guest and how they use your store and site, and what are the pain points that need to be addressed,” Burcher advised. “Innovation takes a commitment to doing what it takes to implement and maintain new ways [of best serving the guest].” CSN

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IN N OVATION SP OT LIGHT:

7-ELEVEN INC.

7-ELEVEN INC. introduced the next iteration of its Evolution Store concept in June. Located in Dallas, the latest Evolution Store spans 6,700 square feet and offers customizable beverages, an array of digital innovations, and a Laredo Taco Co. restaurant. On the beverages side, the store features a second self-serve espresso machine where 7-Eleven will test specialty items such as cold foam, caramel macchiato, dirty chai (a chai tea latte with a double shot of espresso), white mocha, and horchata latte. Also available on tap are organic smoothies and shakes, and vitamininfused sparkling water. Unlike the chain’s other Laredo Taco Co. restaurants, this location has an extended covered patio for customers looking to enjoy outdoor seating, frozen margaritas and beer on tap. The eatery serves up authentic tacos on fresh-made flour tortillas, which can be complimented by a signature salsa bar featuring salsa roja, salsa verde, creamy cilantro, habanero and more. Other Laredo Taco Co. specialties include authentic fajitas, chorizo, carne asada, carnitas, and breakfast tacos made with fresh-cracked eggs. In terms of digital innovations, this store boasts a redesigned mobile checkout and offers delivery. Other unique offers within the latest Evolution Store are a wine cellar with an enhanced and expansive selection of wine, and a premium cigar humidor.

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IN N OVATION SP OT LIGHT:

KUM & GO LC

KUM & GO LC rolled out a new fresh food menu at its convenience stores in and around Little Rock, Ark., in August 2021 before expanding it to a second market in Omaha, Neb. The chain plans to continue rolling out the menu across its existing footprint over time, and it will be part of new market operations in Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Boise, Idaho, from day one. Designed to combine delicious, flavorful food with speedy, excellent service, the menu features made-to-order items such as grain bowls, premium sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, blended smoothies, cold brew frappés, and more. Since its debut, the retailer has relaunched the fresh food offering with additional selections, including freshly made grab-and-go breakfast burritos and made-to-order breakfast bowls featuring the choice of a breakfast potato or wilted spinach base. The menu now boasts four premium breakfast burrito varieties and three lunch burrito options. In addition to using trial and feedback to relaunch the menu with extra items, Kum & Go introduced web ordering for customers to purchase both food and merchandise. Customers can decide whether to pick up their orders in-store, or have them delivered curbside or to the fuel pump with a minimum fulfillment time of just 10 minutes.

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INNOVATION SPOTLIGHT:

HIGH’S HIGH’S, a division of Carroll Independent Fuel Co., opened a new flagship convenience store in mid-July in Owings Mills, Md. The retailer’s 60th store in the Mid-Atlantic region occupies 5,000 square feet of space and features a range of updated technology offerings, including touchscreen ordering for food, mobile ordering, self-checkout and frictionless payment. The new flagship store serves as the anchor location for Owings Mills’ Red Run Commerce Center. It was designed to advance the retailer’s strategic focus on technology and food. The store’s kitchen highlights a wide variety of signature items, such as handmade pizza, hand-breaded chicken, hand-dipped ice cream, and an expanded hot and cold beverage area. The site also has a first-of-its-kind Carroll Clean car wash, featuring a large vacuum area.

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IN N OVATION SP OT LIGHT:

MAPCO

REIMAGINING convenience for its guests, MAPCO revamped its store design and offerings to deliver a new “Store of the Future” concept. The convenience store retailer unveiled the new floor plan with five stores in 2021. Seven more new store openings are slated for this year, and the company is rebuilding more than a dozen existing stores using the new model. Technology-forward offerings at select locations include the MAPCO Scan App, which enables contact-free shopping; Grabango Cashierless Checkout, initially available at two Nashville stores; selfcheckout options for shoppers; and Amazon Lockers. Store of the Future locations also boast new food displays, including roller grills and hot and cold grab-and-go food options, as well as gondolas of guests’ favorite snacks, commonly needed household items, and a beer cave. Guests can also refresh with a drink from one of MAPCO’s new touchscreen fountain machines. Bright, welcoming messaging throughout the store helps guide guests through their shopping journey. The Store of the Future design was created in collaboration with retail design firm Chute Gerdeman, Chilean design firm Vial AG, and architect of record HFA.

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COVER STORY

IN N OVATION SP OT LIGHT:

PILOT CO. PILOT CO. is in the process of overhauling hundreds of its travel centers across the country. Dubbed the “New Horizons” initiative, the project includes full remodels of more than 400 Pilot and Flying J locations, and upgrades at several more locations. It is the company’s largest-ever investment in store modernization. Key elements of the remodeled stores include top-to-bottom overhauls to interiors and exteriors, featuring energy-efficient lighting, updated branding, refaced walls, and industrial-style store accents; redesigned store layouts that increase food and beverage variety and add more of Pilot’s signature fresh deli items; installation of state-of-the-art retail and fueling technology, including self-checkout; expanded and remodeled restroom, shower and laundry facilities, including touchless where possible; expanded seating and lounge areas with comfortable furnishings; and improved team member areas. The stores also feature an improved fueling experience, as well as electric vehicle charging stations and the development of a strategy to support low- and zero-emission vehicles. Technology is playing a large role in Pilot’s investment, as the retailer prepares to adapt to an evolving automotive space. At the same time, the company seeks to provide a consistent food experience, with options offered for every occasion. CSN 50 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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MEETING CONSUMERS’ EVOLVING NEEDS Comfort and indulgence items dominate this year’s Best New Products Awards winners By Susan Durtschi, Past Times Marketing

THE WINNERS OF THIS YEAR’S Convenience

Store News Best New Products Awards represent a welcoming lineup of comfort and indulgent snacks, yummy foodservice offerings, and on-trend beverages for the post-pandemic times we are living in. While healthy eating is still an important consumer trend, this year’s entries focused more on comfort foods and indulgence, compared to previous years when new product entries emphasized attributes such as low sugar, low calorie, and other better-for-you benefits. Take America’s No. 1 comfort food, pizza, for example. Among this year’s winners are a loaded breakfast pizza and a packaged brownie dessert pizza. Another post-pandemic trend that appears to be here to stay is portable, individually wrapped food items. Snacks in “sharing size” packages are also still popular.

and packaging, along with attributes such as taste and ingredients for food items. Judging was supervised and tallied by Past Times Marketing, a New York-based consumer research and product-testing firm. Based on the consumer ratings, 35 products new to convenience store shelves have been selected for recognition in this year’s competition. The 2022 Best New Products Awards winners are: ALTERNATIVE SNACKS

Barebells Caramel-Cashew Protein Bar, Vitamin Well USA

The Barebells Caramel-Cashew Protein Bar is an ideal low-calorie snack for anyone who wants to satisfy their chocolate craving. Great for pre- and post-workout, or at the office, it is a portable snack bar that meets the

Now in its 26th year, the Best New Products Awards program recognizes the marketers that introduce the most innovative, high-quality products into the convenience channel that meet consumers’ evolving needs and fit a convenience store’s value proposition. Products introduced to the market between April 30, 2021 and May 1, 2022 were eligible for entry in 47 different categories. A panel of consumers judged the submitted products on value, convenience, appearance 52 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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demand for taste that is low in sugar. The product features a blend of gooey caramel with chocolate inside and cashew pieces on the outside for a satisfying crunch. Our judges liked that the Barebells Caramel-Cashew Protein Bar offers 20 grams of protein per bar, and thought it tasted more like a chocolate bar. BEER

Goose Island Tropical Beer Hug, Anheuser-Busch

Goose Island Tropical Beer Hug provides adult drinkers with a big, bold imperial IPA that consumers typically could not get in c-stores. According to Anheuser-Busch (AB), imperial IPAs grew at 42 percent last year, and accounted for 42 percent of total IPA sales in 2021. The drink comes in eye-catching, value-sized cans with a high 9.9 percent ABV. The 19.2-ounce cans are gaining in popularity at c-stores as the single-serve choice for drinkers. Six-packs are also available. Goose Island Tropical Beer Hug achieved almost double the distribution and 1.3 times the return on sales of its leading competitor, AB noted in its entry.

CANDY: GUM

Extra Refreshers Fruit Mix, Mars Wrigley

The unique combination of flavors in the Extra Refreshers Fruit Mix offers more variety to gum consumers. The shape of the gum, which looks like a pillow, distinguishes the product. And its chunky box is easy to open and close, making the product great for sharing. As consumer trends and preferences shift, Extra Refreshers Fruit Mix provides a differentiated gum-chewing experience with long-lasting flavors. CANDY: NON-CHOCOLATE

Starburst Airs Gummies, Mars Wrigley

Starburst Airs take the gummy trend to a whole new level by giving consumers a unique, aerated texture that makes for a new kind of gummy experience. “The appealing fluffy marshmallow texture makes you want to finish the bag,” one judge remarked. As gummies rise in popularity and shoppers look for more options, these soft pillows bring a combination of fan-favorite infused flavors that are already familiar to Starburst lovers. Judges liked the familiarity of the packaging. Their favorite Starburst Airs flavor was the classic lemon.

CANDY: CHOCOLATE

Reese’s Big Cup with Potato Chips, The Hershey Co. The Hershey Co. took its bestseller, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and stuffed it with wavy potato chips. The Reese’s Big Cup with Potato Chips is sweet, salty and crunchy, and got two thumbs up from the judges. They liked the rippled chips for the extra crunch, and thought the extra salt flavor was a plus. Increasingly, core brands are being offered as a snack or treat during the morning and afternoon when snackers are deciding between a sweet, savory, healthy or indulgent treat. Offering a fresh new product of a perennial favorite candy is the way to go.

CANDY: OVERALL

Lindt Classic Recipe OatMilk Chocolate Bars, Lindt & Sprüngli USA

Catering to Lindt fans, chocolate lovers and plant-based enthusiasts alike, Lindt & Sprüngli created Lindt Classic Recipe OatMilk Chocolate Bars. In addition to being non-dairy, the bars are plant-based and made with gluten-free oats. This is truly an innovative chocolate product without compromising taste. Two varieties are

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BEST NEW

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available: Lindt Classic Recipe OatMilk Chocolate and Lindt Classic Recipe OatMilk Salted Caramel, which adds crunchy salted caramel pieces. The 3.5-ounce bars were a hit with judges, who commented that they are “super-creamy” and had no aftertaste. Judges preferred the straight Chocolate option. CBD: BEVERAGES

Mad Tasty Pure Sparkling Water Yuzu Citrus, Mad Tasty LLC

Mad Tasty created an all-natural, refreshing sparkling water beverage with Yuzu Citrus, a mandarin fruit with a lemon-lime profile. This plant-based vegan beverage contains 20 milligrams of broad-spectrum hemp extract, and offers less than 15 calories a can. Mad Tasty Pure Sparkling Water Yuzu Citrus also has zero sugar and is gluten free. Judges liked its refreshing taste and the fact that it had no aftertaste. They called it “balancing,” and thought the packaging was zippy.

CIGARETTES

VLN Cigarettes, 22nd Century Group Inc.

VLN Cigarettes bring legitimacy to the emerging category of reduced nicotine content products. VLN is made with proprietary tobacco with 95 percent less nicotine than traditional cigarettes. The product is the first and only combustible tobacco cigarette to receive a Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. VLN Cigarettes successfully launched in Chicagoland Circle K stores amid a wave of national and local media interest. Initial sales indicate a strong interest from adult smokers, the company stated. Our testers liked the familiar smoking experience from this new cigarette.

CBD: VAPE

Forth CBD Vape Pen, Mixed Berry, E-Alternative Solutions

Forth CBD Vape Pens are prefilled and disposable for customers on the go. They are made with 150 milligrams of high-quality isolate CBD, and their sleek and modern design gives adult consumers a smooth draw. There are very few affordable CBD vape options and flavors available in c-stores, so this CBD vape pen fills a niche. E-Alternative Solutions (EAS) found that taste is No. 1 in researching the product. By offering four new Forth Vape Pen flavor options — Mixed Berry, Grape, Menthol and Hemp — along with the original Mango and Mint flavors, EAS delivers a full line of CBD vape pen products to address current category trends.

FLAVORED MALT BEVERAGES

Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails, Pabst Brewing Co.

Jack Daniel’s Country Cocktails are flavored malt beverages that bring the iconic, highly recognized Jack Daniel’s trademark to the convenience channel. With spirit brands growing in popularity, these beverages enable c-store retailers to leverage that trend, especially in states that do not allow spirit sales in convenience stores. Judges cited the outstanding, refreshing fruit flavors as the key factor in their choosing of this product. The eye-catching cans in the variety pack include Downhome Punch, Southern Peach, Watermelon Punch and Lynchburg Lemonade. The judges’ favorite was the Southern Peach variety, which they said was smooth with a hint of whiskey and no aftertaste.

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FOODSERVICE: BAKERY

Yeast-Raised Donuts, Golden Dough Foods

Golden Dough Foods makes 2.7-ounce, full-sized, yeastraised donuts with iconic flavors and innovative flavor mashups that cross a multitude of ethnic backgrounds. Golden Dough is bringing donut programs to stores that historically may not have been able to execute fresh-case programs. Food safety, labor and food waste have impacted the c-store industry and in the bakery category, Golden Dough has solved this issue with proprietary shelf-life technology, easy handling, and great packaging. Our judges loved the Mango Picante, a spicy mango flavored glazed donut. A close second was the Hot Honey Glazed Donut. FOODSERVICE: BREAKFAST

8-Inch Egg & Sausage Cheese Frozen Pizza, UNO Foods

The grab-and-go 8-inch Egg & Sausage Cheese Frozen Pizza from UNO Foods provides morning commuters with a delicious and satisfying egg-based breakfast. The traditional thin-crust style pizza is hand stretched, par-baked and then topped with a white Alfredo sauce, a blend of whole milk mozzarella and yellow cheddar cheeses, scrambled eggs and breakfast-style sausage crumbles. Our judges liked the novelty of the pizza, and said the flavor combination was perfect and fresh tasting. FOODSERVICE: BASE INGREDIENTS

Chorizo Sausage Strips, Johnsonville

Johnsonville’s Chorizo Sausage Strips are an innovative product made from sausage delivered in a versatile, bacon-like form. They can be served whole, wrapped around other ingredients, crumbled, chopped or minced. They experience less shrinkage, offer 9 grams of protein per serving, have less fat than USDA data for bacon per serving, and contain 30 percent less sodium than USDA data for traditional bacon brands. The sausage strips are keto and paleo friendly, and have no artificial flavors or colors, no corn syrup, no gluten and no MSG. The judges gave this product five stars for flavor and innovation, and kudos for its low fat content.

FOODSERVICE: CONDIMENTS

SupHerb Farms Ready-to-Use Sauces, SupHerb Farms

Today’s c-store customers want new food options that are as exciting as they are diverse. SupHerb Farms Ready-to-Use Sauces create the premium experience of authentic “house-made” taste, but without the labor. They are fully prepped, ready to use, and available in convenient 1-pound pouches. Packed with globally inspired, farm fresh flavor, the sauces come in five on-trend SKUs: Ancho Orange, Creamy Ginger Pepper, Creamy Jalapeño Pesto, Creamy Piri, and Superfood Pesto. Our panelists liked the Ancho Orange sauce best, which features pureed peppers and sweet orange with a spicy kick.

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FOODSERVICE: DINNER/HOME MEAL REPLACEMENT

MorningStar Farms Incogmeato Homestyle Chik’n Tenders, Kellogg’s

Makers of plant-based meat alternatives are eyeing the c-store business as foodservice continues to grow in the channel. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, plant-based Incogmeato Homestyle Chik’n Tenders taste and pull apart just like the real deal. The meat-free tenders are perfect as a standalone snack with a dip, added to a wrap as part of a lunch, or as a dinner/home meal replacement option. The product was tested alongside other brands of meat-free chicken tenders and received high marks for taste and moisture.

FOODSERVICE: SIDE DISH

Chester’s Mac & Cheese, Chester’s Chicken

Chester’s Mac & Cheese recipe uses extra creamy cheddar cheese and cavatappi (corkscrew) noodles to create a taste that reminds customers of home. The new noodles make a perfect vehicle for the rich, cheesy sauce, creating an on-trend comfort food. Chester’s Mac & Cheese is one of five sides customers can choose from when ordering the brand’s world-famous fresh, fried chicken. Our judges said the Mac & Cheese was filling and they liked the cheesy sauce blend.

FOODSERVICE: LUNCH

Southern Style Chicken Sandwich, Tyson Foods

Quality of ingredients is key in a frozen chicken sandwich. This craveable Southern Style Chicken Sandwich from Tyson Foods features a soft brioche bun, breaded chicken, and notes of dill, onion and garlic. The portable, on-the-go option is individually butcher-wrapped, meets food safety demands, ensures lasting moisture and flavor, and can be easily heated in a microwave oven. The sandwich ships frozen and can be thawed and refrigerated for 14 days, which outlasts the typical shelf life and helps reduce waste. Our testers were pleasantly surprised with the flavor of the chicken and the combination of the breading and bun.

HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

Buck Shots, DAS Labs LLC dba Bucked Up

With its innovative, differentiated packaging, Buck Shots energy shots pop off the shelf and deliver excellent margins to c-store operators. The judges loved the novelty packaging reminiscent of shotgun shells. Buck Shots’ functional benefits appeal to a wide class of fitness enthusiasts with ingredients that deliver more than energy, including AlphaSize, magnesium, L-theanine, N-acetyl-L-tyrosine and vitamin B12. The brand and packaging appeal to outdoor enthusiasts, bringing new users and occasions to the energy shot category.

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HEALTHY SNACKS

Ostrim Premium Chicken Snack Sticks, Ranch, Protos Foods Inc.

Ostrim Premium Chicken Snack Sticks are a healthier snack option made with premium chicken and a mild ranch flavoring. The meat sticks are high in protein, low in calories, contain no nitrates, and are gluten free. The colorful and well-labeled packaging is sure to attract health and fitness enthusiasts. Our testers liked the quality and texture of these better-for-you chicken sticks and their low fat content.

OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS: CIGARS

Swisher Sweets “Life is Sweet” Contest Packaging, Swisher

Swisher Sweets “Life is Sweet” contest packaging provides an innovative way to engage adult consumers to enter a contest for the chance to win a grand prize of $100,000. Adult consumers can enter the contest by scanning the QR code found on the packaging or at the point-of-sale, and then uploading a photo or video with a caption answering the question: “How can Swisher Sweets make your life sweeter?” Complementing the addition of Leaf and BLK products this year, the limited-edition packaging encourages customers to come into the store, and helps expand the Swisher Sweets brand. Our testers particularly liked the value pricing of the BLK Smooth product and the easy draw of the tip.

LIQUOR

Truly Vodka, Beam Suntory

Beam Suntory and The Boston Beer Co. worked together on a complimentary product to support Truly Hard Seltzer. Truly Vodka utilizes a strong brand name for another product and makes it relevant to a new consumer. It can be consumed on its own, as a traditional cocktail, or with Truly Hard Seltzer. Truly Vodka provides a trade-up opportunity for c-store retailers if coupled with a variety pack of Truly Hard Seltzer to increase basket rings. Judges lauded the innovation of the bold-flavored 30 percent ABV vodka, and liked all three flavors — Strawberry Lemonade, Pineapple Mango, and Wild Berry.

OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS: SMOKELESS

Black Buffalo ZERO, Black Buffalo Inc.

Black Buffalo ZERO tobacco-free dips are for customers looking for an alternative to traditional smokeless products. Containing no nicotine, Black Buffalo ZERO is made from green leaves and food-grade ingredients in smallbatch runs in the United States. Black Buffalo Mint ZERO features a crisp blend of peppermint and spearmint with just a hint of sweet, and was the favorite variety amongst the judges. Other flavors include Blood Orange and Wintergreen.

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Two brands, one sweet award! To all that voted for us, Thank you Wil Torres & the Golden Dough Foods Family

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FEATURE

PACKAGED BEVERAGES: CARBONATED SOFT DRINKS

Dr Pepper Zero Sugar, Keurig Dr Pepper

Dr Pepper Zero Sugar introduces a one-of-a kind blend for its 23 signature flavors in a zero-sugar soda. Within the first year of the launch, driven by the flagship Dr Pepper Original, Dr Pepper Zero Sugar catapulted to the No. 2 zero sugar platform nationally, according to its maker. The platform was designed for, and has successfully attracted, younger millennials and Hispanic consumers who are looking for flavor variety in carbonated soft drinks without the sugar. The packaging is easy to read and communicates the benefits of zero sugar well. PACKAGED BEVERAGES: ENERGY DRINKS

AMIN.O. Energy Sparkling Drink, Glanbia Performance Nutrition NA

The AMIN.O. Energy Sparkling Drink offers a combination of 5 grams of amino acids, 100 milligrams of caffeine from natural sources, and electrolytes to support performance, endurance, and active living. The Orange Blast beverage comes in an attractive sleek, narrow can. Our judges liked the crispness of the orange flavor, and remarked that it did not taste like an energy drink. This is a good alternative to coffee in the morning or for a midday boost.

PACKAGED BEVERAGES: RTD COFFEE DRINKS

Iced Latte, Community Coffee

Community Coffee created a new readyto-drink (RTD) coffee option for people who grab and go. The iced latte comes in a 13.7-ounce, eye-catching bottle and is shelf-stable. Flavors tested by the judges were Mocha White Chocolate and Vanilla Waffle Cone. Both feature all-natural flavoring and no artificial sweeteners. Our testers preferred the Mocha flavor, and liked the no-fridge option. According to the company, RTD coffees are the fastest-growing category in coffee, and iced lattes represent the largest segment at 44.8 percent of RTD beverages. PACKAGED BEVERAGES: RTD TEA

Pobble Bursting Bubble Tea, Mixed Berries Hibiscus, DD&B Solutions LLC Pobble, short for popping bubbles, is a vegan and gluten-free fruit tea with bubbles that burst in your mouth. This bubble tea is made using real fruit juice, is low in caffeine and packed with vitamins. Our testers liked the Mixed Berries Hibiscus flavor best, and said it was a refreshing twist on tea. They also liked the generously sized 17.3-ounce can.

PACKAGED BEVERAGES: JUICE DRINKS

Minute Maid Aguas Frescas, The Coca-Cola Co.

Minute Maid Aguas Frescas launched in 16-ounce cans in March 2022, disrupting expectations for on-the-go refreshment with a beloved, Latin American-inspired juice drink. Available in three global-inspired, bold and refreshing flavors — Strawberry, Mango and Hibiscus — Minute Maid Aguas Frescas utilize real fruit juice, water and other ingredients to deliver a subtly sweet taste in a caffeine-free and non-carbonated beverage. Our judges sampled all three flavors and Hibiscus was their favorite. Approximately 80 percent of Minute Maid Aguas Frescas’ volume is incremental to the juice drinks category, coming from new consumers, the maker noted.

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FEATURE

PACKAGED BEVERAGES: OTHER

PACKAGED SWEET SNACKS

Designer Wellness Protein Smoothies are travel friendly, better-for-you, single-serve pouch smoothies. Created with the convenience channel in mind, the smoothies are delicious snack alternatives to other high-sugar, empty-calorie options. They come in at 120 calories per pack and deliver twice the protein (12 grams) as sugar (only 6 grams and zero added). The unique single-serve pouch is shelf-stable until opened and has a resealable cap. Three mainstream flavors — mixed berry, strawberry banana and tropical — were tested, and the judges liked the taste of the strawberry banana best.

Our Specialty Treat Shop Brownie Dessert Pizza Slices come in two varieties and are prepackaged in visually appealing single-serve portions. The Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Dessert Pizza is a rich, fudgy brownie base baked with creamy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and finished with an icing drizzle. The Chocolate Chip Brownie Dessert Pizza is a slice of chewy fudge brownie pizza containing Hershey’s chocolate chip pieces, topped with a ganache drizzle and elegant chocolate curls. The carefully conceived cobranding partnership between Rich Products and The Hershey Co. is a win-win. Both varieties were deemed “delicious” and resulted in an even split of preference among the consumer panel.

Designer Wellness Protein Smoothie, Designer Wellness Co.

Our Specialty Treat Shop Brownie Dessert Pizza Slices, Rich Products Corp.

PACKAGED ICE CREAM

Main Avenue Creamery House-Made Ice Cream, United Dairy Farmers

Main Avenue Creamery House-Made Ice Cream provides a super-premium ice cream experience at a good price. The private label product from United Dairy Farmers, an Ohio-based convenience store chain, contains natural ingredients such as cream, milk, eggs and sugar cane, and has no artificial stabilizers. The pint of Black Raspberries & Chips was the standout flavor among the judges, who also liked the design of the pint container and felt it indicated a super-premium product.

SALTY SNACKS: NUTS & SEEDS

Beer Nuts Original Bar Mix, Beer Nuts Inc.

Beer Nuts Original Bar Mix is a craft snack mix with an obvious complement to beverages. The product is made with savory flavored peanuts, corn nuggets, pretzels and sesame sticks. Available in a sharing size bag or an individual beer-shaped bag, Beer Nuts Original Bar Mix has instant brand recognition. Our judges loved the beershaped bag and the different crunchy textures of this snack mix.

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FEATURE

SALTY SNACKS: READY-TO-EAT POPCORN

WINE

ACT II is the No. 1 value brand in microwave popcorn, according to Conagra Brands. So, it made sense to jump into the ready-to-eat popcorn market with ACT II Butter Lovers Popcorn. The product delivers a bold, buttery flavor. Our testers liked the texture and the familiarity of the packaging. This popcorn is great for movie night, travel, or as an office snack.

Boasting many flavor choices, BuzzBallz are made for a party. With 15 percent alcohol packed into a tennis ball-sized, nifty globe container, the product is a clever novelty. The beverages go down smooth, and our judges awarded BuzzBallz five stars for packaging creativity. The panel liked the Espresso Martini variety most.

ACT II Butter Lovers Popcorn, Conagra Brands

BuzzBallz Espresso Martini, Southern Champion/BuzzBallz LLC

OVERALL INNOVATION SALTY SNACKS: OVERALL

Cheez-It Puff ’d, Kellogg’s

Cheez-It original crackers are a tried-and-true snack time classic. Now, there is Cheez-It Puff’d, a puffy and airy Cheez-It transformation. The packaging is familiar, but the product is new and while they are still square and cheesy, Cheez-It Puff’d have a pillowlike appearance and a different crunch. Our judges enjoyed both the Double Cheese and White Cheddar flavors, but liked the Double Cheese best. According to the maker, Cheez-It Puff’d is a great basket builder when top-selling core items are placed in secondary locations, such as in the front-end transaction area and near the foodservice and fountain beverage areas.

TruShot 2.0 Mobile Dispensing Cleaning System, Phoenix Research Industries/S.C. Johnson

The TruShot 2.0 Mobile Dispensing Cleaning System keeps c-store crews moving with a genius spray-andwipe cleaning system that provides optimized dilution delivery and ensures Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance with prelabeled cartridges. Just snap the cartridges into the bottom of a single water-filled trigger bottle and clean everything from the counters to the restrooms by switching out the cartridges. Over the life of the TruShot trigger bottle, using the cartridges will result in at least a 93 percent reduction in the use of plastic vs. using equivalent ready-to-use quart bottles with sprayers, according to the maker. Our testers were impressed by the different cartridge options and the easy handling of the trigger container. CSN

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2022

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FOODSERVICE

Evolving in Excellence Casey’s leads the 11th class of Foodservice Innovators Awards winners By Angela Hanson

way to be innovative. Foodservice innovation can mean taking a new approach to menu offerings, flavor additions, brand development or any number of factors that affect the success of the category, now one of the most vital within the convenience channel.

THERE IS NO ONE

Winners of the 2022 Foodservice Innovators Awards have demonstrated with flying colors their ability to innovate around prepared food and dispensed beverages, and push their programs to the head of the competitive pack. Each year, Convenience Store News recognizes c-store retailers that are raising the bar on quality, service and innovation in the foodservice category. First launched in 2012, honorees are chosen annually by the CSNews Foodservice Advisory Council, a panel of foodservice experts from the retailer, supplier, wholesaler, research and consulting fields. This year’s slate of five honorees are retailers with sterling reputations that are proving their foodservice excellence in a variety of ways. They were celebrated in June at the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange event hosted by CSNews in Charlotte, N.C. FOODSERVICE INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR:

Casey’s General Stores Inc.

This year’s top foodservice innovator, Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s, is a first-time winner that has built a legacy of quality foodservice, but proved it can succeed with a whole new offering. Long known as a leader in pizza, Casey’s made waves with its first-ever breakfast

Casey's was applauded for its breakfast launch and intentions to explore further menu introductions.

menu, which at launch featured a handmade, signature, handheld Toastwich sandwich using the brand’s madefrom-scratch dough, a loaded breakfast burrito, and a loaded breakfast bowl. This was paired with a new freshbrewed, bean-to-cup coffee program offering six flavors.

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FOODSERVICE

When Casey’s rolled out breakfast in September 2021, Chief Merchandising Officer Tom Brennan called the lineup the most significant step in Casey’s food journey in the past 40 years. “Casey’s has always set an early morning alarm to start the coffee and roll out our made-from-scratch dough,” Brennan told CSNews at the time. “Now, we’re serving new and improved breakfast items and bean-to-cup coffee that will ‘wow’ our regular guests and attract new ones.” Casey’s breakfast menu proceeded to exceed expectations and help revitalize the morning daypart. Six months after its debut, the company reported that breakfast daypart same-store sales were up 17 percent during its fiscal 2022 third quarter compared to the prior year, with the Toastwich serving as a major driver and example of innovation for the future. This year’s judges, in addition to praising Casey’s overall foodservice and beverage offerings, applauded the retailer for its breakfast launch and intentions to explore further menu introductions that are craveable, portable, and unique to the brand. “For a company their size, they continue to show that they won’t rest on their laurels,” one judge stated. “We all know breakfast is our busiest food time, so innovating that menu is key. Utilizing their homemade dough to make sandwiches, along with adding breakfast bowls, was a great idea.”

PREPARED FOODS INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR:

Texas Born

Texas Born earned its award not only for excellence in the chain’s prepared food offering, but also for how it handled a major brand shift. Formerly known as Kwik Chek Food Stores, the Spicewood, Texasbased chain renamed itself Texas Born (TXB), with the first new-build store under the new brand opening in August 2021. Judges cited how well the company executed its name change and shift in brand positioning as reasons for its win, applauding the retailer for playing off its proud Texan heritage to stake out a distinct identity. In the process, TXB developed a highly unique and proprietary fresh food offering, according to the panel. CEO Kevin Smartt shared how the rebranding and opening of the first new-build TXB store marked more than just a different logo or name. “This is a true reflection of who we are as a company. We want our guests to have the absolute best experience, whether it’s our fresh foods, versatile ecofriendly packaging, convenient technology, clean environment, or hospitable employees,” he said. “It all reflects the TXB mission to ‘Leave ‘em Better.’” TXB carefully curated its prepared food offering to reflect its new name, sourcing ingredients and products from local vendors for a truly “Texas born” experience. Its restaurant-quality food items, including freshmade tacos and tenders, are made daily. Customers can watch employees hand-press tortillas inside the stores. There are also culinary creations not commonly found at c-stores, such as Texas Scorpion Bites made with spicy jalapeños, perfectly fried shrimp tacos, and TXB Habanero Queso.

Texas Born's restaurantquality food items, like tacos and tenders, are made fresh daily.

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FOODSERVICE

manager at Wawa. “The vehicle will provide The Wawa Foundation and community care team a quick and efficient way to brew coffee offsite from a store location and have a presence at hundreds of community events throughout its operating area.” Judges lauded Wawa’s community care vehicle as “an innovative way to get one of their signature products to customers” while providing a valuable community service. “The timing of the rollout was perfect, too,” said one judge. Wawa is known for its high-quality beverages whose flavors matter as much as their ability to warm someone up on a chilly day. “Their Gold Medal Hot Chocolate is almost as good as what you might find on a San Francisco Hot Chocolate Crawl,” another judge noted. Wawa was previously named Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2013 and 2017. The “Wawa in Your Community” vehicle rolled out last December.

The retailer also makes a point of catering to families through offers like six-taco bundles or large quantities of chicken, which give it a competitive advantage over quick-service restaurants by providing customers with savings, often turning them into repeat customers. This is the second time the company has received this award. TXB previously won as Kwik Chek in 2020, illustrating the consistency of its foodservice program. HOT BEVERAGES INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: Wawa Inc.

Another method of innovating is changing up how food and beverages reach consumers. Wawa made its hot beverage program more noticeable by literally rolling out a new “Wawa in Your Community” vehicle last December.

COLD & FROZEN BEVERAGES INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR: Rutter’s

Milkshakes can sometimes end up in the shadow of higher-volume beverage types such as coffee and fountain drinks, but York, Pa.-based Rutter’s made sure no one could overlook its line of Xtreme Shakes. The frozen beverages let customers put a new spin on old favorite treats by combining full-size candy products such as Kit Kat, Reese’s, Almond Joy and York Peppermint Patty with delicious milkshakes. Multiple judges praised the innovation

Rutter's Xtreme Shakes combine full-size candy products with delicious milkshakes.

Fully equipped to brew and serve as many as 500 cups of hot beverages in a single outing, including coffee and hot chocolate, the vehicle made its debut at Riddle Hospital in the chain’s hometown of Media, Pa., as part of the retailer’s effort to thank local healthcare heroes. “As a company committed to serving its community, the community care vehicle is another way for Wawa to provide support to national charity partners, at community events, and serve as a resource during times of crisis,” said Liz Simeone, community care and foundation

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FOODSERVICE

The foodservice options at Huck’s Market stores span all dayparts to fulfill customers’ mealtime and snack needs.

of the Xtreme Shakes concept, as well as the variety of flavors that keep customers coming back. The retailer’s regular milkshake lineup also offers enticing decadent flavors, such as White Chocolate Raspberry, Dark Chocolate Raspberry, and Chocolate Hazelnut. To keep the offering interesting, Rutter’s occasionally rolls out limited-time seasonal flavors, too, which have received positive consumer response.

considerable resources into enhancing its foodservice offer for some time now.

The retailer also garnered praise for its Spiked Slushies, which are available in individual cups and different sizes of party bags. The retailer introduced Spiked Slushies to the Pennsylvania market before any other chain, making it the segment leader, which encouraged further innovation. In 2021, Rutter’s began offering limited-time seasonal Spiked Slushies, like Red, Spiked and Blue for Independence Day and Frozen Hot Chocolate in the winter.

Today, Huck’s Market has five focal points it uses to position its brand as the best food option in the markets where it operates:

“They’ve always been progressive with prepared foods in general, but I think they really lifted their game in cold dispensed beverages with their Spiked Slushies and Xtreme Shakes,” said one judge. No stranger to the winner’s circle, Rutter’s previously won the Foodservice Innovator of the Year title in 2012, 2018 and 2021, and was named Prepared Foods Innovator of the Year in 2013.

Huck’s first teamed up with retail services provider GSP in 2019 to shift to a fresh, new look that would also facilitate improved foodservice offerings. “Today, we’re a gas station that sells food. In the future, we want to be known as a restaurant that sells gas,” a company executive said in 2020, shortly after the chain debuted its food-centric Huck’s Market concept.

• Variety — Huck’s utilizes its test kitchen to aggressively pursue new products with the goal of addressing all dayparts, a variety of flavor cravings and healthy eating concerns. • Value — Intelligent buying and effective category management allow the retailer to offer high-quality items at competitive prices. • Quality — It regularly tests new products using current cooking practices so that it can maintain the highest-quality levels possible and also seek to improve. • Consistency — The retailer’s field foodservice leadership team works in-store daily to ensure consistency in operations. • Convenience — The goal is to not only live Huck’s tagline of “Fresh • Fast • Friendly,” but also to be convenient. Where possible, Huck’s offers several third-party delivery platforms.

FOODSERVICE INNOVATOR TO WATCH:

The foodservice options at Huck’s Market stores span all dayparts to fulfill customers’ mealtime needs, as well as their needs for in-between meal fillers and snacks.

Huck’s Market is being honored with this award in recognition of its status as an up-and-coming leader in convenience foodservice. The Carmi, Ill.-based convenience store chain has been investing

“As they grow, they continue to look at new ways to expand foodservice options,” said one judge. “Adding kitchens to their new stores and giving customers more reason to shop their stores is a big win for them. Great job!” CSN

Huck’s Market

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TOBACCO

Riding the Tobacco Rollercoaster Looming regulation and economic pressures weigh heavily on the business By Renée M. Covino

TOBACCO RETAILERS and

consumers continue to be pulled low and high this year, according to participants in Convenience Store News’ recent “What’s Next in C-store Tobacco” virtual roundtable, which analyzed industry data and facilitated open discussion among industry experts on the top opportunities and challenges facing the tobacco business in the convenience channel today and in the near future. Roundtable participants included Bonnie Herzog, managing director at Goldman Sachs; Mary Szarmach, vice president of trade marketing at Smoker Friendly; Ben Brooks, category manager at Nouria Energy; and Brad Longcake, assistant executive director for the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO). Current highs include alternative tobacco categories, such as modern oral, premium cigars, and a vapor resurgence. Current lows include the ever-looming cloud of regulation and legislation, though there have been some hard-fought local wins. Economic pressures on the average adult nicotine consumer also weigh heavily on the business.

Adult tobacco consumers are facing some tough purchase decisions due to economic pressures, such as inflation and high gas prices. Retailers in Goldman Sachs’ Nicotine Nuggets survey for the second quarter of 2022 confirmed the hardship. “Both store trips and basket sizes are broadly depressed and below pre-pandemic levels,” Herzog reported, citing her company’s research. She also noted increased downtrading — particularly to fourthtier cigarette brands — as nicotine users look for ways to cut costs. The Goldman Sachs survey also highlighted that cigarette volumes are expected to decline at historical rates. Cigarette volumes have been declining for about 50 years, but more recently the declines have accelerated due to price increases and the fact that more consumers are gravitating toward the reducedrisk category, according to Herzog. Consumers are making trade-off decisions resulting in a shift from carton to pack purchases, reduced tobacco purchase frequency, and fewer store trips and spending per store, she noted. “But retailers expect there to be a steady decline vs. a more severe

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TOBACCO

or radical drop, which is encouraging,” Herzog added.

OTP Bright Spots Other tobacco products (OTP) hold promise and excitement, particularly in their reduced-risk potential. “This is the most exciting for me,” Herzog said, naming oral nicotine as “one of the more interesting” segments right now. “It’s very promising, but still in the very early days,” she pointed out. At Boulder, Colo.-based Smoker Friendly, “the oral nicotine products are just exploding like crazy, and I don’t see those stopping anytime soon,” stated Szarmach, who also reported positive momentum around vapor products driven by industry confusion and pending Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decisions. “We’re actually seeing a resurgence on the vapor products, which is interesting,” Szarmach said. “I feel like maybe we’ve kind of narrowed down what’s allowed and what’s not. Even with all the confusion, we’ve made our customers happy.” The pandemic really opened up the ability for tobacco consumers to use and reuse different forms of nicotine products, Szarmach observed, noting that Smoker Friendly stores even saw customers enjoying traditional pipe tobacco. Now, with less time and opportunity since the pandemic has eased, OTP categories have stayed “interesting” even if they’re not as popular as during the height of COVID-19, she said.

OTP is likewise the bright spot in tobacco at Nouria Energy, the Worcester, Mass.-based operator of 170 convenience stores, 158 of which are company operated. The retailer is seeing strong performances across all OTP subcategories, according to Brooks. In the Northeast, specifically New England, the tobacco category has cycled through “pretty significant” flavor bans, Brooks explained, along with changes in excise taxes and supply chain issues. “Cycling all that noise helps give us a clear picture of the diverse OTP category, and the best part is consistency across all subcategories and seeing growth in all,” he said. “We are very happy with how the OTP category is performing. I’d say we’re modestly optimistic for the remainder of this year.” Similar to what Szarmach has witnessed, Brooks finds excitement in the modern oral segment and vapor. “Vapor has remained strong; it’s always been strong in the Northeast,” he said. “Modern oral as well — we have large value in how that product is taxed in the Northeast and the advantage it gives over traditional products.” Nouria Energy is also focused on other alternative tobacco products, such as zero-nicotine items. Especially in light of highly regulated municipalities in its service area, “we have to give everything a really hard look,” Brooks acknowledged. Another bright spot for the chain is premium cigars, an offering it embarked on a few years ago. “We found if you have a strong strategy and you execute it well and put it in the correct stores with the right demographic, it can be successful and attract a whole new consumer to your store,” Brooks stated. “I have a lot of fun doing the premium cigars in the 40ish stores we have it in.”

No Lack of Innovation Innovation in the tobacco/nicotine category has been rampant lately. Szarmach cited the high number of alternative product booths she noticed at Smoker Friendly’s business-to-business trade show this year, and at its Rocky Mountain Cigar Festival. Seeing premium cigar users looking to “veer out now, too” has been an eye-opener, she said.

“Both store trips and basket sizes are broadly depressed and below pre-pandemic levels.” — Bonnie Herzog, Goldman Sachs

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TOBACCO

She cautions fellow buyers, however, to be diligent when considering alternatives. “You really have to do your homework with these manufacturers to make sure what you’re bringing in is legitimate and safe,” she explained. Brooks shared his experience in trying a synthetic vapor product at Nouria. “I did it with a reputable, large parent company in the tobacco industry and had everything documented ahead of time, so it was an easy exit once they became illegal to get out of that,” he recalled, noting that he believes in “selling everything you possibly can that’s easily legal — I don’t do gray area stuff.” He agrees with Szarmach that retailers have to ensure they’re partnering with reputable companies, above all else in the category. “Then, take it a day at a time because you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” he added. Moving the industry away from combustibles is what Herzog “firmly believes” is the future of the category, specifically reduced-risk products. “What’s so exciting to me is the technology and the role that’s playing,” she said. “The frustration has been the innovation has been stifled, given the regulations, but you see more of it internationally.” She expects manufacturers will continue to push the envelope with innovation, whether it’s internally, through acquisition, or some combination of the two. It will be fascinating, she said, to see what the next generation of innovation will be to converge smokers to use products they enjoy that are less harmful. On one end of the innovation spectrum, there are what she calls the “inhalables” and on the other end, there are the oral nicotine products. “It will be fun to see if there’s some hybrid in the future that can combine the best of both for the user and accelerate conversion,” she said, noting, however, that regulation is always a potential roadblock.

The Cloud That Won’t Pass The looming cloud of regulation/legislation continues to be a major challenge for a nevertheless resilient industry. NATO’s Longcake updated webinar attendees on the premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs) still pending with the FDA. While the agency has refused to accept more than 7.7 million of them, there are roughly 362,000 pending, “so there’s still an opportunity for some of those to make it through,” he said. This includes applica-

tions for cigars, pipe tobacco, e-cigarettes, hookah and all modern oral products, which had to be filed by Sept. 9, 2020. It also includes items with nicotine derived from other sources, which had to be filed by May 14 of this year. A bit of good news did come from the FDA recently, as it authorized the sale (in the form of a Marketing Granted Order) of 23 e-vapor devices and nicotine e-liquids sold by R.J. Reynolds, NJOY and Logic. “Unfortunately, of the 23 products authorized, the only flavor allowed right now is still traditional nicotine flavor,” Longcake reported. Among other updates he provided: • The FDA is currently reviewing an additional 240 PMTA applications from major e-cigarette/e-vapor manufacturers, including Juul, Vuse, NJOY, Logic, blu and Puff Bar. These are expected to be finalized sometime next year, presumably by June 30. • Applications for almost a million synthetic nicotine products have been filed with the FDA, but it has so far refused to accept 88,000 of them. The agency continues to move through this backlog. The real challenge for synthetic nicotine products, as Longcake sees it, is that if a Marketing Granted Order (MGO) was not issued by the FDA on or before July 13 of this year, those products are currently illegal and not eligible for sale. “In fact, the FDA has stated that manufacturers, distributors and retailers may be subject to FDA enforcement, but time will tell and hopefully, they’ll grant a few more MGOs of these as we move forward,” he said. Longcake also pointed out that the FDA generally announces actions first — targeted usually at manufacturers — followed up by warning letters that give companies the chance to make changes. Beyond PMTAs, Szarmach shared positive news during the roundtable that Smoker Friendly was able to win two flavor-ban fights this past year in Colorado, one for the state and the other for the city of Denver, which she characterized as “huge.” Local issues, whether they involve taxation, age restrictions, selfserve, flavor bans, etc., “are always scary for us,” she acknowledged. “It’s frightening to see what they’re doing — full-on prohibition with certain things.” Szarmach urged fellow retailers to stay the course and fight such legislation by utilizing their stores, consumer base and NATO to put forth grassroots efforts that can make a difference, as it did for Smoker Friendly. Total industry regulatory items, including a potential menthol ban and nicotine cap, are also causing stress, but the roundtable participants said they’re not panicking yet. “We’ve been talking about these for a very long time. It’s tough to know what the outcome will be. It’s a lengthy process, nothing will be decided soon,” said Herzog. Thankfully, the industry is not afraid of litigation and the tobacco consumer is resilient. “I expect the category to remain strong, and consumers will ultimately adapt, and manufacturers are going to be doing things to pivot their workflows as best they can until this plays out,” she said. With an eye toward all-encompassing solutions, Herzog also suggested a name change for the category should be considered, moving from “tobacco” to “nicotine.” CSN

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HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

Assessing the Health of the HBC Category The convenience channel can build upon the recent success this category has enjoyed By Kathleen Furore

for boosting business in your convenience store?

LOOKING FOR A PRESCRIPTION

Consider expanding your health and beauty care (HBC) category to add a healthy dose of sales to your store’s bottom line. In 2021, the HBC category experienced its largest c-store industry sales growth in five years; unit volume also increased, reversing four years of declines, according to the latest Convenience Store News Industry Report. The first half of 2022 brought continued HBC sales growth, too. And while unit volume retreated back into negative territory in the first half, there were bright spots in several areas,

including vitamins/supplements, cosmetics and internal over-the-counter medications, as noted in the recently released 2022 CSNews Midyear Report Card study. Just what has been driving such a strong performance in a category that had remained somewhat stagnant for several years? Convenience channel retailers and the vendors that serve them agree that the COVID-19 pandemic is the denominator that changed the market’s trajectory. “I believe the majority of the growth can be attributed to three main factors, all of which link back to the pandemic: COVID rebound, COVID-induced demand, and shopper behavior change due to working from home,” said Ron Mauro, sales team leader for the convenience

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HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

channel at Haleon, the standalone company created when GSK spun off its consumer healthcare division in July 2022. Michelle Ridder, director of category management at Lil’ Drug Store Products (LDSP) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cites increased awareness of HBC products in c-stores during the pandemic and the subsequent boost in foot traffic as COVID subsided as contributing factors. “Pre-pandemic research found that the No. 1 reason that c-store consumers gave for not purchasing HBC in this channel was they simply did not know HBC was available there,” Ridder explained. “When c-stores were deemed as essential businesses at the onset of COVID, consumers turned to convenience to meet more of their essential needs, helping to create awareness to other center-store categories like HBC.” Foot traffic suffered during the pandemic’s shelter-in-place restrictions, with most retailers reporting that units and foot traffic were down double digits in 2020 vs. 2019, but then, as the country came out of shutdown in 2021, sales and unit trends naturally went up. “With that being said, most are not quite to benchmark sales of 2019,” Ridder noted.

Category Standouts According to experts on the front lines of HBC, there are several products that are faring well. “One thing COVID did was make people really start to think about products that could help their bodies,” said Michael Tirey, marketing manager, U.S. franchise, for Circle K Stores. “People are looking for products geared toward more health and wellness, along with immunity support products.” Interestingly, the way consumers have approached their health over the course of the pandemic has impacted HBC sales in the convenience channel, according to Ridder. “Because consumers were taking extreme precautions to stay healthy in 2020, upper respiratory (UR) and cough drop sales dropped significantly. Conversely, in 2021 and 2022, consumers went back to work and social activities, attended larger gatherings, were less mindful of social distancing and sanitizing, and removed masks. [Now], in general, consumers are taking fewer precautions to stay well and

“I believe the majority of the growth can be attributed to three main factors, all of which link back to the pandemic: COVID rebound, COVID-induced demand, and shopper behavior change due to working from home.” — Ron Mauro, Haleon therefore are getting sick again, benefiting UR and cough drop sales,” she reported. Consumers, however, are being more proactive in treating any symptoms they might have because, as Ridder observes, they want to avoid appearing sick to evade the COVID stigma. That, she says, is helping allergy, UR and cough drop sales, too. “COVID raised consumers’ awareness about their health in general — more awareness of symptoms presenting early and the need to treat them ASAP,” echoed Joseph Bortner, senior category manager at Rutter’s, a York, Pa.-based convenience store operator. “Cough/cold and analgesics were the leading performers, contributing to about 75 percent of total category growth.” Haleon’s Mauro, too, reports that immunity support and cough/ cold products saw “significant and sustained increased demand from the pandemic that continues today.” He also cited lip care as a product that has experienced a sales bump thanks to COVID rebound. “Lip care had a sharp decline in 2020 as a result of masking, but had a strong recovery, especially in the second half of 2021,” Mauro said.

Maintaining Momentum Past success, or course, is great. But is it possible to maintain that momentum? Category experts believe it is, and shared some plans for profiting from HBC moving forward. Realizing that nothing is returning to “normal,” and that innovation is essential, will be key for companies looking to build upon the recent success HBC has enjoyed, they stress. “In 2020, we frequently heard the phrase ‘return to normal’ or ‘new normal,’ but what we have experienced from 2020 to 2022 is that this environment continues to be ever-changing,” Ridder said. “Now, more than ever, we need to stay mindful that our products, offerings and services align with our consumers and retailers.” For Haleon, that means focusing on “science-backed innovation and organic growth” to achieve the company’s goal of “repeatable growth in the convenience channel,” Mauro said. An example of this approach is Haleon’s Advil Dual Action, which he said is the first pain medication to combine ibuprofen and acetaminophen in a single pill. The launch has exceeded expectations thus far, according to Mauro.

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HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

Offering a variety of package sizes and price points is an important HBC best practice.

Working closely with strategic customers on assortments, promotions and potentially some exclusive opportunities will drive Haleon’s organic growth, Mauro stated. “We continue to improve our display offerings and enhance our packaging on-shelf. We also get a halo effect from national brand marketing of our No. 1 brands,” he added. Maximizing the balance between singledose and multidose products is an area Rutter’s is exploring. “Consumers’ wallets are tightening as inflation hits across all categories,” Bortner said. “This is resulting is a higher percentage of consumers transitioning from multidose to single as they look for the lowest out-ofpocket remedy.” At Circle K, CBD is a category the c-store chain is looking to expand. “CBD falls under HBC for most products, and that is up 20-plus percent over 2021 already,” Tirey reported. “We are teaming up with a couple key companies that we have tested to help with the expansion.”

Words of Advice There are many ways convenience store retailers can strengthen their lineup in the health and beauty care category. Having what Tirey calls “the basics everyone expects” is an obvious one; but there are also more specific, nuanced approaches to take HBC to the next level. “The consumer expectation is that your store should have a remedy for whatever ailments they’re facing on the road. Be sure to cover all aspects of the HBC category, as it is one that creates trips,” Bortner urged. Other words of advice include:

• Know the market around each store. It is important to know what customers in each locale are looking for beyond the basics. Stores in a heavy tourist area, for example, will have a different product set than those in other locations, Tirey noted. • Do your research. Keep apprised of what HBC customers are really looking for. A good indicator is what large retailers are selling, what facings they have and what spacing is given to specific products, said Tirey. Then, have open discussions about these things with manufacturers to see if there are possibilities to tap. • Use visual cues to connect with shoppers. Remember that consumers “buy with their eyes,” advised Ridder, who cited 2021 NACS State of the Industry data that showed 21.6 percent of purchases are unplanned, creating an opportunity for impulse/ incremental sales. • Up your digital marketing game. Connecting through digital marketing when your customer is not in the store is very important, as it creates more awareness around your offerings, services, promos and prices, Ridder said. Offering a variety of package sizes and price points is another important HBC best practice. “Some shoppers simply want a single dose to treat right away, but other shoppers notice the value of lower cost per dose in a larger [package] size,” Mauro said. He also advocates for relying on “power brands” because the majority of HBC sales in c-stores are immediate need. “Shoppers have a headache or indigestion they need to treat right now. They want to see the brands they know and trust at the time of need,” he said. Ridder, though, believes c-stores also should carry some private brands and lower out-of-pocket items to combat inflationary challenges and the significant rise in cost of goods. “We have lost some momentum in trading consumers up and have seen a significant shift to trial-size HBC in 2022, as consumers choose the lowest out-of-pocket option,” she explained. “Our retailers have passed on many price increases to their consumers; therefore, many are reporting dollar sales up, but units down vs. YA [year ago].” CSN

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CBD

Suited for CBD This fast-moving category holds promise for convenience stores By Renée M. Covino

categories like cannabidiol (CBD) are nestling into new homes — convenience stores — thanks to a neighborhood phenomenon taking shape: the c-store as the new “micro-pharmacy.”

MORE “WELLNESS”

That’s how some industry experts describe it, explaining that convenience stores solidified their position as both essential businesses and essential to their communities during the pandemic, a trend that is very much continuing as consumers seek alternative solutions to their health needs and their desire to be healthier. “The demand for non-prescription treatments to address pain, energy and sleep issues will continue to grow, and as individuals seek healthier options to alcohol, cigarettes and sugar, they often see CBD and hemp products as potential alternatives,” said Brian Cox, CEO of Bartlett, Tenn.-based SurgePays, a supplier of top-selling items and prepaid products to c-stores and gas stations. “This will help c-stores not only maintain those customers

and revenues, but also grow revenues as this product category continues to boom.” Cox acknowledges that CBD is still in the infancy stage, yet is evolving. “As the industry matures, we are seeing more focused products, often using CBD as a catalyst to combine with other ingredients with known benefits, such as a sleep gummy with CBD and melatonin, or an energy CBD with caffeine.” C-store shoppers are gravitating toward CBD product forms that align with familiar and popular forms in mainstream categories, such as beverages, noted Mike Luce, president and co-founder of Chicago-based High Yield Insights, a provider of data-driven insights into the cannabis market and related products. “While starting from a relatively small share, CBDinfused drinks have shown tremendous growth,” Luce reported. “Shoppers have been keyed in on functional beverages for years, and a blend including CBD looks right in line with that trend.” Other formats that are time-tested and still selling

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CBD

well are CBD gummies and pain creams, according to Kevin Liebrock, general manager at Castle Rock, Colo.-based Prana Principle, maker of CBD skincare, topicals and bath products. Matt Zehner, senior insights analyst at Chicago-based Brightfield Group, which recently released its 2022 midyear report on CBD, pointed out that the biggest CBD product type being sold in convenience stores as of 2022 is vapes, followed by beverages. Gummies also have seen a significant rise in convenience channel sales in the past year, he added. While online sales of CBD products flourished during the height of the pandemic, many consumers have shifted back to in-store purchases — convenience stores included. In fact, roughly 34 percent more consumers are purchasing CBD through c-stores today than they were toward the start of 2021, according to Brightfield Group’s findings. “C-stores are expected to remain a sizable and growing channel for CBD sales with the third-highest compound annual growth rate through 2027,” Zehner said.

$4 billion or more greater if regulatory reform occurs by 2024 than if no such changes are made. If federal regulation were to be implemented by 2024, overall sales are expected to reach $11 billion by 2027. Currently, CBD is not regulated by the FDA. It cannot be an ingredient listed in any supplement or claim to alleviate a medical alignment, according to Michelle Donovan, a cannabis attorney with the Clark Hill law firm, based in Detroit. “Each state has its own rules and regulations when selling food, drugs and cosmetics, so it’s important to check each state’s requirement,” she told Convenience Store News. Retailers are cautioned to not carry any CBD items that make far-fetched claims. “While the federal government untangles hemp-derived products, the category has to monitor itself. The product must match what’s on the label and be backed up by test results,” Luce said. Zehner agrees that high-quality, lab-tested products are a must. “Ensuring that stocked items are created by reputable, experienced producers will help to turn purchasers into loyal CBD customers,” he said. “Having goods that adhere to high manufacturing and testing standards will also mean that retailers won’t have to switch the brands they carry upon federal regulations that will raise the bar.”

The FDA Factor

Clinical trials will continue to expand what we know about CBD, which will increase the demand, according to Cox of SurgePays. “It is important for retailers not to get ahead of themselves or the FDA. They need products from reliable, consistent manufacturers to build foot traffic for the category,” he echoed.

Regulation and/or guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is seen as a key driver for the CBD category moving forward. According to Brightfield Group, 2027 sales are forecasted to be

From a merchandising perspective, Prana Principle’s Liebrock believes that it would behoove c-stores to get hemp and CBD products out of the locked case. “This really hurts sales and doesn’t give the products a chance,” he said. “Stores would see

“This is a fast-paced, changing market with endless opportunities of CBD-infused products — from gummies to bath bombs to chocolate bars to dog biscuits. It’s everywhere and if a consumer hasn’t tried it yet, they soon will.” — Michelle Donovan, Clark Hill law firm

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The ABCs of CBD Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical found in the cannabis sativa plant, also known as cannabis or hemp. CBD is obtained from hemp, a form of the cannabis sativa plant that contains only small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

much better results if they merchandised CBD in line with other health and wellness items.” As consumers want to experiment and learn more about CBD, it is important to have a small quantity of trial packs at lower introductory price points in stock, Cox advised. This approach can be furthered by the same retailer stocking larger, better-value items for those consumers who come back for more. The key is having both, and making the trial items obvious. “Hemp and CBD products initially had very high price points that just didn’t work well in convenience stores,” Liebrock relayed. “By offering smaller-format products under $10, which are now widely available, c-store customers will be more likely to give CBD a try.”

Cannabidiol Futures What’s new and next in CBD innovation? A recent controversial trend in the category surrounds CBD and hemp products that are high in Delta 8 THC. Liebrock explained that “this is similar to THC in its intoxicating effects and it’s technically legal under current interpretations of federal law. But, because it is psychoactive, it’s a risky business and will likely be more tightly regulated in the future.” Heather Roberts, owner of bath company Mom Bomb, revealed that she recently acquired a patent for a CBD topical formula that allows pores to open and the CBD to better absorb. “This allows the product to work faster, penetrating through the dermis; it also allows the consumer to use less, with an increased effect,” she told CSNews. Roberts believes topicals are easier for the channel to bring to market and are a good way for slower c-stores to incorporate some CBD products into the mix moving forward. The bottom line is the CBD category is rapidly evolving, and holds promise for c-stores. “This is a fast-paced, changing market with endless opportunities of CBD-infused products — from gummies to bath bombs to chocolate bars to dog biscuits,” Donovan concluded. “It’s everywhere and if a consumer hasn’t tried it yet, they soon will.” CSN

More than 80 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, have been found in the cannabis sativa plant. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the most well-known. “CBD has been most influenced from the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which allowed hemp to be grown legal under federal law,” said Michelle Donovan, a cannabis attorney with the Clark Hill law firm, based in Detroit. The bill also removed hemp’s Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule I controlled substance designation. “From there, the markets opened, along with the versatility of new products, such as gummies, liquids, pet products, cosmetics and even ice cream,” Donovan noted. But not all CBD products made from hemp are legal, and CBD cannot be legally included in foods or dietary supplements. “CBD is not an ingredient that can be listed in any supplement or claim to alleviate a medical alignment, and it is not regulated under the FDA [Food and Drug Administration],” cautioned Donovan. “Each state has its own rules and regulations when selling food, drugs and cosmetics, so it’s important to check each state’s requirement.”

OCT OBE R

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TECHNOLOGY

Putting Itself Out of Business Convenience Store News' 2022 Technology Leader of the Year, Sheetz Inc., stays focused on evolving its business By Melissa Kress

SHEETZ INC. has long been known for its made-toorder (MTO) foodservice offerings — and along with it, ordering kiosks — but its innovation stream has moved beyond what has become standard in the industry to new technology spaces like digital currencies and subscription programs.

It is for this forward-thinking take on retail technology that Convenience Store News has selected Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz as its 2022 Technology Leader of the Year. The convenience retailer operates more than 640 locations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina. The 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. Sheetz CEO Travis Sheetz accepted the company's

award at this year's CSNews Technology Leadership Roundtable & Dinner, held Oct. 1 in Las Vegas. The goal at Sheetz is to "put Sheetz as we know it out of business." What does that mean? Continuous evolution, according to Travis Sheetz. "Anytime we build a new Sheetz store, it should make the other one down the street look old," he explained. "We want to outdo ourselves. We don’t want anyone else to; we want to be first to evolve our business." There are a lot of factors that drive and influence that evolution. Notably, according to the chief executive, those factors include employees, customers and the supply chain. "Technology is a great enabler to all those businesses we are in and the customers that we serve," he said. "We are very literal about not

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TECHNOLOGY

using technology for technology's sake, but using it for what it can do to make our business better." On the operations side of the convenience channel, technology helps retailers with efficiencies and labor redistribution to focus employees on the more value-added parts of the business. As for consumerfacing solutions, technology helps with convenience. "We are in the business of making people's daily lives easier. We are focused on that convenience-demanding customer, so there is a lot of digital, consumer-facing technology that really helps with that," he pointed out. Additionally, technology helps with information. "The world is all about data," Travis Sheetz said. "Not only who has the most data, but who uses it the most effectively."

Technology & COVID-19 There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed technology to the forefront of the convenience channel for the majority of retailers, but Sheetz embraced technology solutions long before the health crisis gripped the world. Even prior to March 2020, the convenience retailer had rolled out drive-thru capabilities, delivery and mobile ordering. The one feature Sheetz did implement quickly in the months immediately following the pandemic was curbside pickup. "We were pretty ready from a technology side. That was the times. You had to react to what was going on and the environment," Travis Sheetz recalled.

Philosophy on Technology In a channel that has been slow to wrap its arms around technology, that piece of the puzzle is often left out of discussions until plans are in place. At Sheetz, information technology (IT) is part of the discussion, but not "forced," according to the CEO. "When we are looking at something new — innovation in general — we ask the question: How can technology help us?" he explained. "There are very few things today where technology can't help you be better." More to the point, technology does not just live in Sheetz's IT group. For example, the retailer's consumer digital and data teams, and its loyalty program, sit within the sales and marketing team. "These are all highly technology-driven things. Technology is not just IT and because of that, it is always at that table," Travis Sheetz said. "Having them always at the

Sheetz rolled out drive-thru capabilities, delivery and mobile ordering before the COVID-19 pandemic spurred innovation in the channel.

table is extremely important. Any strategic initiative we have generally has an IT component to it." Emily Sheetz, vice president of strategy and information technology, is focused on growing that group to be both a service group and a value-added group, he noted.

Innovation Hub In late 2019, Sheetz opened a technology and innovation hub in Pittsburgh. The hub focuses on developing, testing and implementing what Sheetz calls "transformative products and services." According to the chief executive, the hub is set up to look outside the Sheetz model, and identify holes in the marketplace and opportunities for the convenience retailer to do something different — add the competencies that Sheetz possesses to another business to create value.

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TECHNOLOGY

The internal mission at Sheetz is to give customers what they want, when they want it.

Noting it is a "test, learn and fail group," he explained the innovation hub is working across a broad spectrum of industries, not just convenience. There is also interest from both the innovation hub and the retailer's in-house innovation team in establishing a retail lab concept, according to Travis Sheetz, where the retailer would be able to test technology solutions in a retail format that could apply to a very different business or to Sheetz's current model. "That sits in the middle of our incubator, long-term innovation and what we call our mid-range innovation in-house to make Sheetz as we know it today better," he said.

Exploring New Avenues In mid-2021, Sheetz became the first convenience store chain to accept digital currency. After partnering with Flexa, the retailer worked with NCR to accept digital currencies like bitcoin, ether, litecoin and dogecoin at its point-of-sale (POS) systems in-store and at the pump. Although the talk around digital currency has simmered a bit lately, Travis Sheetz acknowledged that customers should be able to pay in whatever format they want. That thought process plays into Sheetz's internal mission to give customers what they want, when they want it. Sheetz offers a variety of platforms across all areas of its stores; rolling out digital currency is a way to add to payments, he said, noting that convenience retailers need to go where the customer is — whether that is pay at the pump, self-checkout or digital currency. "There are different evolutions in different business units and there are customers along different points of that evolution. We don’t want to carve out one group

of customers; we want to offer them what they want and how they want to do it," he said. In another move to address the shifting needs of convenience shoppers, and the definition of convenience, Sheetz recently entered the subscription space with a $9.99 monthly subscription program for its "fryz," and an unlimited self-service drink subscription for $14.99 a month available through the Sheetz mobile app. The subscription model brings the loyalty punch card system into the 21st century. However, supply chain issues in convenience overall, and the foodservice category, have led Sheetz to "be more tentative" than it normally would be, Travis Sheetz pointed out. Technology will also play a role in expanding the subscription program, particularly into the car wash space, he added.

Looking Forward Even with all this going on, Sheetz is not standing still. One area of innovation the retailer is excited about is payments and the evolution of the POS. Noting the migration from credit card swipes to credit scans to Apple Pay, Travis Sheetz wonders what the future could bring. When it comes to payment systems, a retailer needs to be "very nimble and flexible," he said, and this speaks to having the technology infrastructure. "Who knows what people will be paying with; all you have to do is be able to identify yourself and you can make a payment," he said, adding that this could include biometrics. "It keeps evolving and the customer expectation keeps evolving — particularly the young people." CSN

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AN EYE ON D&I

The Metrics of Diversity & Inclusion To succeed in their initiatives, companies need to know where they are starting from and where they intend to go By Angela Hanson FOR MANY COMPANIES, the first step in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey is an easy one: recognizing that DEI is both a societal good and something that will help the business improve performance by adding fresh perspectives and a wide variety of ideas.

A far harder step is answering the follow-up question: How will company leaders know whether their DEI efforts are effective or just paying lip service to a good idea? For retailers that are used to crunching numbers and calculating profit margin to determine the success or failure of a new program or promotion, DEI initiatives may seem more difficult to evaluate than a profit and loss statement. However, several convenience store chains have launched numerous data-driven efforts to track DEI improvement. “When we set out to improve category performance, we first need to understand the metrics we will be using, the current conditions of each category, and then set targets to achieve each goal. Measuring diversity is no different. What gets measured gets done,” said Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer at Fort Worth,

Texas-based Yesway, which operates more than 400 c-stores. He pointed to analytics and transparency as drivers of improvement and change. The same holds true for the industry’s suppliers and distributors. Altria Group Distribution Co. tracks its DEI progress across aspirational “Aiming Points.” These include being an inclusive place to work for all employees regardless of level, demographic group or work function; having an equal number of men and women among its vice presidents and directors; and increasing its vice presidents and directors who are Asian, Black, Hispanic or two or more races to at least 30 percent. The Richmond, Va.-based company tracks its progress across dozens of different identities, operating companies and employee groups, and communicates its progress both internally and externally. Another approach to DEI metrics is Des Moines, Iowabased Kum & Go LC’s Inclusion Index, which rolled out in 2021 and enables the retailer to track its progress and monitor lagging indicators around such metrics as hires, retention and promotions. Kum & Go’s DEI plans for 2022 also called for the addition of regional networks to capture feedback and data points from store associates, helping the company monitor realtime scenarios. At the same time, business leaders recognize there is significant value in less-quantifiable measures of progress, like simply listening to employees.

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“We’re constantly measuring representation and retention, and also understanding how our employees are feeling through frequent surveys and listening sessions,” said Alicia Petross, chief diversity officer at Pennsylvania-based The Hershey Co. “Listening sessions have been a key driver of connection and policy in recent years.”

Jumping Over DEI Hurdles As they make plans to advance their initiatives, wellprepared DEI proponents are aware that they will have to overcome numerous challenges along the way. Some of the biggest hurdles are practical ones. Heather Schott, diversity, equity and inclusion manager at Krause Group, the parent company of Kum & Go, cited resourcing and the COVID-19 pandemic as among the company’s biggest DEI challenges. “We all are impacted when we can’t get to know people that are ‘othered’ or dehumanized in this world. The way to accelerate change in DEI is to change the narrative from ‘those people’ to ‘us.’ That takes connections, relationship building and storytelling. When we are all so cut off from each other, it’s hard to see past the negative,” she said.

“One of the biggest challenges facing large organizations today is the fact that building equitable and inclusive environments with diverse workforces is not just about systems and processes, it’s also about culture. And no matter where you work, culture can be difficult to change.”

Other challenges exist regardless of the pandemic because they come from within. “One of the biggest challenges facing large organizations today is the fact that building equitable and inclusive environments with diverse workforces is not just about systems and processes, it’s also about culture,” said Larry Hughes, vice president of corporate human resources and DE&I at 7-Eleven Inc. “And no matter where you work, culture can be difficult to change.” Understanding and commitment at every level of the organization are crucial for long-term culture change, according to Hughes, along with consistent education and communication that shares the DEI strategy, business case and desired outcomes to reinforce the changes being sought. Lacking a full understanding of the benefits of DEI, even among those who support it, can be a significant challenge within individual companies — and the c-store industry at large. “Awareness, recognition and acknowledgement that diversity, equity and inclusion is an opportunity will continue to be the biggest hurdle,” said Yesway’s Gaskins. “While it is axiomatic to many that DEI is a problem that needs to be addressed, there is fatigue with the overall initiative. This misunderstanding of the tangible benefits that DEI delivers will continue to be a hurdle.” It’s one worth jumping over, though, because when people see companies owned and operated by people in their communities who are like them, it shows “the promise and potential of America,” according to Gaskins, who pointed to economic investment, job creation and a retail experience better tailored to the needs of the community as tangible benefits of DEI. Whatever metrics a company chooses to use to track progress, it should be prepared to measure for longterm improvement. Incorporating DEI is a journey, not something that can be easily achieved and then forgotten about. True DEI requires buy-in at all levels; letting it stop at one stage of the company will mean the journey goes unfinished. CSN

— Larry Hughes, 7-Eleven Inc.

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

Carlton Austin, The Coca-Cola Co. Treasa Bowers, 7-Eleven Inc. Rahim Budhwani, Encore Franchises LLC Emil Cantrell, Imperial Trading Co. Derek Gaskins, Yesway Elisa Goria, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K

• • • • • •

Danielle Holloway, Altria Group Distribution Co. Steven Kramer, WorkJam Lonnie McQuirter, 36 Lyn Refuel Station Alicia Petross, The Hershey Co. Tonya Robinson, Thorntons LLC Heather Schott, Kum & Go LC

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STORE SPOTLIGHT

Food Forward Fuel City’s newest convenience store reintroduces Chester’s Chicken to the Fort Worth area By Danielle Romano WHAT HAPPENS when

At a Glance Fuel City Opened: June 2022 Location: 1715 Haltom Road, Haltom City, Texas Size: 10,000 square feet Unique features: Fuel City’s award-winning taco program; Chester’s Chicken’s full menu; a one-of-a-kind Longhorn Ranch where customers can view live animals; a state-of-the-art tunnel car wash; delivery through Uber Eats; 30 fueling positions

a convenience store chain that’s coined “home to the best tacos in Texas” partners with a nationally recognized fried chicken quick-service restaurant (QSR) concept? The answer, according to Fuel City, is customers’ foodservice dreams come true. Since 1995, Fuel City, a family-owned and -operated chain of seven convenience stores throughout Texas, has been delivering a one-of-a-kind experience to customers by way of the company’s slogan: “Where Dreams Come True.” Maintaining a food-forward focus, Fuel City was recently searching for a highvalue, complimentary foodservice program to partner with for the opening of its newest store in Haltom City, Texas. Offering a scalable, well-recognized food concept that specializes in quality and quick service, Fuel City found a partner in Chester’s Chicken. “We were drawn to Chester’s by its strong, established history and bright

future. Most importantly, the product is excellent. … The core menu is unlike any of our existing food offerings and brings a rich new mix of options to our loyal customers,” Joseph Bickham, CEO of Fuel City, told Convenience Store News. “We are receiving excellent feedback from our customers already.” The partnership reintroduces Chester’s Chicken to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as the QSR chain puts The Lone Star State at the center of a company growth initiative. “We have a strong presence in most of Texas with many travel center locations across the state. To us, the Dallas-Fort Worth market is a no-brainer, and we couldn’t think of a better partner to reenter this market [with] than Fuel City,” said Oliver Vereschagin, regional director, West, for Chester’s International LLC. “We know they are top-notch operators with decades of experience in foodservice. Chester’s is in good hands with Fuel City, and we know all of the Fuel City customers will get a great experience.”

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STORE SPOTLIGHT

Chester’s Chicken, which has 1,200 locations around the country, currently operates 40 locations in Texas. Two more sites are in the onboarding stage, and the company is targeting to add an additional 25 locations in the state by the end of 2023. “As one of the most populous and largest states in the country, Texas has always been a target market for Chester’s. While barbecue might be the first thing that comes to consumers’ minds when they think of Texas food, we don’t think fried chicken is far behind,” Vereschagin noted. “We know we have a large customer base in Texas based on the success of our other franchises in the state, and we are excited to build on that success with our great, new partner in Fuel City.”

On the Menu The latest Fuel City site in Haltom City boasts a 10,000-square-foot convenience store situated on an 8-acre lot. The business opened to the public in June.

The full Chester’s Chicken menu is available, including signature entrees, sides and desserts.

The store offers the full Chester’s Chicken menu, including the brand’s signature, double-hand-breaded tenders and bone-in chicken, and fried chicken sandwiches. These items can be complemented by five varieties of sauce: Chester’s Sauce, Honey Mustard, Buffalo Hot Sauce, Ranch and BBQ.

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There’s also an array of sides to choose from, such as fresh-breaded livers and gizzards, honey butter biscuits, potato wedges, mac-and-cheese, green beans, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Additionally, staying true to what the brand is known for, Chester’s offers two fried dessert options: fried strawberry cream cheese pie, and fried apple pie. Also on the menu at the Haltom City store are Fuel City’s award-winning tacos, which are served 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The taco program is nationally recognized for its quality, and has been named the Best Taco in Texas by Texas Monthly Magazine, Bickham pointed out.

“The core menu is unlike any of our existing food offerings and brings a rich new mix of options to our loyal customers.” — Joseph Bickham, Fuel City

Fuel City Tacos are served 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Offered across all dayparts, the Fuel City Tacos menu encompasses several varieties, including the picadillo taco, the beef fajita taco, the chicken fajita taco, the barbacoa taco, and the pastor taco. Customers can order burritos, bowls and quesadillas, too. Sides include homemade tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, refried beans, and Mexican rice. For desserts, Fuel City partners with local bakeries and providers to offer pies, cakes, and other pastries and baked goods. Other amenities available at the Haltom City location include: • Delivery through Uber Eats; • A one-of-a-kind Longhorn Ranch where customers can view live animals; • A state-of-the-art tunnel car wash, which offers a free vacuum with every wash, as well as different wash packages available at multiple price points; • Thirty fueling positions offering all fuel grades; and • Indoor and outdoor dining spaces. An eighth Fuel City store is currently under construction in Wylie, Texas, and is expected to open this year. According to Bickham, the company plans to continue expanding to serve customers all across the metroplex and Texas. “Starting with the goal of convenience, service and fun in mind, Fuel City still strives to create positive experiences every day. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself and visit us at Fuel City today,” he urged. CSN OCT OB E R

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HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION

ATMs

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Cash Registers/Scanning Items

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Car Wash Services

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Kiosk Pre- Paid Services

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HOT PRODUCTS SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION

Food Service Oils

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CBD Products Services

General Merchandise

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CLASSIFIEDS

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CLASSIFIEDS

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Petroleum/Equiment

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CLASSIFIEDS

Sunglasses

ADINDEX 22nd Century Group Inc........................128

Krispy Krunchy Chicken........................75

ADD Systems...........................................99

Liggett Vector Brands...........................79

ADS-TEC Energy.....................................21

Lindt & Sprüngli USA.............................67

Altria Group Distribution......................2

Living Essentials LLC.............................11

Altria Group Distribution......................3

Mad Tasty..................................................41

Beam Suntory, Inc...................................53

Modern Store Equipment......................77

BIC USA Inc..............................................1, 18, 37

Mondelez International..........................41

Black Buffalo............................................55

Pabst Brewing Company.......................69

Buzzballz LLC..........................................33

Paytronix Systems Inc............................97

Calico Brands Inc....................................22

Phoenix Research Industries................81

Chester’s International..........................71

Premier Manufacturing..........................37

Chevron Corporation.............................17

Retail Space Solution.............................49

Community Coffee Company..............59

SEB Professional.....................................23

Convenience Distribution Association...............................................91

siffron.........................................................127

Diageo.......................................................15, 43 Dietz & Watson Inc.................................103 E-Alternative Solutions.........................51 Forte Products.........................................81 Glanbia Performance Nutrition...........61 Golden Dough Foods.............................63

POS/ Equipment

Wholesale Refrigeration

Swedish Match North America LLC.............................................9, 31, ..................................................................39, 45 Swisher International, Inc.....................13, 57 The Hershey Company..........................24–25 TransAct Technologies Incorporated ...........................................95

Tyson Foods.............................................73 Haleon.......................................................5, 83, ..................................................................85, 87, 89 Uline...........................................................20 ImageWorks Display..............................47

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

Johnsonville.............................................65

Vita Coco Water......................................19

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INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

Contactless Convenience C-store shoppers are growing fonder of contactless shopping options Many changes have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and chief among them is digital transformation within the convenience channel. Pre-pandemic, the convenience store industry was historically known to be a slow adopter of cutting-edge technologies, but no longer. Contactless shopping, in particular, is seeing a ramp-up as more c-store retailers are adding such services and more customers are open to using them. The 2022 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed 1,500-plus consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month, revealed the following insights:

CONVENIENCE CHANNEL SHOPPERS SAY THEY’VE EXPERIENCED THESE CONTACTLESS SERVICES AT A C-STORE:

33%

32%

30%

Contactless using an app

Contactless using AI sensors

Contactless using a kiosk

Shoppers who experienced these services at a c-store describe their current usage vs. one year ago as: CONTACTLESS USING AI SENSORS

84%

More 53% About the same 44% Less 3%

SAY THEY WERE VERY SATISFIED/SATISFIED WITH CONTACTLESS USING AN APP.

CONTACTLESS USING AN APP

78%

More 52% About the same 44% Less 4%

CONTACTLESS USING A KIOSK More 46% About the same 49% Less 5%

Few shoppers indicate they are using these services less today compared to one year ago. 126 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

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Customer satisfaction levels with contactless shopping options at c-stores is high:

SAY THEY WERE VERY SATISFIED/SATISFIED WITH CONTACTLESS USING AI SENSORS.

78% SAY THEY WERE VERY SATISFIED/SATISFIED WITH CONTACTLESS USING A KIOSK.

Despite their openness to the new alternatives, though, more than half of convenience store shoppers (56%) still prefer human interaction at a register over self-checkout (44%).

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