3 Opportunities to Improve Business in 2023

By: Bill Nolanpartner with the Business Accelerator Team | December 2022

With just a few days until the end of 2022, it’s doubtful we will look back with any remorse, but rather, hopeful for the new year. Yes, the pandemic of the last three years is, for the most part, in our rearview mirror. But inflation, expense increases and labor issues will continue to hammer the convenience-store industry for some time, regardless of changes in the political landscape.

Like the seasoned operators we are, having an optimistic outlook for the future is what drives our business and is a vital component that the c-store industry has and will continue to embrace.

With this in mind, here are the three proven approaches to help you improve business as we head into 2023.

Pitching Coffee

There’s been no question that coffee has been a key profit producer and customer-count influencer for years. I would even say, many chains have overcome the gas-station stigma and are respected for their hot beverage offerings. But even with an influx of new and upgraded equipment, specifically bean-to-cup drip, espresso and the numerous gourmet coffeehouse options, one has to ask: Why aren’t we exponentially growing our coffee business?

I’ve come to understand one reason why: The average coffee consumer seems to believe that coffeehouses have a much higher quality bean than a c-store. In reality, many c-store chains have roasters providing the highest quality bean that would match any $4-$5 beverage at Starbucks.

Rather than just relying on advertising our hot and fresh offer, more concentration should be placed on the quality and origin of the bean and that it’s as good or better than any coffeehouse. This is especially important to reach younger coffee consumers, who may not understand your neighborhood c-store may just be your most convenient (and more affordable) coffeehouse.

Employee Retention

A very real and persistent concern is the issue of having enough employees to staff the store and the numerous corporate positions needed to operate successfully. Offering a higher hourly wage, paying hiring bonuses, and demonstrating and implementing the value of diversity and company culture have had an impact. But still, retaining those employees, especially the best ones, present a unique situation.

We all as employees want to feel valued and that we contribute to the team. But feeling appreciated and regarded as a reliable member of the operation can mean several different things. An important one: Will management see me as someone it wants to train and develop, and am I considered a valuable asset to this operation?


Most employees are looking for self-satisfaction, in addition to recognition of their efforts.

Providing additional responsibilities and the necessary training to be successful will demonstrate the value you have in them. That may just be the solution to energize the average employee and the key to keeping them much longer.

‘Quiet Profit Maker’

Managing the cost of inventory continues to be the “quiet profit maker.” This has always been necessary for efficiently run retailers. But when sales, margin and consumer packaged goods returns are adequate, new item introductions (or the steady flow of deliveries) can take priority over removing slow-moving items.

Category managers typically review and upgrade their plan-o-grams once or twice a year. But whether it’s cigarettes or the cold vault, removing slow-selling products in a more timely manner can save significant dollars over a year’s time.


Managing the cost of inventory continues to be the "Quiet Profit Maker."

For many operators, this has become evident over the past two years. As we head into 2023, customer counts may remain flat, or for many, continue to decrease due to socioeconomic factors. Maintaining the top and core sellers, adding high-potential new items and constantly deleting unnecessary slow sellers will undeniably improve margins and profits.

Retailers must remain vigilant in this area of business to achieve the greatest results.

Source: CSP

Now Trending: Spicy, Gummified, Caffeinated, Better for You

By: Rachel Gignac | December 12, 2022

Which snacks and candy fads had the most innovative products this year?

CHICAGO — In 2022, snacks became healthier, and candy became spicier. Trends in sweets and snacks also included a gummy revolution and kicks of caffeine in unexpected ways. Read on to review this year’s innovations.

Spice

One of the top trends of 2022 spanned both salty and sweet snacks—spice. The bold flavors encompassed chips, popcorn, gummies and hard candy.

Gummies

Reaching for the attention of today’s younger generation has recently included transforming existing nonchocolate candies into gummies, especially with a fruity, multi-flavor approach.

Caffeine

Whether they provide a boost of energy or simply the taste of coffee, caffeinated sweets were popular this year. Treats with a coffee theme spanned chocolate, nonchocolate and sweet snacks.

Better for You

Better-for-you products continued to perform well in 2022, and there was a draw toward protein-based snacks in the category.

Candy brands are also committing to being transparent about nutrition. More than 94% of candy products have front-of-pack calorie labels and 85% of chocolate and candy sold today comes with 200 calories or less per pack, according to a report by Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) and the National Confectioners Association (NCA).

Source: CSP

2022 in Review: Here’s to Fresh Starts in Foodservice

By: Chuck Ulie | December 12, 2022

CHICAGO – Foodservice in 2022 addressed the lack of labor, both in product and equipment offerings, while adding more branded restaurants in convenience stores. Meanwhile, healthier and fresh continued their growth in this space.

Fewer Steps

Foodservice products and equipment are responding heavily to the call to do more with less. Retailers’ hiring woes were magnified as they struggled with having fewer people to prepare menu items. The response was quite apparent at the NACS Show in October, where products showcased saving on time, labor and costs.

For example, the Equalizer pizza cutter from Spokane, Wash.-based LloydPans boasted equal slices–thus reducing waste because there are no smaller pieces customers avoid.

In baked goods, Rich Products’ Fully Finished Donuts portfolio reduces needs and promotes freshness that lasts. The doughnuts come frozen, and after a quick thaw stay fresh twice as long as other bakery options due to exclusive extended shelf-life recipes, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based company said.

Finally, customers can buy a beverage from a refrigeration unit and never have to pay a clerk or check out at all. Tech company Intuitivo, Miami, and refrigeration company Imbera, Kennesaw, Ga., teamed up on units where customers buying a beverage scan a QR code on the cooler door with their smartphone. When they remove their selection, they get charged. Cameras on top of the cooler detect the product being removed and charge the customer accordingly.

Restaurants in C-Stores

Restaurants, both name brand and those created in house, continue to open in convenience stores.

Jack in the Box in 2022 started eyeing convenience stores in its plans for substantial growth beyond its core markets of California and Texas. The 71-year-old fast-food chain, founded in San Diego, has more than 90 c-store locations among its 2,200 restaurants nationwide, but a combination of factors has spurred the company to aim for about 6,000, Van Ingram, vice president of franchise development, told CSP. Jack in the Box seeks new franchisees and operators to come into its system and operate c-stores and travel plazas, he added.

Also, GPM Investments in July opened two new Sbarro restaurants in its E-Z Mart convenience stores in Texarkana and Kilgore, Texas. The stores are part of a strategic partnership with Sbarro. GPM intends to open 50 new Sbarro locations in 2022. GPM, a wholly owned subsidiary of ARKO Corp., currently has seven total stores open with Sbarro, with four in Village Pantry stores across Indiana and one in a Fas Mart in Virginia.

In November, retailer Cumberland Farms, owned by EG America, launched a brand-new restaurant concept with the grand opening of Ria’s Pizzeria at its convenience store in Norton, Mass. Ria’s offers pizza by the slice and pizza made to order. Specialty pizzas include Nashville hot chicken, chicken bacon ranch and loaded baked potato. It also sells savory dough snacks.

Finally, a Togo’s sandwich shop in spring opened in a Grab N Go convenience store in Modesto, Calif. This was the first version of the San Jose, Calif-based fast-casual sandwich chain in a convenience store. Togo’s has about 170 locations and is ramping up to grow in nontraditional locations like c-stores.

Healthier, Fresher

Kum & Go, Des Moines, Iowa, continued the rollout of its made-to-order fresh-food menu. In October it unveiled the new menu on its home turf in Des Moines, Iowa-area convenience stores. The menu includes stackers and bowls for all dayparts and premium ingredients and fresh toppings and sauces. Grab-and-go burritos also are available.

Meanwhile, Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz promoted its Made-to-Order foodservice program on its website, proclaiming that its food is fresh and “rivals any quick-serve restaurant you’ve ever visited.” Sheetz boasted that it uses the highest-quality ingredients. “Get exactly what you want, when you want it, 24/7,’ Sheetz said.

At startup Curby’s Express Market, which opened its first c-store Feb. 1 in Lubbock, Texas, the team aims for a place where consumers don’t have to make a choice between convenience and quality. The menu, created from scratch, includes kolaches, burritos, muffins and melts for breakfast; and pizza, salads, melts and sandwiches for lunch and later.

Unusual Flavors

Unusual and varied flavor combinations continued their momentum in 2022.

C-store industry pizza program Hunt Brothers rolled out a limited-time-only cheeseburger pizza in November that’s reminiscent of a classic fast-food cheeseburger, the Nashville-based company said. It features Hunt Brothers Pizza’s original crust topped with a creamy dill pickle-cheddar sauce, a blend of shredded cheddar and 100% natural part-skim mozzarella cheeses, hamburger crumbles and fresh chopped white onions. It’s finished with a sprinkling of the company’s Just Rite Spice.

7-Eleven, meanwhile, introduced a new limited-time-only Green Apple Slurpee, which combined tart and sweet, as well as a Smokey Cheddar Sausage to celebrate Oktoberfest.

Nestle-owned Coffee Mate is partnering with two well-known treats right after the holidays. In January, Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts and Zero Sugar Twix, both limited-time offers, make their debuts.

Finally, Pilot, Knoxville, Tenn., added a new Southern Pecan Cold Brew to its fall lineup.

Mashups

C-stores have been partnering with high-profile candy brands for offbeat beverages and more. C-stores also have been carrying mashups created by other companies.

Sheetz, Altoona, Pa., teamed with Goetze’s Candy Co. to launch a series of Cow Tales-inspired seasonal milkshakes at the c-store chain. The first two limited-edition flavors are Caramel and Cream Milkshake with Cow Tales Flavors, and Strawberry Cream Milkshake with Cow Tales Flavors.

Blend-it-yourself shake and smoothie company f’real, Emeryville, Calif., rolled out a Snickers milkshake, marking the first partnership between f’real and Mars Wrigley, Chicago, the makers of the iconic Snickers bar.

Source: CSP

‘Americans Are in Love With C-Stores’: Survey

By: Greg Lindenberg | November 8, 2022

NEW YORK — More than seven in 10 (71%) adult consumers say they discover new products and brands in convenience stores, according to Convenient Insights: The C-Store Shopper, a new nationally representative consumer sentiment survey on c-store shopping from NCSolutions (NCS). Nearly four in 10 (38%) respondents said they shop at c-stores two or more times a week, while overall, nearly two-thirds (62%) visit c-stores at least once a week, the report said.

C-stores “are an essential part of the customer journey,” NCSolutions said.

Here are the reasons why the company, which provides solutions for improving advertising effectiveness for the consumer packaged goods (CPG) ecosystem, concluded that “Americans are in love with convenience stores”:

C-Stores Provide Good Shopping Experience, Value

American consumers find shopping at c-stores offers numerous benefits. Seventy-nine percent of shoppers say the stores offer a lot of product variety, while 77% say c-stores provide a good shopping experience. Sixty-three percent see c-stores as delivering good value for their budgets.

CPG brands looking to engage Gen Z can tap into this generation’s favorable view of c-stores. Ninety-one percent of Gen Z say c-stores provide a good shopping experience.

More than two-thirds (67%) of Americans purchase candy from c-stores, and many rely on c-stores as a place to for beverage—57% of consumers said they purchase on-the-go drinks like coffee, tea or fountain beverages at c-stores, while 40% buy milk, juice and other staples. In addition, 32% pick up packaged beverages and 23% buy beer.

Beyond beverages, almost a third (30%) pick up prepared foods while in the store, and 37% purchase lottery tickets.

Image courtesy of NCSolutions

What Brings Consumers Into C-Stores?

Americans visit c-stores for various reasons, but the location is No. 1, cited by 65% of American consumers. Fifty-nine percent say c-stores meet their immediate needs, while 54% like that they can conduct transactions quickly and be on their way.

Nearly one-third (30%) say price brings them into the store, while 28% enjoy the variety of products c-stores have to offer. Additionally, 34% shop at c-stores because they are less crowded.

“The c-store channel offers a compelling potential for CPG brands to motivate new buyers to try their products. It’s an especially attractive channel to reach the Gen Z consumer, who is very loyal to c-stores,” said Dan Malmed, chief revenue officer for NCSolutions. “Appealing to Gen Z c-store enthusiasts enables advertisers to build and drive loyalty as well as improve the return on ad spend of their campaigns.”

Gen Z are also more likely to use a delivery service for c-store items, with almost half (49%) reporting they have used a service such as 7-NOWInstacartDoorDashUber and others. This is 96% higher than all Americans who reported using a delivery service (25%) for c-store shopping.

Image courtesy of NCSolutions

Getting Social With C-Store Shoppers

Consumer purchase behaviors are also influenced by what they see on social media. Seventy percent of c-store shoppers said they are more likely to purchase products they see promoted on c-store social media channels—16% said they would be completely likely, 19% said they would be very likely and 35% said they would be somewhat likely.

NCSolutions fielded the online survey of 2,216 respondents, age 18 or older, from Oct. 7 to Oct. 10, 2022. It weighted the responses by location, education, income and other demographics to be representative of the overall population.

Based in New York, NCSolutions is a joint venture company with Nielsen as the majority owner.

Image courtesy of NCSolutions

Source: CSP

Consumers View Convenience-Store Jobs in a Positive Light: Survey

Nearly three in four customers have favorable opinion, NACS says

By Greg Lindenberg on Oct. 11, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Nearly three in four consumers (72%) say they have a favorable opinion of convenience-store jobs, according to a new survey released by NACS.

The U.S. c-store industry, with more than 148,000 stores nationwide selling fuel, food and merchandise, conducts 160 million transactions daily and had sales of $705.7 billion in 2021. It employs an estimated 2.38 million people.

Customers who most often shop at convenience stores—and interact with employees—give the highest marks: 85% of frequent customers have a favorable option of convenience-store jobs, compared to only 54% of infrequent customers.

Customers also support many of the positive community-focused attributes associated with c-stores:

  • 86% say convenience stores are good first jobs for those looking to enter the workforce.
  • 83% say c- store jobs are good jobs for those re-entering the workforce, such as retirees or veterans.
  • 83% say c-store employees can work their way up to become managers or even run their own stores.
  • 82% say c-store jobs are good jobs for high school or college students.
  • 74% say c-store jobs are good jobs for those who can’t or don’t want to get a traditional education.

A previous NACS consumer survey found that more than one in seven Americans (15%) said they had worked in a convenience store. Of those current and former workers, 79% said their job experience was valuable, and 66% said they would recommend that type of work to others, particularly as a first job.

“With the challenges associated with the labor shortage, these findings are good news for the industry and could help provide valuable insights in how to message the value of jobs at stores,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Jeff Lenard. “Beyond the flexibility to enter—or re-enter—the workforce and set and find flexibility around their lives, current and former employees also cite the daily interactions and conversations they have with regular customers. This human connection is particularly important as we continue to re-establish regular routines that had been disrupted by the pandemic.”

The NACS Consumer Fuels Survey is a national consumer survey conducted Sept. 10-13 by national public opinion research firm Bold Decision. A total of 1,200 American adults were surveyed online, including 1,049 who said they are regular gas customers, and the overall margin of error for the findings is +/- 2.83% at the 95% confidence interval.

Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, Alexandria, Va.-based NACS advances the role of convenience stores as positive economic, social and philanthropic contributors to the communities they serve and is an adviser to retailer and supplier members from more than 50 countries.

Source: CSP

Old Wisconsin Multiplies Meat Snack Growth

Sales have seen a 235% increase in the past 5 years.

By: Rachel Gignac 

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Old Wisconsin increased sales by 235% in the U.S. convenience market in the last five years, the sausage snack maker said.

This year, the company is celebrating 75 years sausage making. According to Sheboygan, Wis.-based Old Wisconsin, it has grown significantly since its beginnings in 1947, especially in recent years as its products resonate with snacking, protein, health-conscious and on-the-go consumer trends.

Old Wisconsin consolidated its product line to focus on ready-to-eat and shelf-stable sausage snacks, and it discontinued products with more limited distribution, such as grilling meats. This has enabled the company to widen its distribution channels beyond grocery retail.

The company has also seen a 312% increase across U.S. mass, club and drug retailer markets. Sales growth in e-commerce has increased by 66% in the past year.

Old Wisconsin was founded in 1947 as Thielmann’s, a small sausage shop owned and operated by Frank Thielmann and William Stolzman. It produces meats in a variety of shapes and sizes from cuts of beef, pork and turkey.

Source: CSP