C-Store Report: Innovating Convenience
The image of the convenience-store channel has historically been tied to teenagers popping in for a Mountain Dew and a bag of Doritos, maybe toss in some gummy sour worms and, of course, a Slurpee and some smokes.
However, retailers in the channel seem to be on a health kick going into 2021, as well as on a path to build out their assortments overall, and they are leveraging their store brands to do it.
Casey’s, for example, is undergoing a complete overhaul of its private brand portfolio, more than doubling its store brand SKU count this year already. Eric Long, the chain’s director of private brands, said they have upped the assortment of private brands in the center store to more than 100 and plan to have more than 150 items by end of the year.
The Ankeny, Iowa-based chain of more than 2,000 stores across 16 states is undergoing a brand refresh, too, having unveiled a new store look and logo in October that will be added to the new private brand packages. The retailer said the logo gives the chain a modern feel to reflect its more modern approach to retailing with its growing assortment, popular fresh pizzas, and its digital shopping capabilities with curbside service and more.
Yet Casey’s is not the only c-store chain that embarked on elevating its brand image or began expanding its store brand assortment.
Marathon Ventures, based in Bellevue, Neb., works with retailers on unique flavors of nuts and snacks, and director of marketing Krista Daly said many of the firm’s clients are interested in growing their private brand positioning.
“The c-store buyers we talk to are really excited about the ability to create and maintain consumer interest through innovation,” said Krista Daly, director of marketing at Marathon Ventures. “While we can’t share specifics, we know they want items that take it to the next level in terms of quality, flavor and originality. Exclusives that are ‘only available here’ are also high on the wants and needs list.”
Daly said the convenience channel has been hurt in volume and in-store traffic due to the pandemic but the retailers they work with are resilient and have been creative in finding ways to serve customers through digital technology.
“I feel that private brand manufacturers consistently lead the way in innovation and aren’t afraid to try new things, especially in the c-store channel, where impulse is king,” said Josh Sowell, senior vice president, chief customer officer for SunTree Snack Food. The company works with retailers to produce peanuts, cashews, almonds, trail mixes and some dried fruit, and some recent trendy flavors have included dill pickle, sriracha, and variations on ranch and chile limon.
But he said healthier concepts “that still scream delicious and are snacking oriented” are the products c-stores are looking to add. Van Dam of Marich Confectionery echoed and said there’s a push for better-for-you products and “treasure hunting” where consumers can find the latest on-trend items.
“We’ve been supplying grab-n-go ‘healthy snacks’ as private label items,” said Kayden Lee, executive director for Daily Nuts and Fruit, based in Palmdale, Calif. “As c-stores are getting more traffic, they’ll want to expand their selection with unique, healthy-driven items, since not only consumers are now visiting c-stores for small grocery shopping, [they] are tired of waiting in long lines at traditional retail/grocery stores.”