Yesway affirmative on private brands

Lawrence Aylward
Editor In Chief
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Yesway's first store brand product was water, which is now one of its top-selling beverages.

Derek Gaskins wants Yesway to be the ALDI or Lidl of the convenience store channel when it comes to private brands.

“We want to be one of the innovative retailers,” said Gaskins, who spoke April 8 at the Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing’s (ECRM) second-annual Store Brands Leadership Summit held at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. “Why can’t we be the Lidl or Aldi of the convenience channel? It’s an aspiration that we are treating very seriously.”

Gaskins, senior vice president of merchandising and and procurement for Des Moines, Iowa-based Yesway, a new convenience store chain, spoke to a group of suppliers who attended the Store Brands Leadership Summit as part of ECRM’s “Store Brands Health & Beauty Care,” “Store Brands Foods: Center Store” and “Store Brands Foods: Perimeter of the Store” Efficient Program Planning Sessions (EPPS). Gaskins, aware that ALDI and Lidl both offer more than a 90% assortment of private brands, said Yesway, which was born in 2015 and began opening stores in 2016, wants to make private brands a staple of its success.

Yesway, which operates more than 150 stores in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming, is growing rapidly and soon plans to have about 500 stores opened. Gaskins noted there are more than 153,000 convenience stores in the U.S. with nearly two-thirds of them owned and operated by individuals. He believes Yesway has the opportunity to make an impact in the “highly fragmented” channel.

Yesway launched its first private-branded products, under the Yesway brand, last summer. It currently offers about 40 SKUs, including water, candy and baked goods, and has more than 400 new products in its pipeline.

“When we started, it was about going after the low-hanging fruit,” Gaskins said. “[Knowing] beverage was a destination [for our stores], we knew we should have beverages. So we offered water first.”

Gaskins said Yesway will soon offer three tiers of private brands: value, national brand equivalent and premium.

“We want to go places where national brands in a convenience channel have not been willing to go,” he said of premium offerings.

Gaskins said Yesway has been focusing on offering “immediate consumption” products such as “high velocity, high impulse and high margin opportunities” that include packaged baked goods and candy.

“We will probably keep that focus through the third quarter of this year, but we are looking at the center store and the frozen [category] as big opportunities,” said Gaskins, who joined Yesway last summer after leaving Rutter's, a York, Pa.-based convenience store chain. “A line of own brand meal solutions could also be a traffic driver for us.”

Gaskins said the days of the blue-collar construction worker being the lifeblood of the convenience store channel are long gone.

“Generation Z and millennials are the ones who are in our stores now, and they are forcing us to be more transparent and have clean labels and carry products that as recently as five years ago I would have never thought about carrying,” he said.

During his presentation, Gaskins said the words “simplify and amplify” several times.

“That means doing fewer things better,” he added. “To simplify and amplify has been transformative in how we go to market.”

Editor's note: Yesway was recently profiled in Convenience Store News, Store Brands’ sister publication. You can read the story here.