As service and location remain the industry’s primary competitive advantage over supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, many of whom are moving into the fuel and fresh food business, convenience stores have stayed on the cutting edge of retail trends. That forward-looking strategy promises to continue as retailers enhance their focus on foodservice.
As we head into the 2011 NACS Show there will be ample opportunity to scour the trade show floor looking for the next big industry trends. In past years, energy drinks, frozen beverages and electronic cigarettes have taken the industry by storm. As you walk the show floor this year, I encourage you to keep an open mind. Somewhere among the booth bunnies and the hookah smoke could be the next big customer craze. Trends to watch for over the coming months include:
• Natural and organic foods and snacks. This includes more fruits and vegetables on the menu and a real effort to offer locally produced ingredients, such as tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, etc. In fact, many supermarket chains have found consumer response to locally grown fruits and vegetables to be so strong that they are advertising the offering on the radio and investing in new point-of-sale (POS) displays to promote the items.
• Social media. Online platforms are more than just a tool for looking at pictures of your friends and reminiscing about times past. Social media offers measurable and predictable power that truly has a place in almost any kind of business. There are many benefits to using social media for business, but promoting your brand, communicating with your customers and managing your business’s reputation in cyberspace should be among the top priorities. Plus, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare allow you to solicit honest feedback from your customers to ensure you are constantly providing a memorable shopping experience.
• Greater coffee variety. Coffee remains a popular destination for the industry, but the category is changing in major markets. C-store chains are quickly adopting Fair Trade and organic brews in response to consumer demand. While it may not impact your core customers right now, Fair Trade and organic brews appeal to the younger generations, particularly in urban markets.
• Frozen beverages. While the iconic Slurpee brand is a household name, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks have helped push the frozen category with high-end drinks. The c-store industry is responding with frozen fruit juice beverages and frozen dairy milkshakes that are becoming destinations for customers of all age groups. While this is already a solid bottom-line contributor, the category continues to reach new heights.
• Expanding snack occasions. Snacking is at an all-time high in the U.S. and convenience stores are meeting the demand. One of the reasons for the consumer’s renewed emphasis on single-serve snacks is that people are doing more activities closer to home. This makes the local c-store a destination for mid-morning and mid-
afternoon snacks and beverages.
• Breakfast sandwiches. The morning drive time is a growing daypart for convenience stores primarily because it’s been overlooked for so long. Grab-and-go options that emphasize variety are very popular.
• Combo/value packaging. Whether it’s two candy bars for $2 or a sandwich, fountain drink and a bag of chips for $5, retailers are embracing the value meal like never before. Many are even adding kids’ combo meals to have an offering for the entire family. As consumers watch what they spend, this trend will continue.
• Loyalty programs. Chains of all sizes are now offering loyalty and rewards programs to customers to entice return visits. Customers can earn everything from fuel discounts to free sandwiches. The demand for rewards has grown with all demographics and popularity has surged as the economy has struggled.