Convenience Retailers Take on Redesigns to Expand Wine & Liquor Sections

Operators are also stocking new brands to capture opportunities in the alcoholic beverages category.
Wine selection at Plaid Pantry
Beaverton, Ore.-based Plaid Pantry Inc. has upgraded its wine program.

NATIONAL REPORT — What happens when market forces catapult a category onto the list of top-sellers?

That's exactly what happened in 2020 when wine and liquor became a top 10 category in the convenience channel during the pandemic, and then gained an average of 8.5 percent in sales per store in 2021, according to the Convenience Store News 2022 Industry Report.

Elevating product offerings and redesigning stores to accommodate expanded selections of wine and liquor have been among convenience channel retailers' responses.

Take Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc. In June, the nation's largest convenience store chain announced the opening of its fifth Evolution Store in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the ninth in the country. A wine cellar with an enhanced and expansive selection of wine is among the offerings customers can find in these stores — described as experiential testing grounds where customers can try and buy 7-Eleven's latest innovations in a pioneering store format.

Savannah, Ga.-based Parker's, La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. and Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go LC are other c-store chains upping their game in the wine and liquor space. In February 2021, Parker's debuted Parker's Spirits in Pooler, Ga. The liquor-focused brand offers a large selection of premier wines, craft beers, collectible bourbons, and other packaged beverages. Last year saw moves by Kwik Trip and Kum & Go, too.

Kwik Trip launched Kwik Spirits, a new store format featuring a variety of wine and liquor, while Kum & Go worked with E. & J. Gallo Winery to streamline its wine assortment. Together, the companies identified bestsellers nationally and by state and generated a market-specific core list incorporating multiple store configurations. By clustering store configurations by state, the supplier was able to provide a consistent assortment at the right price points and introduce new items. The results were impressive: the retailer saw an 8 percent increase in wine sales year over year, and E. & J. Gallo was named one of Convenience Store News' 2022 Category Captains.

Consumer Preferences Are Key to Success

The ways in which wine and liquor drive consumers to c-stores underscores the important role these categories can play for convenience store operators and the channel overall.

Convenience store visits are highly mission-driven, with each trip usually serving a primary need. Alcohol has been identified as one of nine main trip missions, according to VideoMining, a provider of comprehensive insights on in-store shopper behavior.

When comparing the last three years (first quarter of 2022 vs. first quarter of 2019), the Alcohol trip mission gained 15 percent in share of store trips. Other trip missions that posted strong gains were Refreshment, Meal Building and Snacking, according to VideoMining.

Knowing what customers likely will be looking for when they arrive is key. When it comes to wine, Christian Rogers, Kum & Go's alcohol category manager, says he sees two trends: the premiumization of the wine consumer, and the continued acceleration of wine-based ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages.

"Super-premium wines, tetras [Tetra Paks] and tequila are also driving the wine and liquor categories," he added, noting that tracking trends helps Kum & Go select inventory that ultimately appeals to a broad a base of consumers.

"We have geared our assortment to meet the new demand in these subcategories, while still ensuring we are dedicating appropriate space to the mature subcategories of the wine segment," Rogers explained. "Within the wine and liquor categories, we offer a strong assortment of products at a number of different price points, with the goal of meeting our customers' needs for any occasion."

The approach has paid off, as Rogers reports the company's 2022 wine and liquor sales are up vs. pre-pandemic numbers, although he says they are "a bit softer than we would like to see YTD. Much of this is due to the convenience channel losing share of large packs to large format."

Beaverton, Ore.-based Plaid Pantry Inc. is another c-store chain reaping benefits from upgrading its wine program, according to President and CEO Jonathan Polonsky.

"In our market, selling spirits is not an option in the convenience channel, so we have to shine in the beer/wine categories," he said. Plaid Pantry operates 106 stores in the Northwest.

Layering a selection of "best" wines on top of what Polonsky calls a pretty broad "good" and "better" offering has brightened that shine. And so have local vintages.

"With us living in the Willamette Valley, there are a handful of local wines we offer up that resonate with the Northwest shopper and create a tailored local assortment," Plaid Pantry's Director of Marketing Jon Manuyag said.

The approach is working. "Wine sales are up, and I believe it is a combination of the 'COVID effect' and the addition of the higher-end wines we now offer," Polonsky explained. "We have indexed higher than our local competitors for a long time, and Jon has kicked it up a notch in the last couple of years."

Added Manuyag: "Wine sales are up as we continually invest in space, promotions [and] upgraded assortment to let our customers continue to know we are serious about our wine business."