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Experiencing Convenience

The annual NACS Show, held last month in Las Vegas, is a once-a-year opportunity to assess the state of the convenience store industry.

Our team of editors not only get the opportunity to talk to retailers and suppliers about their respective businesses, but we also hear from scores of experts on the most impactful trends shaping the future of this industry.

A few of the key trends that we uncovered from education sessions, special events and meetings at this year’s show were:

  • New products are still paramount for driving business. A record number of scans were recorded in the show’s Cool New Products Preview Room. Hussmann Corp.’s Pastry Case with Warmer and Kellogg’s joyböl Smoothie Bowl with Rice Krispies were the top two new products scanned.
  • Changes are coming, as the definition of convenience shifts from a physical store to a concept of convenience as an experience. However, this is not the first time the channel has experienced change, according to Kim James, senior director, Global Center of Excellence, Merchandising and Marketing at Circle K. In a session, she pointed out that the 1960s brought about the rise of frozen and cold dispensed drinks; the 1970s saw the introduction of the commissary; and the 1990s brought about the popularity of made-to-order food. Now, it’s all about the evolving customer experience, she said.
  • Convenience store operators that have successfully built foodservice programs must continue to innovate and keep up with food trends in order to move their business forward. Consumers are interested in functional foods and care about the positive aspects of food, rather than what negative aspects they want to avoid, said Mark DiDomenico, director of client solutions at Datassential. Today, this includes protein, antioxidants and “superfoods.” Consumers are cutting back on meat products to become more “flexitarian,” he noted. Local is also a key food trend. Steven Turner, director of food programs at RaceTrac Petroleum, said his company has begun looking at locally-sourced vegetables and free-range chicken as functional food ingredients. RaceTrac also added almond creamer as a standard condiment in its coffee set and is working on a dairy-free, almond milk-based ice cream option for its Swirl World frozen dessert concept.
  • Technology and marketing are linked like never before. Speaking at Convenience Store News’ Technology Leadership Roundtable & Award Dinner, Rutter’s CEO Scott Hartman said a retailer’s marketing team needs to be the driving force behind the development of new retail technology ideas and, because consumers are central to the business, consumer-facing technology should be the main focus of a retailer’s technology development.

During the NACS Show, there was also lots of discussion around Amazon’s brick-and-mortar moves. Hartman, for one, is skeptical of Amazon’s plans to open thousands of Amazon Go stores, but he embrace the company’s “just walk out” technology. “Amazon might be better off licensing the technology instead of going all in on their brick-and-mortar concept,” he said. (Although, we did hear buzz at the show that Amazon is currently recruiting for a c-store operations executive.)

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