The Future of Convenience Is Food
ATLANTA — Food. It's essential to existence — not just in the broader sense as humans, but also in regards to the convenience store industry. That was the message Jack Kofdarali, chairman of NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, relayed at the 2016 NACS Show.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd during Wednesday’s general session, he recounted growing up in Lebanon and the roles that food and meals played in his family. "Meals were more than about eating; they were a celebration," he said. "I treasure those moments."
Today, convenience store retailers must put an emphasis on food as challenges arise in other product categories. But they will have to fight for the food business — fight for customers and fight to tell their story, according to Kofdarali, president of Corona, Calif.-based J&T Management Inc.
Not that long ago, food was a choice between something delicious vs. something fast. However, Kofdarali said as he’s traveled the country — and the world — as the 2015-2016 NACS chairman, he has seen this changing within the convenience channel. He called his journey an "eye opener."
"So many retailers are executing food at a high level," he said, pointing specifically to taste and quality. "And it's making them money."
Notably, c-store operators in the Northeast are selling twice the amount of prepared food, two and half times the amount of coffee, and three times the amount of alternative snacks than the industry average. Kofdarali also cited the level of execution he found in European stores.
"You can't beat food that is both fast and delicious," he added.
At one time, the outgoing NACS chairman owned roughly 30 convenience stores in Southern California. He now has just four in his portfolio. He explained that selling 26 locations has allowed him to slow down and “enjoy my family and enjoy my life." The sale has also reinvigorated him and given him a renewed focus. With years of experience and working capital, he said with laugh, he "can now double-down on what I want to do."
Armed with better insights on locations and on how to create stores and better customer experiences from the ground up, Kofdarali is ready to move on to his next journey: a business venture with Brad Call, who served as 2013-2014 NACS chairman. Call is also executive vice president of Salt Lake City-based Maverik Inc.
While he declined to reveal details on the venture, Kofdarali said it would combine the best of what he and Call have seen in the convenience industry in both the Northeast United States and in Europe. And it will definitely "involve food," he vowed.
The 2016 NACS Show, hosted by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, continues at Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center through Oct. 21.