VIEWPOINT: C-stores Moving to Forefront of Business Innovation
A year ago, the nation's convenience retailers were facing an uncertain future. Fuel sales had cratered due to the shutdowns enacted nationwide to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Store traffic was down, and foodservice sales were hit particularly hard by pandemic safety restrictions. Yet, I pointed out then that innovation would carry retailers through the crisis.
A year later, business is improving for most c-store retailers, although you cannot say things are back to normal.
Retail Groups Bring Vaccine Mandate Concerns to Biden Administration
President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private businesses with 100 or more employees will have "far-reaching consequences beyond the laudable objective of moving past the COVID-19 pandemic," according to NACS and other fuel trade groups.
In a letter sent to Jim Frederick, acting assistant secretary of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) on Sept. 27, NACS, Energy Marketers of America, NATSO, and SIGMA argued that the pending Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) — which is at the Office of Management and Budget for review — "may complicate already fragile labor markets and create challenges for many businesses that are currently struggling to remain open. We urge you to consider these realities as you draft the ETS, and request that the ETS or forthcoming guidance address the specific questions we raise below."
NACS Show Rewind: Staying Nimble in a Post-COVID World
Whatever steps c-store operators took during the early days of the pandemic and whatever they have in mind as they look ahead to the end of it, there is a single guiding principle they should keep in mind: be nimble, according to the "Moving On: Easing Guests’ Post Pandemic Fears" education session at the recent 2021 NACS Show.
Like c-stores did in spring 2020, retailers today need to be prepared to act quickly, but also make long-term plans. And above all else, they need to consider the human element.
"It's all about establishing trust with your customers," said presenter Mike Sherlock, chief product marketing officer at Wawa Inc.
Reimaging the Future of Convenience
The convenience store industry was thrust onto the front lines when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the channel as a whole stepped up to the plate as essential workers.
While there will be plenty of lessons learned from the past 20 months, the industry needs to start preparing for the future, according to presenters at the 2021 NACS Show, which wraps up today at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
"When our customers needed us, we were there for them, but it wasn’t always easy because change is everywhere," NACS President and CEO Henry Armour said during the Oct. 7 general session entitled "Reinventing Convenience and Reimaging Our Future."
Remote Food Orders Are Now Restaurants' Primary Source of Revenue
A digital-first economy has emerged since March 2020, fundamentally changing how restaurants engage with their guests, according to the 2021 edition of the "Restaurant Readiness Index," a collaboration between Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS.
In this new economy, remote ordering and offsite dining represent the bulk of the industry's orders, with 67 percent of average restaurant sales generated by orders placed digitally or by phone for off-premises dining.
Retail Industry Raise Questions About COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private business with 100 or more employees raised several questions in the retail community.
In his announcement, the president said workers would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or get tested weekly.
"Retailers, like the rest of the country, are eager to move past COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, retailers have led on masks, safety protocols in stores, and vaccinations. Incentives, paid time off, and other perks have been implemented to encourage retail employees to get vaccinated," said Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) President Brian Dodge. "While we await more details about the requirements, it is essential that the administration understand that requiring large employers to mandate vaccination of all employees or produce a negative test is a colossal undertaking."
Carrying out the mandate would need coordination with industry and all levels of government, according to Dodge, who pointed out testing capacity is already stressed.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to issue the rule on the mandate soon.
Retail Groups Seek Clarity Over Mask Policy Enforcement
Multiple retail groups and associations are turning to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on mask wearing and enforcement.
"Preserving the safety and well-being of retail employees is imperative. Store employees are not prepared to enforce health restrictions. Requiring them to do so presents the potential for confrontations fueled by anger that can turn violent quickly. That is not worth the risk," the joint letter stated. "While state and local governments pass and enforce their own policies, we urge you to lead on this worker safety issue by publicly stating that in jurisdictions that decide to require masks, the burden of enforcement should not be placed on businesses and their employees."
Wawa & Giant Eagle Reinstate Mask Mandates as Delta Variant Spreads
Months after officials across the country lifted mask mandates, some retailers are again asking employees and customers to cover up as the Delta strain of COVID-19 leads to an uptick in cases.
Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. reinstated its mask mandate for employees, effective Aug. 4 and Giant Eagle Inc., parent company of Pittsburgh-based GetGo convenience stores, said it will again require employees to wear a mask in its stores beginning Friday, Aug. 6.
New Research Shows Pandemic's Profound Impact on U.S. Road Travel
The global health crisis, and COVID-19 restrictions, kept U.S. motorists off the road and in their homes.
According to new research from AAA, the pandemic and its associated restrictions, which gripped the United States beginning in the spring of 2020, led to a dramatic change in traffic patterns.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's New American Driving Survey (2020) examined the types of trips and the characteristics of the people who altered their driving habits. According to the research, the average number of all daily personal car trips fell 45 percent in April 2020 and 40 percent for trips by all modes of transportation combined.
The dip in travel moderated later in the year but remained below 2019 levels.
Pride Stores Hosts COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics at Select Locations
Pride Stores is hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics at four locations in western Massachusetts through the first weekend of August.
Pride founder and CEO Bob Bolduc was inspired to set up the clinics to combat low vaccination rates in certain areas.
"I contacted the state and offered our site so they could come and set up the mobile clinics and vaccinate people in the neighborhoods with low percentages right now," he said.
Consumer Spending Shifts to More At-Home Activities Post-Pandemic
Participants said they plan to travel more domestically by vehicle, cook more at home and spend more on streaming entertainment, electronics, smart home devices, vitamins, personal care and pet supplies. They also report plans to spend less on dining out at restaurants, using Uber, Lyft and taxis, and going to movies, sporting events and live concerts.
"The good news is that spending in many consumer categories is on the rise," said Lauren DeVestern, managing director at L.E.K. "But the way consumers spend will change. They report that they will remain cautious about crowded spaces and be eager to continue some of the new ways of living they picked up during the pandemic."
How to Capitalize on the Rise of Contactless Shopping
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, the demand for contactless shopping experiences increased quickly throughout both the retail and restaurant industries. Consumers wanted access to merchandise and fresh food, and they wanted the ability to pay for it all without coming into contact with other people. Whether it was curbside pickup of items purchased online or by phone, delivery straight to a customer’s home or contactless payment, many retailers immediately responded to meet the increasing demand, including convenience stores.
The NACS Show Is Back
Unless there is a major setback in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 NACS Show will be open for business in October with few changes or restrictions compared to pre-COVID-19 exhibitions.
"Right now, the format and agenda for the 2021 NACS Show will be very similar to previous shows," Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the industry's trade association, told Convenience Store News. The show is scheduled to be held at Chicago's McCormick Place on Oct. 5-8.
A Snapshot of Nicotine Trends During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Nicotine and the convenience store industry share a mutually beneficial relationship, which was especially evident during the coronavirus pandemic.
During a recent webinar hosted by the Convenience Distribution Association, entitled "A Quick Update on Tobacco," Management Science Associates Inc. (MSA) Senior Vice President Don Burke provided a snapshot of the overall nicotine category and how it was impacted by the pandemic, what trends MSA is seeing, and what these factors mean for convenience channel distributors and retailers.
GPM’s Pandemic Lessons
For one U.S. convenience store chain, meeting the changing needs of customers during the COVID-19 pandemic has been like a fast-paced dance.
“[The pandemic] kept us on our toes, fielding challenges we never experienced before,” Michael Bloom, executive vice president and chief merchandising and marketing officer at GPM Investments LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Arko Corp., told Convenience Store News. “We learned a lot as a retailer and were able to adapt and respond quickly in a very unique environment.”
COVID-19's Continuing Impact on the Convenience Store Shopper
Despite signs that business is improving as the nation begins its return to pre-pandemic life, a new research study, The Future Of Now: Convenience/Quick Stop Shopping In A Post-COVID World, suggests that the convenience channel will be challenged for the foreseeable future as its core shoppers remain under economic and employment stress.
Citing pandemic-related structural changes to employment, the consequent impact on movement and long-term shifts in in-person schooling patterns, the study finds that c-store operators will need to consider the notion of "convenience" in a new context.
COVID Breeds Convenience Lovers, Food Experimentalists & Germaphobes
Convenience retailers were forced to shift gears as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States in March 2020. Similarly, consumers quickly changed their behaviors and new research indicates some changes are here to stay.
According to NielsenIQ, new habit-forming purchase behaviors are poised to have lasting impacts on the sales performance of select categories. "As vaccine rollouts progress and shoppers begin returning to brick-and-mortar stores more frequently, some pandemic-related consumption shifts will fade while some will have a lasting impact on purchase behavior," it said.
Sales Through Digital Ordering Platforms More Than Triple Since Pandemic Onset
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, sales generated through digital ordering platforms have more than tripled, according to Paytronix Systems Inc.'s Paytronix Annual Order & Delivery Report: 2021.
Additionally, most of those sales came from people who had never previously interacted with the brand.
The annual Paytronix report examines industry trends across the digital ordering landscape, from enterprise brands to independent restaurants, in sales, guest experience and retention, and fulfillment method.
Parker's Sees App Usage Rise 40% During COVID-19 Pandemic
Parker's customers turned to contactless options driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the convenience store retailer, customers in Georgia and South Carolina are using the Parker's Rewards app at the pump in record numbers, averaging nearly 800 secure contactless transactions daily.
In all, the retailer saw a 40-percent increase in contactless mobile payment during the health crisis.
Stewart's Shops Celebrates Easing of COVID-19 Rules With Latest Ice Cream Flavor
Stewart's Shops is celebrating the transition from spring to summer and eased COVID-19 restrictions with the dedication of a new ice cream flavor: Sweet Return to Normal. The new flavor will be available at the cone counter starting May 31 for a limited time.
"I think we can all agree, COVID-19 has taken a toll on everyone in some way," said Stewart's Shops President Gary Dake. "As we carefully reopen, summer plans now include more travel, events and of course — ice cream. We all crave a return to normal, and this ice cream flavor is dedicated to just that."
NACS Raises Concerns Over Oregon's Revised Mask Rule
Following an Oregon Health Department rule that requires private businesses, employers and places of worship to verify the vaccination status of people who don’t wear face masks in their facilities, NACS penned a letter to the heads of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new Oregon policy requires "local businesses to verify the vaccination status of customers" — a policy that the letter states "is alarming.
C-store Retailers Assist in COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts
Deemed essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, convenience store operators played an important role in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing measures, installing plexiglass at the checkout, enhancing cleaning and sanitizing procedures, integrating mobile ordering, delivery and pickup, and more.
Now, operators are doing their part in ensuring the communities in which they serve have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Here's are the latest round of retailers who are partnering with local pharmacies and municipalities to make sure everyone has the opportunity to get vaccinated.
7-Eleven & Instacart Partner on 30-Minute Delivery
7-Eleven Inc. is expanding its collaboration with online grocery platform Instacart to nearly 4,000 new convenience stores across the country.
In total, Instacart now delivers from nearly 6,000 7-Eleven locations, allowing nearly 60 million U.S. households to get the convenience goods they need in as few as 30 minutes.
Post-expansion, 7-Eleven delivery via Instacart is available in 33 states and Washington, D.C. Alcohol delivery is available in seven of these states — California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Ohio — as well as Washington, D.C. The companies plan to scale alcohol delivery to more states and c-stores in the coming months.
2021 Memorial Day Weekend Travel Projected to Be 60% Higher Than Last Year
More than 37 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend (May 27-31).
This is a 60-percent increase from 2020, when just 23 million traveled, the lowest number on record since AAA began keeping track in 2000, the association reported.
Still, this projected strong increase in demand is 13 percent less than the last pre-pandemic Memorial Day holiday in 2019, or 6 million fewer travelers.
Legislative Corner: Kentucky, New York & Pennsylvania
Convenience stores face legislative and regulatory challenges from all levels of government on a daily basis. Convenience Store News canvasses local trade associations and news sources to cover the latest issues affecting the channel locally.
This month, local regulatory action centered on sales restrictions for tobacco products, gasoline tax increases, liability protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits, and a requirement to sell only zero-emission vehicles.
Realities of the Aisle Study 2021: Viewing C-stores Through a Pandemic Lens
How has the COVID-19 pandemic altered the attitudes and behaviors of convenience channel shoppers? Convenience Store News' 12th annual Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed more than 1,500 c-store shoppers across the United States, provides key insights on how retailers can better meet today’s needs and plan for the post-pandemic future.
Franchisees Ask 7-Eleven to Reconsider 24-Hour Mandate
According to the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees' (NCASEF) estimate, at least 60 corporate-owned and -operated 7-Eleven stores are closed overnight. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, SEI approved franchisee requests to close overnight. Now, as restrictions ease, franchisees say finding help to staff overnights will be extremely challenging.
Among other challenges, franchisees in many markets say overnight sales barely cover their cost of labor. With the shortage of available workers, franchisees will be forced to cover the shifts themselves, causing stress to their health and families, NCASEF argued.
Driver Shortage Could Lead to Gas Shortages This Summer
Drivers who plan to get out of the house and hit the road this summer could have trouble finding gas. The potential difficulty would come not from a lack of crude oil or gasoline but from a shortage of the tanker truck drivers who deliver fuel to gas stations.
Heading into the summer, industry trade group National Tank Truck Carriers reported that between 20 percent to 25 percent of tank trucks in the fleet are parked due to a lack of qualified drivers. At this time in 2019, just 10 percent of trucks were idle for that reason.
Drivers began leaving the business a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused gasoline demand to plummet. Some sought other work, while others opted to retire. The closing of many driver schools early in the pandemic compounded the problem, as it cut off a pipeline of new tank truck drivers.
Warehouse Clubs & Grocers See Fuel Market Share Gains as Consumer Seek One-Stop Shop
According to the Motor Fuels Index from The NPD Group, U.S. consumers decreased their fuel-buying visits and became more focused on the one-stop shop in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus. Overall, visits among fuel buyers dropped from an average of 4.2 per month in 2019 to 3.6 in 2020, but the average number of gallons per buyer increased slightly.
Amidst these changes, retailers such as warehouse clubs and grocery stores saw significant fuel market share gains as consumers not only stocked up on household items and groceries, but as they purchased fuel. These high-volume retailers were gaining traction in the fuel market in 2019, but the pandemic helped to accelerate that trend, capturing 20 percent share of the U.S. fuel market in 2020 — an all-time high.
Six in 10 Americans Say They Are 'Ready to Go' in Resuming Normal Activity
Consumers aged 18 and up in the United States are increasingly confident about a return to normal activities, according to a new consumer sentiment survey released by Nielsen.
The study, which includes insights about consumer activity, health, schooling, employment and transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic, examined three segments that reflect attitudes about the pandemic: those who are "Ready to Go," people who "Proceed with Caution" and consumers who "Wait and See" when it comes to resuming normal behavior.
The Ready to Go segment peaked at 61 percent in the March 2021 survey compared to 34 percent in April 2020. Wait and See consumers, a more pessimistic group, dropped to 9 percent in March vs. 29 percent one year ago.
Half of Consumers Say Pandemic Has Permanently Changed Their Shopping Habits
One out of two consumers say their buying habits have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by international consulting firm AlixPartners.
The study also found that internationally, consumer concerns about health (both mental and physical) and finances are key drivers of these permanently changed purchasing habits.
"Even though two-thirds of consumers across the globe are optimistic about the vaccines, half of them say their buying habits have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic," said David Garfield, global leader of the consumer products practice and leader of the Americas business unit at AlixPartners.
Small Operator Raymond Huff Shares How He Endured the Pandemic
Despite convenience stores being deemed essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, some smaller and independent operators' businesses struggled to adapt.
One such retailer is HJB Convenience Corp., the Lakewood-based operator of Russell's Convenience and Russell's Xpress, which specializes in tenant c-stores in the central business district of Denver; Detroit; and Los Angeles and San Francisco.
E15 Sales Show Resiliency Despite Pandemic-Related Dip in Overall Fuel Consumption
The coronavirus may have hampered overall fuel demand, but it did not slow down the sales of E15.
Among the standout states is Iowa. According to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), sales of the gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol increased 24 percent and set a new record in Iowa in 2020. The association cited data released this week by the Iowa Department of Revenue.
Two other states — Minnesota and California — also show that E15 and E85 flex fuel sales volumes generally held steady last year, even as COVID-19 impacted overall fuel demand.
Soft Drinks Build Brand Equity Among Consumers During COVID-19 Pandemic
Coming out of the pandemic in areas related to positive consumer brand relationships, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands scored the highest among five market sectors analyzed in Kantar's BrandZ Insights 2021 US Retail report.
Based on what BrandZ considers to be the building blocks of brand equity, FMCG brands were found to be highest in "Meaningful," or meeting needs in relevant ways and/or building affinity; "Different," or being unique vs. competitors and/or setting trends; and "Salient," or coming quickly to mind.
Among FMCG product categories, soft drinks in particular increased in perceived worth.
According to Kantar, the percentage of consumers in the report who were price-driven increased from last year, as well as the financial pressure of the pandemic and greater price consciousness. However, the research found that people recognized soft drinks as increasingly worth the cost.
Driven by the Pandemic, Hershey Finds a New Way to Bring Its Customer Insights Center to Retailers
The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an unprecedented era of retailing. Adjusting to the headwinds and remaining committed to its retail partners, The Hershey Co. sought a solution to virtually engage with operators and communicate the latest insights and solutions, broadcasted through a unique and remote platform. Thus, the Hershey Insights Network (HIN) was born.
"While this pandemic may have temporarily changed the way in which we meet with our retail partners, it has not changed the strong insights we have to offer our customers, which are especially crucial at this time," said Dale Clark, senior director of category management for Hershey. "Our retail partners depend on this insight-driven data to help them stay ahead of the retail landscape, and this is another way we continue to adapt during this time to ensure that retailers are set up for lasting success."
Thorntons Hosting COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic for Its Hometown
Thorntons is doing its part to help bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end. In addition to the safety measures it implemented in its stores a year ago, the retailer is hosting a vaccine clinic on Friday at a local Louisville store.
The retailer is teaming up with Norton Healthcare to vaccinate local community members at its convenience store at 2600 James Thornton Way from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on April 9. The clinic is open to community members who are eligible per current state guidelines and as supply is available.
NRF Chief Economist Says U.S. Economic Picture Is 'Increasingly Encouraging'
Federal stimulus funds and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines are key factors to the "dramatic progress" the U.S. economy has made in since the coronavirus pandemic brought activity to a halt a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).
"The economy has come a long way compared with a year ago," said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. "Both monetary policy set by the Federal Reserve and fiscal policy set by Congress and the White House have responded with swift and overwhelming force to support the economy. NRF is optimistic that the recovery is accelerating and the needed rebuilding of the economy is underway. The rate of vaccinations is ramping up, and the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture."
As NRF's Monthly Economic Review reported, conditions have improved after the pandemic brought widespread shutdowns of retailers and other businesses beginning in March 2020.
More Than Half of C-store Retailers Expect Trips to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels This Summer
Tempered optimism is in the air for U.S. convenience store owners, who anticipate that leisure travel and routine customer trips will return to pre-pandemic levels this summer, according to the results of the latest NACS Retailer Member Pulse Survey.
Convenience stores sell 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the United States and experienced a 13 percent decrease in fuel sales and less customer traffic throughout the pandemic. The survey found that more than half of retailers (52 percent) say that summer travel and commuting patterns will be close to pre-pandemic levels.
Year-Over-Year U.S. Gas Sales Move Into Positive Territory for First Time Since Pandemic's Start
On the one-year anniversary of the major declines in gasoline sales due to stay-at-home orders prompted by COID-19, year-on-year gasoline sales in the United States are positive for the first time since the pandemic began.
Despite this, demand is still less than pre-pandemic levels by a considerable margin, according to the latest data from OPIS by IHS Markit.
Industry Groups Request Delay for Outdoor EMV Liability Shift
With the deadline looming for EMV compliance on the forecourt, retailer and fuel groups are seeking another delay from the major financial companies.
On April 1, NACS, the Energy Marketers of America, NATSO and SIGMA sent letters to American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa, Voyager and WEX requesting they push back the date of the EMV liability shift for automated fuel dispensers (AFD) to October 2021, according to NACS.
Outdoor liability is slated to shift in two weeks.
"While fuel retailers have been working around the clock to be fully EMV compliant by the mid-April 2021 deadline, thousands are unlikely to meet the deadline due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and several other factors," the groups wrote.
Pilot Co. Offers Employee Incentive for COVID-19 Vaccine
Pilot Co. is joining the ranks of retailers that are incentivizing employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The travel center operator will offer a one-time, $75 incentive to team members who get the vaccine. The incentive is available to all Pilot Co. hourly team members, professional drivers and general managers in the United States and Canada.
"Our team members and drivers have been on the front lines keeping our travel centers going and the economy moving since the start of the pandemic," said Pilot Co. CEO Shameek Konar. "We are incredibly proud of their dedication to serving our guests and supplying fuel across North America. Now, as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more available, we hope to make it easier for our team members who choose to get vaccinated."
Study: Young Consumers Are Ordering Out Less, Cooking More
cooking renaissance may be taking place for pandemic-conscious young adults. These consumers are cooking new recipes and enjoying culinary experiences at home, according to the latest Y-Pulse survey, which explores pandemic-inspired behaviors that have the potential to become long-term lifestyle habits for consumers ages 34 and under.
"Young consumers have traditionally been the food adventurists when dining out, and we are seeing that their desires for culinary exploration are taking hold at home as well," said Sharon Olson, executive director of Y-Pulse. "As the pandemic wears on, we are seeing greater numbers of young consumers who say they like to cook."
The latest round of the survey shows that just 32 percent of those surveyed said they did not like to cook, down from the 39 percent who said the same in this summer 2020. Additionally, in the latest survey, 48 percent agreed that "Ordering prepared food from a restaurant has become my new normal," down from 52 percent this past summer.
Coca-Cola Research Finds Five Major Pandemic-Era Consumer Trends
More than a year after the coronavirus was introduced to the United States, the pandemic's impact on the retail industry is more apparent.
The Coca-Cola Co. recently aggregated insights from a variety of studies to compose Coca-Cola Refreshing Insights: The State of the Consumer, Retail & FSOP, which identifies five major trends that have largely defined pandemic-era consumer behavior.
COVID-19 Pandemic Drives Fundamental Changes in the Business of Alcoholic Beverages
The alcoholic beverages category entered 2020 already experiencing shifts in preferences, and as the "new normal" takes hold of 2021, the industry is seeing changes in alcohol shopping behavior, consumer trends and attitudes.
According to a new report from Drizly examining the year-over-year shift from March 2020 to March 2021, the dramatic sales impact at the start of the pandemic has sustained as consumers have adapted to the new way of shopping for alcohol.
Four Distinct Consumer Groups Emerge From the Pandemic
According to COVID Consumer Journey: Passive to Panic, a new report from Acosta that breaks down changes in shopping behaviors among four distinct consumer groups that emerged as a result of the pandemic.
The new consumer groups identified by Acosta include:
- "Staying the Course," skewing toward younger, employed males;
- "Social Distancers," skewing toward employed millennials and/or millennials with children;
- "Hunkering Down," leaning toward older and retired or unemployed individuals; and
- "Panic Button," more likely to be Gen-Xers with children or older individuals with no children.
Love's Offers On-Site COVID-19 Vaccines to Employees
Love's Travel Stops is offering its Oklahoma-based store and corporate employees the opportunity to voluntarily receive the COVID-19 vaccination for free at its Oklahoma City corporate offices.
The move follows the travel center operator's commitment to pay its more than 29,000 team members a $75 incentive to voluntarily receive the vaccination.
Americans Are Consuming More Breakfast Foods During the Pandemic
According to a recent nationwide online survey conducted by The Harris Poll and commissioned by General Mills Foodservice, nearly one quarter of Americans report eating more breakfast foods during the COVID-19 pandemic than they normally would (24 percent).
Among the top five favorite breakfast items are eggs (72 percent), cereal and pancakes (both 51 percent), bakery items such as doughnuts (36 percent), cinnamon rolls (34 percent) and muffins (33 percent).
Pandemic Shapes Key Food Trends for 2021
Four key trends influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the foodservice industry throughout 2021 and potentially for years to come, according to analysis, insights and recommendations from Mintel.
The U.S. Foodservice Trends for 2021 report finds that foodservice will be driven by menu and operational innovation in the immediate future.
NATSO Pushes to Have Truckstops Designated as Mobile Vaccine Sites
NATSO has joined forces with a coalition representing trucking fleets and truck drivers in need through a letter urging the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to designate truckstops and travel plazas as mobile vaccination sites. This would leverage existing truck stop locations for the distribution of vaccines to professional drivers and truck stop employees.
The nature of trucking, truckstop and travel plaza industries provides an opportunity to have an immediate and meaningful impact on the distribution of vaccines to essential truckstop employees and truck drivers, the groups wrote in the letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
In addition to NATSO, signatories of the letter include the American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association, National Private Truck Council, National Association of Small Trucking Companies, St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund and the Tank Truck Carriers.
IDDBA 2021 Show Cancelled Due to Ongoing Pandemic
The International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) has cancelled the 2021 IDDBA Show due to continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization based its decision on input from event exhibitors, IDDBA members and its board of directors.
"With the ongoing global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and our promise to deliver an experience expected of the IDDBA, continuing to plan for June 6-8 trade show in Houston, was simply no longer feasible," said Whitney Atkins, vice president of marketing, IDDBA.
National Restaurant Association Cancels 2021 NRA Show
For the second year in a row, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show will not take place.
Previously scheduled to be held May 22-25 at Chicago's McCormick Place, the annual foodservice event has been cancelled due to ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on large gatherings.
MAPCO Offers Employees Incentives to Get COVID Vaccine
Upon completion of both COVID-19 vaccines, hourly team members will receive eight hours of pay and salaried team members will receive eight hours added to their paid time off allotment.
This program impacts the lives of MAPCO's 3,200-plus workforce across Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi and ties back to the retailer's mission to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the communities it serves, according to the 340-store chain.
Shoppers Plan to Stick to Some New Habits Post-Pandemic
Although the pandemic concern level is finally declining, shoppers acknowledge that it will be a long time before circumstances return to normal, according to Acosta's latest COVID-19 shopper insights study.
Both shopping and eating behaviors changed dramatically in 2020, and many shoppers plan to continue these changed habits post-COVID-19.
StrasGlobal Sets Forth COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for the C-store Industry
In continuing to help single-store owners and small-chain operators navigate the new normal, StrasGlobal developed a comprehensive Vaccination Plan as part of its Resources for Retailers (RfR) hub.
"Communicating how to get vaccinated and helping employees through the process should be of the highest priority for all businesses," said Eva Strasburger, president of StrasGlobal. "Our Vaccination Taskforce originally developed the plan for implementation in our stores coast-to-coast. We then decided to share it through Resources for Retailers. Now, all retailers that don't have the time or resources to do the research themselves, can build their own plan based on ours."
Royal Farms Joins List of C-store Retailers Offering Employee Bonuses for COVID Vaccination
Royal Farms employees who receive a COVID-19 vaccine will receive a $50 wellness bonus from the convenience store retailer. The bonus will be offered through the end of 2021.
Stewart's Shops Assisting in the Recovery of New York State Tourism Industry
Stewart's Shops is helping its home state recover from the major hit its tourism took during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Saratoga Springs-based convenience store retailer is partnering with the New York State Tourism Industry Association (NYSTIA) to recoup tourism-related losses in 2021. According to the organization, tourism is the state's third-largest industry.
Reviving the C-store Snack Business
It was the perfect storm. The pandemic hit, unemployment went up, traveling to work went down, gas purchases went down, in-store foot traffic went down, online shopping for household goods went up — all seriously injuring impulse shopping in convenience stores, and particularly affecting the candy and snacks categories.
Convenience store retailers and suppliers are now devising how to revive the snacks business. Industry experts say the first step will be recognizing the new patterns in store traffic and adjusting merchandise and marketing accordingly.
Convenience Channel Starts 2021 With Uptick in Consumer Spending & Trips
Consumer spending at convenience stores picked up in January, kickstarting sales gains and topping numbers from December 2020 and the third quarter of 2020.
According to the latest monthly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is affecting consumer behavior, higher spending and increased trips in all dayparts except for the morning rush are reasons for the uptick in sales, reported NACS Daily.
Although the convenience channel isn't entirely out of the woods in terms of recovering the trips lost since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, the improved performance is a good start to 2021, the association stated.
Trends on the Post-COVID Fast Track
For convenience stores and gas stations, the COVID-19 pandemic inspired customers to step on the accelerator pedal when it comes to trends that had become commonplace in other retail channels, but were much slower to take hold in the convenience segment.
Now that the dust has settled from the reactionary period of early 2020, when the coronavirus was just beginning to spread across the United States, many of these trends seem to have staying power.
C-store Industry Suppliers Offer More Pessimistic Outlook on 2021 Than Years Past
Citing negative influences such as the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerated competition from e-commerce, retailer consolidation and increased government regulation, the nation’s convenience store industry suppliers, distributors and brokers began 2021 with a darker outlook than last year.
Only 54 percent of convenience channel suppliers say they have a positive view on the U.S. economy for the year ahead, compared to 79 percent of last year’s respondents in the Convenience Store News Forecast Study. Those with a negative economic view more than tripled to 28 percent this year vs. just 9 percent in 2020. Eighteen percent have a neutral view.
The C-store Industry's Small Operators Have a Glass-Half-Full Perspective on 2021
Despite the unprecedented economic pressures brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic and continued consolidation in the convenience channel — which has seen some of the industry’s biggest chains get even bigger by picking up smaller players — the c-store industry’s small operators (those operating 20 stores or less) have a glass-half-full perspective on 2021.
Nearly 70 percent of the small operators surveyed for the 2021 Convenience Store News Forecast Study project an increase in their average dollar sales per store this year. That number is down slightly from 74.2 percent who forecasted an increase in the 2020 study. However, a smaller percentage of small operators this year predict their sales will decrease (14 percent) compared to last year (16.1 percent).
C-store Retailers Wary of More Pitfalls in 2021
Despite the arrival of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic still ranks high on the minds of convenience channel retailers, with nearly half (47 percent) expecting it to have the biggest impact on their sales and profitability in 2021, according to the results of the 2021 Convenience Store News Forecast Study. More than three-quarters of the retailers surveyed rank COVID among their top three issues for the coming year.
COVID-19 will continue to exert a negative influence on the industry “because of the fear that has been instilled into the public by the political weaponization of the pandemic,” said one retailer. “Consumers are scared to go out to the store,” added another. “Fewer are driving to work. That means less fuel sales and less convenience sales,” noted another.
Casey's Offering Wellness Bonus to Team Members Who Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
Casey's General Stores Inc. is offering a $50 Wellness Bonus to team members who receive the full COVID-19 vaccination dosage in order to encourage them to be vaccinated when it is available to them.
"For the past year, we have battled through the challenges and complexities of the pandemic. I couldn't be prouder of our team members' resilience and continued commitment to Casey's and our guests," said Casey's President and CEO Darren Rebelez. "I also know that brighter days are ahead because there is a vaccine becoming available to more people each day."
Despite Uncertainty, Winter Seasonal Candy Sales Tick Up
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic shifting consumers' seasonal engagement with confections, the 2020 winter holiday season reached positive peaks.
According to Information Resources Inc., multi-outlet channels increased total confectionery dollar sales by 1.9 percent. This includes a 27.7-percent decline in gum and mint sales that continued because of pressures brought on by social distancing, as Candy & Snack Today reported.
During the winter holiday season, chocolate represented 64 percent of all sales and was up 7 percent from the 2019 winter season. Non-chocolate wasn't far behind, jumping 5.1 percent vs. 2019 levels.
Love's Offers Employee Incentive Pay for COVID-19 Vaccine
Love's Travel Stops is urging its employees to stay safe, help stop the spread of the coronavirus and get the COVID-19 vaccination.
The Oklahoma City-based company is offering to pay employees $75 to get voluntarily vaccinated. The incentive pay covers all employees from the entire Love's Family of Cos., including Love's Truck Care and Speedco centers, alternative fuel provider Trillium, its commodity trading company Musket, the Gemini trucking fleet, and its hotels.
Super Bowl Snacking Expected to Rise This Year as More People Watch From Home
Super Bowl celebrations will look different this year because of the ongoing global pandemic, but snacks will continue to be a welcomed party guest.
According to the latest Frito-Lay U.S. Snack Index, more than 40 percent of Americans are snacking more than they did last year as the Super Bowl LV broadcast is still expected to be the most-watched event of the year. With eight in 10 Americans planning to tune in, Frito-Lay estimates even more snacking — a 21-percent increase from Super Bowl LIV — during this year's game.
Pandemic-Induced Trends & Behaviors Shape 2021 Predictions for Alcoholic Beverages
The effects of COVID-19 on the alcoholic beverage industry that began in 2020 are likely to continue into 2021.
Alltown Takes Pilot Test of In-Car Payment Technology to Chainwide Rollout
Alltown is teaming with PayByCar Inc. to roll out its in-car, touchless payment service across its 30 gas station locations in Massachusetts.
Drivers with E-ZPass transponders can register for PayByCar online and use those transponders to pay for gas and other goods without having to touch the gas station keypad or by taking out cash, a credit card or mobile app.
Vehicles without E-ZPass transponders can enroll and then pay with PayByCar's own non-toll sticker.
TravelCenters of America Enhances App With Fuel Activation & Pay Features
Professional drivers can now activate diesel pumps and pay for fuel from inside their cabs through a new feature in TravelCenters of America Inc.'s (TA) TruckSmart mobile app.
The PumpSmart feature is designed to save drivers time while they fuel up at TA, Petro Stopping Center and TA Express locations.
PumpSmart is available to UltraONE loyalty program members who are paying for fuel with commercial payment cards.
S. Abraham & Sons Shifting 2021 Trade Show to Virtual Event
S. Abraham & Sons (SAS) Inc., a subsidiary of Imperial Trading Co., will hold its 35th annual Vendor Exhibit & Trade Show virtually for an extended period this year. The theme of the 2021 event is "Blueprint for Success - Building Solutions for the Convenience Store Retailer."
This marks the first time SAS has held a virtual version of its trade show. It held a virtual version of its annual Foodservice Show in July 2020, as Convenience Store News previously reported.
Retailers will have a seven-week period, running from Jan. 11 to Feb. 26, to place orders on The Marketing Arm Trade Show portal. Vendor presentations, videos and images will be available on the portal for ease of item recognition and knowledge.
Foodservice Benefits as Consumer Spending at C-stores Strengthens
Convenience store customers closed out 2020 by opening their wallets wider during the lead-up to year-end holidays.
According to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS exploring how COVID-19 is affecting consumer behavior, foodservice, general merchandise and hot dispensed beverages benefited the most from increased spend per transaction compared to one year ago, as reported in NACS Daily.
Despite this, dollar sales contracted, falling from +2.7 percent for the five weeks ended Nov. 29, 2020, to +1.9 percent for the five weeks ended Jan. 3, 2021. This is primarily because trips were -13.2 percent for the time period vs. -12 percent for the previous five weeks.
Despite Pandemic, Nearly Six in 10 C-store Retailers Say In-Store Sales Grew in 2020
Convenience stores saw fuel sales and commuter traffic dip during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, a majority of retailers did see in-store sales grow.
According to the latest NACS Retailer Member Pulse Survey, 59 percent of U.S. c-store owners reported an in-store sales increase, compared to 30 percent who reported a decrease.
Facing changes driven by the health crisis, c-store operators adjusted their product mix and focused more on take-home meals and grab-and-go meal solutions. Specifically, 49 percent put more emphasis on pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals, 41 percent focused more on prepared foodservice meals, and 24 percent focused more on ready-to-heat take-home meals.
Kelley's Market Begins Curbside Pickup & Delivery Service
To meet consumers' changing needs, Kelley's Market is now offering curbside pickup and home delivery for more than 2,000 of its most popular products through a partnership with Vroom Delivery.
Available items include staples such as bread, eggs and milk; a variety of beer, wine, spirits and cigarettes; select household items; and prepared food items such as subs, sandwiches, chicken wings, Noble Roman's pizza and more.
Curbside pickup customers can place their orders through the Kelley's Market or Vroom websites, then pull into a designated curbside parking spot and text the number on the parking sign to let store employees know they have arrived.
Lower Gas Demand in 2020 Fuels Lowest Gas Prices in Four Years
Last year's prices at the pump hit their lowest annual average since 2016. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), regular retail gasoline prices averaged $2.17 per gallon in the United States in 2020 — 44 cents per gallon, or 17 percent, lower than in 2019.
Gas prices started 2020 at more than $2.50 per gallon; however, the COVID-19 pandemic drove widespread reductions in passenger travel and gasoline demand, contributing to lower gasoline prices across the U.S., EIA explained.
By mid-March, as a national emergency was declared in response to the health crisis, prices averaged $2.38 per gallon. They continued to fall for several consecutive weeks before reaching $1.77 per gallon on April 27, the lowest average price since early 2016, according to the EIA's Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update.
New Research Finds COVID-19 Interruptions Shrunk C-store Foodservice by 14% in 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, but it isn't too soon to think about its long-term effects on convenience store foodservice in a post-pandemic world.
The channel will start out smaller, as COVID-related interruptions shrink the channel by 14 percent in 2020, according to consulting and insights firm Foodservice IP.
C-store customers have also exhibited recession behaviors such as a preference for private label products and single trips for multiple items.
Navigating the Crossroads Between Healthy & Fresh
Focusing on offering fresh and healthy options vs. more indulgent items that prompt impulse purchases has long been a topic of discussion in the convenience store industry. Yet success may be found in opting not for an all-or-nothing approach but rather by having options for consumers wherever they are on their health and wellness journey, according to the presenters of the "Bananas and Donuts: Good vs. Fresh vs. Healthy" education session during the NACS Crack the Code Experience.
One in three Americans turn to c-stores for healthy food options, but half of consumers say their favorite c-store could improve its product quality and variety. Additionally, 68 percent of Americans say they would visit their favorite c-store more often if it offered healthy sandwiches and salads, while 63 percent said the same about fruits and vegetables.
"We know there's opportunity to satisfy their needs," said Kay Segal, founding partner of Business Accelerator Team, a consultancy that provides business-development proficiency to the convenience retailing, foodservice, CPG and petroleum marketing industries.
'COVID Commencers' Driving Growth in CBD Category
Nearly one in four CBD users entered the category in the last six months, equivalent to nine million new users, according to new research from High Yield Insights. Additionally, more than one in three longer-term CBD users, or an estimated 13.4 million adult consumers, tried at least one new product format during this time period.
The many unknowns related to the CBD market and CBD consumers makes it difficult to predict how quickly the CBD market will grow, but industry sources project that it will reach from $9 billion to $20 billion by 2024. This would mark a 34 percent to 45 percent compound annual growth rate, the research found.
This growth is expected to come from both new CBD users and existing users who are expanding their CBD repertoire. Fifty percent of CBD users in the United States report that they have tried at least one new product format in the last six months. While this is largely driven by market newcomers, nearly one in six long-term CBD users report adding two or more product formats since the beginning of the pandemic.
Scan-Based Trading: A C-store Owner's Life Preserver During COVID
COVID-19 has created uncertainty in businesses throughout the country. As air travel has been impacted, convenience stores have seen an increase in traffic thanks to road-trip travel.
An increase in customers can cause a need for new products. With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID, now is not the time to take risks to fill shelves with products that may not sell.
That's where scan-based trading comes in.
StrasGlobal Shares COVID-19 Learnings in New Resource Hub for Small Operators
StrasGlobal is helping single-store owners and small-chain operators navigate the new normal with its Resources for Retailers (RfR), a new content and services hub that offers solutions for the challenges that are common to these retailers.
The initiative evolved from StrasGlobal's COVID-19 response plan, which the consulting company and provider of contract operations for gas stations and convenience stores developed last spring.
"We wanted to do our part to increase the COVID-19 knowledge base by sharing, with great detail, the actionable items that a relatively small operator like us was able to implement," said StrasGlobal President Roy Strasburger.
Love's Extends Wage Increase for Store Associates
As the COVID-19 pandemic wages on, Love's Travel Stops is extending its wage increase and temporary sick pay related to the coronavirus through March 31, 2021.
The extension of benefits, which were introduced this March, include a $2-an-hour pay increase for hourly store employees; temporary sick pay related to COVID-19; and guaranteed quarterly bonuses for current store managers.
Customer-facing hourly employees at Love's-owned hotels, Speedco and Love's Truck Care are included in the extended benefits.
GoPuff Launches Delivery of At-Home COVID-19 Test Kits
Digital convenience retailer goPuff is adding an at-home COVID-19 test kit to its on-demand delivery lineup via a partnership with Purlab, which manufactures saliva-based test kits in collaboration with Rutgers University.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized the tests for emergency use. GoPuff is the first company to offer them for "instant" delivery.
"We're thrilled to partner with Purlab and offer customers a new, faster and more convenient way to access COVID-19 tests," said goPuff co-founder and co-CEO Rafael Ilishayev.
Weighing the Pros & Cons of Offering Third-Party Delivery
Earlier this year, the challenges of stay-at-home orders accelerated the demand for omnichannel experiences. From mobile ordering to delivery to curbside pickup and personal shopping services, convenience stores quickly adapted their stores and technology to get products to customers in frictionless and contactless ways.
During the "Driven to Delivery" education session as part of the NACS Crack the Code Experience, speakers discussed a test-and-learn approach, and what retailers should consider to maintain a foothold in the digital commerce space.
Convenience Distribution Marketplace 2021 Will Shift to a Virtual Format
The Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) will hold the Convenience Distribution Marketplace 2021 in a virtual format on Feb. 15-17, the original dates for the annual event. Registration for Convenience Distribution Marketplace Virtual 2021 is now open and allows distribution companies to register as many company personnel as they choose for a single fee.
Suppliers can also book one of four package options outlined in Marketplace Virtual's supplier prospectus.
"We are looking forward to coming together for a dynamic, informative and productive experience at Marketplace Virtual," said Kimberly Bolin, CDA president and CEO. "Marketplace brings together convenience products wholesale distributors with the leading suppliers and manufacturers of warehouse-delivered products, as well as providers of industry solutions."
FriendShip Kitchen Introduces Curbside Pickup
Select FriendShip Kitchen convenience stores now offer FriendShip Curbside, a contactless method of ordering and receiving prepared food and other convenience items.
Customers can visit FSCurb.com to select a participating store and place an order for contactless pickup.
The new service takes safe shopping at FriendShip, which is the first retailer in the United States to be certified as Safe Shop Assured, to a whole new level, the company said.
AAA: Vast Majority of Americans Will Stay Home This Holiday Season
According to AAA Travel, the majority of Americans will stay home this holiday season as public health concerns and travel guidance influence their decisions not to travel over the year-end holidays.
While AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to the 2019 holiday season, as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, a decline in travel of at least 29 percent.
The majority of those who do go ahead with travel plans will most likely opt to travel by car, with road trips accounting for 96 percent of holiday getaways. Up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a decline of at least 25 percent compared to last year, according to AAA.
Those motorists will find a gift at the pump: Gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19 percent below 2019 averages.
Inspirational Shopping & Accelerated E-Commerce Advances Among CPG Predictions for 2021
Jacksonville-based Acosta, a leading full-service sale and marketing agency, released its top CPG predictions for 2021, which include unceasing emphasis on health and safety, accelerated advances in e-commerce, inspirational in-store shopping experiences, efficiencies with fulfillment, and consolidation and partnerships with retailers and manufacturers.
"Many of the changes we saw implemented in 2020 due to the pandemic will carry over into 2021. Health and safety will continue to be paramount for retailers and consumers, and e-commerce growth will continue on its accelerated path," said Colin Stewart, executive vice president of Business Intelligence at Acosta. "Grocery shopping was not fun this year, and post-COVID, stores will need to make it a more enjoyable experience with unique offerings, better prices and stocked shelves."
Second Wave of Pandemic Isn't Providing Same Boost to C-stores as First Wave Did
According to the latest monthly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is affecting consumer behavior, although basket spend, or dollars per transaction, is still higher than the same period a year ago (17.2 percent for the four weeks ended Nov. 29 vs. 17.7 percent for the period ended Nov. 1), consumers aren't spending as much inside the store as they did during the first wave of the pandemic this spring and through September.
The c-store categories that saw the biggest gains in trips for the four weeks ended Nov. 29 vs. Nov. 1 were: cigarettes (-10.5 percent vs. -11.5 percent); hot dispensed beverages (-28.7 percent vs. -29.3 percent); and packaged sweet snacks (-11.7 percent vs. -13.4 percent).
How to Get Customers Onboard With Safety Measures
Since spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way most people live throughout the world and directly impacted retailers and the way they operate – especially those deemed essential, such as convenience stores. Safety measures including social distancing, hand sanitizing and mask mandates have become a part of everyday living for both customers and store employees, and c-stores around the world have adopted these policies to keep everyone safe.
Not all customers, however, are happy to comply with such mandates and measures. As a result, retailers have been left to find ways of enforcing pandemic policies at their locations. Among the methods being utilized are employee training, store signage, store layout changes, increasing labor, and even offering free masks to customers who come in without one.
Is the New C-store Here to Stay?
There is no arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way consumers shop and how retailers have structured the shopping experience. That’s certainly true for convenience stores. Consumers’ habits have dramatically changed this industry, and we wonder if it will ever go back to the way it was before the pandemic. What can we expect will stay in the new normal?
We have seen lots of changes take place during the past eight months since the pandemic hit. In many ways, convenience stores have become the go-to place for consumers wanting to pick up essentials.
Adaptation Is Key to C-stores' Survival in the COVID-19 World
As the convenience channel faces the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, category managers are being tasked more than ever with following the trends and adapting to changes.
As the number of coronavirus cases grows, shoppers are feeling like they need to take precautions, and these take different forms and levels of execution, NACS Director of Research Leroy Kelsey explained during the "Strategies for Category Management Superstars" session as part of the NACS Crack the Code Experience.
Not surprisingly, sales inside the store are being impacted by shoppers' changing behaviors. While year-over-year merchandise sales were up roughly 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and up 6.9 percent in the second quarter, foodservice category sales were down 9.9 percent in the second quarter instead of the "healthy 5 to 8 percent sales growth we are used to seeing year over year," Kelsey noted. "The second quarter really cratered once people started to shelter in place and restrict their personal travel."
More Than Half of Consumers Are Shopping C-stores Less During Pandemic
More than half of consumers (52 percent) say they are shopping at convenience stores less during the pandemic than previously, while only 14 percent are shopping more, according to a new, exclusive shopper study conducted by Convenience Store News on changes in shopping frequency and behavior in the convenience channel during the pandemic.
Changes in daily routines due to the coronavirus pandemic and related COVID-19 business shutdowns and restrictions is the main reason why consumers are shopping less at c-stores these days.
Postmates Sees Unprecedented Ordering Trends Throughout 2020
Nearing the end of one of the most unique years in history, delivery service Postmates unveiled unprecedented ordering trends of 2020.
"To say 2020 was a year like no other is an understatement. From people's favorite restaurants to essentials like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, Postmates became the link between hundreds of thousands of businesses and people's homes," said Eric Edge, senior vice president, marketing and communications at Postmates. "We are in awe of the creativity, generosity and hope people displayed this year and are grateful for the heroes on the frontlines, including the Postmates fleet and our merchant partners, who continue to get us what we need in unprecedented times."
COVID-19 Pandemic Reshapes Shopper Engagement With Seasonal Candy
The current global pandemic uprooted consumers' shopping habits and patterns, but amid all the changes, confectionery's role remained the same: consumers see confectionery treating as integral to a happy, balanced lifestyle during regular, holiday and COVID-19 times.
According to Seasonal Confectionery Purchase Decisions: 2020, the final installment in a three-part series from the National Confectioners Association (NCA), 84 percent of consumers see seasonal confectionery as a fun part of special celebrations and 78 percent say sharing and gifting seasonal confectionery is a great American tradition. Additionally, 82 percent of Americans agree that it is OK to enjoy seasonal confectionery during holidays and special occasions.
Love's Rolls Out New Contactless Payment Options
Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores is expanding its contactless payment options both inside and outside its locations across the country.
This includes tap-and-go credit cards, mobile phone payment options and Mobile Pay via the Love's Connect app.
"With the holiday driving season upon us, we want our customers to know about the increased amount of options they have when paying for fuel and other items like food, drinks and snacks," said Ginny Webb, Love's chief information officer and vice president of technology. "Being able to purchase items quickly and safely is very important to our customers and we are pleased to be able to offer these contactless options."
C-stores Step Up to Support Their Frontline Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic
When the novel coronavirus hit the United States in late winter, it became clear that as essential businesses, convenience stores needed to come up with a plan of attack.
While the playbook may have differed from retailer to retailer, all had the same objective: keep employees and guests safe.
Snacks Among the Essentials Consumers Plan to Stockpile This Winter
As the winter holidays approach, consumers are gearing up by stockpiling snacks — a result of the uneasiness brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Frito-Lay's latest U.S. Snack Index survey, 66 percent of consumers say they keep more snacks stocked at home than before the coronavirus outbreak. Going into the winter, 54 percent of shoppers are planning to stock up on essentials, with salty snacks the No. 5 category consumers are looking to stash away.
Among the top reasons for stockpiling essentials, including snacks, are concerns over out-of-stocks (66 percent) and reducing exposure to the virus (58 percent). But, above anything else, consumers say they are putting snacks in their pantries to add a little more fun to the days at home. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said they snack as a way to break up their day and 76 percent said eating snacks is a way to treat themselves.
Yesway Recognizes Hospitality Heroes Across Its Network
Yesway expanded its Hospitality Heroes program to all of its Yesway and Allsup's convenience stores.
The move affirms the retailer's commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of its team members, customers, and members of the community as the country continues to battle COVID-19.
According to the retailer, dedicated staff at Yesway and Allsup's who show compassion in their interactions with customers, adhere to company guidelines, remain positive under pressure, drive sales, keep stores clean, resolve service issues, and most importantly, wear masks while engaging with customers, are being recognized as Hospitality Heroes and rewarded financially as well.
"We take great pride in our organization and that pride is reflected in how we interact with one another and especially our customers," said Tom Trkla, chairman and CEO of Yesway. "We also recognize that in order to live up to the promise of excellent customer service, we must work as a team. We must hold each other accountable and keep each other safe."
AAA: COVID-19 Driving Lower Thanksgiving Travel Forecast
According to AAA Travel, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — including health concerns and high unemployment — are impacting Americans' decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect consumers from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10 percent drop in travel — the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008.
"The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president for AAA Travel. "The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure."
Higher C-store Spending Trend Wanes as Pandemic Carries On
According to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 continues to impact consumer behavior, consumers continue to put items in their baskets but at a lower price point than previous periods. Lower spend per trip may be driven by end-of-month impact, NACS Daily reported.
Convenience store dollar sales slipped year-over-year during the past five weeks (-0.8 percent for the week ended Nov. 1 vs. 4.6 percent for the week ended Sept. 27). Spend pre-trip year-over-year has slowly declined, slipping to 14.7 percent for the week ended Nov. 1.
TravelCenters of America Turns In Solid Third Quarter Despite COVID-19 Challenges
Despite the continued challenges presented by COVID-19, TravelCenters of America Inc. (TA) saw its fuel sales volume tick up and most of its full-service restaurants welcome back customers during the third quarter of 2020.
For the three-month period, TA saw solid performances from both its fuel and non-fuel businesses, which "largely offset COVID-related decreases in four-wheel traffic and in our full-service restaurants," CEO John Pertchik reported during the company's third-quarter 2020 earnings call, held Nov. 4.
In addition, TA's focus on managing costs delivered improved profitability vs. the prior quarter, the chief executive noted.
Convenience Store News' Convenience Foodservice Exchange to Tackle Rebuilding Foodservice Amidst COVID-19
Recent Convenience Store News research found that more than half of consumers are shopping less at convenience stores during the coronavirus pandemic than before, and the foodservice category is one of the hardest-hit areas of the store.
In a few days, as part of the 2020 Convenience Store News Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX) event, c-store retailers will share their thoughts on the current situation and discuss how they are meeting the needs of the evolving consumer in this COVID-19 world.
Confectionery Sales Impacts During the Pandemic Have Been Mixed
Pandemic-driven changes in shopping, working and social routines prompted extraordinary change for the confectionery category as shoppers bought different package sizes, brands, items and in different stores.
Confectionery sales gains during the pandemic have been mixed. Between March 15 and Sept. 6, chocolate sales gained 5.5 percent, while non-chocolate sales are strengthening as convenience store traffic is rebounding for an overall pandemic gain of 1.6 percent, according to Confectionery Sales Amid COVID-19: 2020, part two in a three-part series from the National Confectioners Association (NCA).
American Eating Patterns See Major Shift During Pandemic
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to surge in the United States in March, it marked a sudden disruption to the daily rhythms and eating patterns of consumers. Since then, all types of dining occasions have continued to be affected, according to The NPD Group's annual Eating Patterns in America report.
"With mandated shelter-at-home and restaurant dine-in restrictions across most of the country during the pandemic, we have had few options other than to prepare most of our meals at home," said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of the report. "Working from home, schooling at home, and preparing more meals means more of our meal times are a departure from the norm, with most consumers describing their meals as atypical."
StrasGlobal Finely Hones Its Innovation Lens
The innovation lens at StrasGlobal is finely honed. There are three main focuses: serving its customers better, increasing the company’s efficiency, and improving the lives of its team members.
"One can innovate, but if you're not aligned with what the customer is looking for, you’re innovating for nothing. It has to be targeted innovation," said Roy Strasburger, president of StrasGlobal, a contract operations provider that services retail locations for companies, who for various reasons, don't have the expertise, infrastructure or desire to operate them. Currently, it is operating 25 stores around the country. Most of its clients are one to 10-store owners.
How Kum & Go Sees the Pandemic Forever Changing Shopping Habits
Kum & Go LC Chief Operating Officer Reed Rainey characterizes the convenience store retailer's COVID-19 related activity as "creative responsiveness and reprioritization," using its learning to inform, adapt and emphasize innovation.
"For me, innovation is both the new incremental improvements that differentiate your day-to-day business, and the broad, sweeping, revolutionary vaults that truly take your business to that next level," Rainey told Convenience Store News.
C-store Technology Spending Is Increasing & Evolving
The definition of convenience is changing and along with it, so is the role technology plays in the channel.
Presenting the 2020 Convenience Store News Technology Study during an Oct. 15 webcast entitled "Meeting New Consumer Needs," CSNews Editorial Director Don Longo noted that technology has become critical to convenience stores' ability to be convenient. An overwhelming number of the c- store retailers participating in this year's study said their spending on technology and automation has increased this year compared to 2019, and only partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What Convenience Stores Learned from the Pandemic
Convenience store executives have been on the front lines of consumer demand during the pandemic. However, "convenience" has taken on new meaning in the current era of product shortages, supply chain logjams, and rising consumer demand for items like hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, which may outlast the pandemic itself.
A survey published in April by Convenience Store News found that two-thirds of convenience store retailers had trouble staying in stock with in-demand products like household cleaners and paper products. Another 10 percent said they could not keep their store shelves stocked due to intense customer demand.
For convenience stores accustomed to predictable product inventory, pinpointing how to meet new, unpredictable consumer demands is becoming essential data.
Core-Mark & Skip Form Alliance to Power Frictionless Shopping
Core-Mark International and contactless mobile checkout solutions provider Skip have formed an alliance that enables retailers to boost sales, control costs and offer fast checkout for consumers who are wary of in-store shopping during the global pandemic.
"Core-Mark continually strives to provide innovative solutions for the convenience retailers we serve, and Skip offers them a proven technology platform that eases shoppers' fears and time constraints," said Chris Murray, senior vice president, marketing, Core-Mark. "We're confident that our customers will be interested in adopting the highly-acclaimed Skip technology so they can provide the frictionless checkout option that so many consumers are craving these days."
Murphy USA Lays Out Strategy to Win in Today's Challenging COVID Environment
Murphy USA Inc. emerged from a challenging third quarter with optimism for the coming months and an ambitious growth plan for 2021.
Starting next year, the convenience store retailer will move forward with accelerated organic growth objectives that call for building up to 50 new-to-industry locations annually. The new builds will be Murphy USA's larger 2,800-square-foot store format.
The company's 2021 agenda also includes plans to raze and rebuild 25 existing kiosks and turn them into its smaller 1,400-square-foot format in Walmart parking lots.
Virtual McLane National Trade Show Explores the Conundrum of COVID-19
In today's retail landscape, the rate of change and adaption is happening at lightning speed and has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The global crisis has dictated consumers' mobility by way of government regulations and thrown the economy into a spiral, affecting consumers' spending behaviors.
What does this mean for the convenience store industry? Is there a path to normalization? What will the future look like?
Sweets & Snacks Expo 2021 Will Move to a New Location for First Time in Event's History
The National Confectioners Association (NCA) will host the 2021 Sweets & Snacks Expo at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, moving from Chicago for the first time in the show's history.
As the environment rapidly changes as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, NCA is committed to working closely with state and local officials to ensure that the 2021 Sweets & Snacks Expo is a safe event for all attendees, the organization stated.
"After much discussion with our stakeholders in the candy and snack industries and careful consideration of our options, we've seen strong support for an in-person event," NCA President & CEO John Downs said. "We want to balance the safety and welfare of our attendees with their desire to conduct in-person business and therefore have decided to move forward with a show that exceeds expectations and makes every effort to keep our attendees safe."
MAPCO Suspends Full Service+ Program to Focus on Long-Term Touchless Offerings
For MAPCO, the operator of 340-plus company-owned convenience stores in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi, innovation means being a pioneer on all fronts of the convenience store business model — not just meeting expectations, but exceeding them. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Generating new ideas in the industry comes from listening to your guests, team members and other thought leaders in the convenience store space to provide solutions to everyday problems," said MAPCO CEO Frederic Chaveyriat. "For many communities, convenience stores are an integral aspect of daily life and that’s why they were deemed essential businesses."
Consumers' Engagement With Seasonal Confections Impacted by COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every area of life, including consumers' engagement with seasonal confections.
Celebrating Confectionery Seasons: 2020, part one in a three-part series from the National Confectioners Association (NCA), examines seasonal confectionery purchases and trends, including insights on the upcoming Halloween confectionery sales season and an outlook on consumers' opinions of the 2020 winter holiday season. It also touches on 2020 Valentine's Day and Easter confectionery sales, which occurred just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to reshape American consumer behavior.
Reese's to Give Fans a Unique Way to Trick-or-Treat
This Halloween, Reese's Trick-or-Treat Door from The Hershey Co. is all treats and no tricks.
Capitalizing on consumers' desire for creative, fun and safe ways to celebrate the Halloween season, Reese's Trick-or-Treat door provides a hands-free, socially distanced experience to deliver Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to trick-or-treaters.
"This Halloween is unlike any other, so we've upped the ante on creativity as a result," said Allen Dark, Reese's senior brand manager. "A robotic Reese's dispensing door is just what the world needs right now!"
Hershey Introduces Virtual Meeting Experience for Retailers
Category management and snacking leader The Hershey Co. is introducing Hershey Insights Network (HIN), a virtual experience to help its retail partners stay ahead of the retail landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
HIN offers leading insights, analysis and expertise that provide solutions to engage shoppers with live set merchandising and enhanced shopping experiences broadcasted to retail partners in a unique and remote platform.
Consumers Turn to Bite-Sized Boosts to Endure Pandemic
Now more than ever, consumers are facing uncertainty about everyday life, such as the state of the economy and long-term job security; food safety and the origin of products; the adverse effects of COVID-19 restrictions on physical and mental health; and concerns about contracting the virus, as well as the safety of their loved ones.
This is something convenience store retailers need to understand and respond to — be it by offering traditional flavors that remind people of simpler times, or offering experimental flavors that encourage affordable moments of indulgence.
Outgoing NACS Chair Julie Jackowski Reflects on 'Unpredictable' Year
When asked to briefly summarize her experience as the 2019-2020 NACS Chair, Julie Jackowski didn't have to pause to think.
"Totally unpredictable," she told Convenience Store News with a laugh. "That's probably the biggest word."
While the position traditionally comes with a busy schedule full of outreach, advocacy and organizational duties, Jackowski faced a new level of challenge this spring when the coronavirus pandemic prompted widespread business closures and stay-at-home orders. Not only did the convenience store industry have to balance the safety of its employees and customers with the need to serve communities, but NACS itself also had to find new ways to support its thousands of retailer and supplier members.
More Layers of Protection
Convenience store owners and managers must continually emphasize the importance of food safety practices to their employees. Regular cleaning, avoiding cross-contamination, holding foods at proper temperatures, etc., will help c-stores avoid food safety breaches, including foodborne illness outbreaks, norovirus incidents, etc. Now, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means every foodservice business must add additional layers of safety protocols to their routines.
Road Trips Top Americans' List of Fall Travel Plans
Temporary lifestyle changes as Americans continue to work from home and attend school virtually are giving consumers the opportunity to travel this fall.
Approximately 80 percent of trips this fall will be road trips, according to a recent AAA Travel survey. In a sign of the rising popularity of auto travel this fall, use of AAA's TripTik road trip planning tool has doubled compared to the spring and early summer.
"As many Americas continue to work from home and attend school virtually, this temporary lifestyle change opens up new and exciting possibilities for fall travel — particularly for those who deferred summer travel plans," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. "For those who choose to travel, the great American road trip continues to be the preferred method of getting out and exploring the United States. AAA advises these travelers to plan ahead and take precautions to be a responsible traveler."
Tired of Monotony, Young Consumers Seek a Return to More Versatility in Their Diets
As younger consumers aged 34 and under spend more time at home and indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have more control over their food choices than ever, but have largely fallen into a food rut.
According to a new survey from Y-Pulse, with the lack of in-restaurant meals, on-campus dining or social dining events to differentiate day-to-day eating habits, 59 percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement "I find myself eating the same foods every day." Yet nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of these young consumers crave the variety they can get when dining out.
C-store Industry Fuel Sales Continue to Lag With COVID-19 Disrupting Commuting Patterns
Working from home and remote learning trends have impacted retail fuel sales. The category also saw lower movement during the peak summer driving season.
According to NACS, nearly three in four retailers said fuel sales were down over the third quarter, which runs July through September. Furthermore, convenience store retailers are not optimistic that fuel sales will rebound quickly.
Specifically, a survey conducted by NACS Research found that 61 percent of c-store retailers expect fuel sales to be down the remainder of the year, and 20 percent expect fuels sale to "significantly decrease."
According to NACS, COVID-19 continues to affect store operations as more convenience retailers embrace new ways to offer convenience during the pandemic. The research found that:
- 21 percent have added curbside pickup;
- 21 percent have added contactless payment;
- 14 percent are focusing more on drive-thru; and
- 14 percent have added delivery.
In addition, nearly half of all retailers surveyed said they have reduced store operating hours, whether to provide deep cleaning or manage labor hours.
Consumers Perceive Pre-Paying Before Picking Up Items as Safest Payment Option
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly influenced consumers' buying habits, pushing a higher share of purchases onto the internet and away from the physical point-of-sale.
According to a new survey from market research firm Packaged Facts entitled Digital Consumer Payment Trends in the U.S., respondents who pay directly from a mobile app on their phone are five times as likely to use this payment method more because of COVID-19 than to use it less.
Relatedly, while they are most likely to say they will use mobile apps more, consumers tend to perceive pre-paying before picking up items as the safest. Apart from giving a card to person at register, consumers are also at least as likely to say a listed payment method is safe as they are to say it is unsafe.
Survey: Retailers of All Sizes Still Struggling to Achieve Outdoor EMV Compliance
Financial and resource challenges — many of which have been compounded by the uncertainty of COVID-19 — pose a threat to fuel site operators upgrading to outdoor EMV.
In its third survey measuring the level of preparedness of the U.S. convenience and fuel retailing industry for the EMV liability shift for automated fueling dispensers (AFDs), Conexxus focused solely on outdoor EMV, including contact (when the card is inserted in the reader) and contactless, with an emphasis on the impacts of COVID-19 and the liability shift date change from October to April 2021.
The survey found that some progress is being made with contact EMV. Thirty-one percent of respondents indicted zero sites were deployed, an improvement from 52 percent in the spring and 70 percent in summer 2019.
The Pandemic Was a Wake-Up Call for Delivery
History has a way of repeating itself.
Years ago, many convenience store operators — Casey's included — were concerned about the introduction of pay-at-the-pump technology. We feared customers would purchase fuel by swiping a credit card at the pump and depart without ever stepping foot inside the store. Not only would this negatively impact in-store customer counts and the sales of higher-profit products, but the costs of implementation were also steep.
In the end, we quickly learned that customers demanded the convenient option of paying at the pump, and anyone who resisted the trend would be competitively disadvantaged. End of story.
We now find ourselves at a similar crossroads with delivery. It's fundamentally a matter of convenience and customer service. By their very definition, convenience stores cannot afford to fall behind in this swiftly changing landscape.
Annual Tobacco Plus Expo Moves to May 2021
Traditionally known as the first tobacco show of the year, Tobacco Plus Expo 2021 will take place in the spring, a move driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally slated for late January, Tobacco Media Group (TMG) decided to push back TPE 2021 to May 12-14, 2021. The event will still take place at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Massachusetts & Ohio Lift Self-Serve Restrictions
Convenience stores in two states are able to provide self-serve offerings due to the easing of COVID-19 related restrictions.
Behind the Numbers of the 2020 Technology Study
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about technology momentum. The impacts of COVID-19 clearly show the tech influence on ways that businesses must now operate.
For those retailers participating in the 2020 Convenience Store News Technology Study who have no plans for web ordering (45 percent), this is not forward thinking. Even though a larger number said they have or will implement ordering with an app, not taking time to implement web-based consumer experiences will result in missing out on delivering a robust digital experience for customers.
7-Eleven Hires More Than 50,000 to Meet Pandemic Demand
As it kept its doors opens as an essential business, 7-Eleven Inc. more than doubled its hiring target for this year.
In March, the convenience retailer launched a hiring initiative to add 20,000 new store employees. During the past six months, the company and its independent 7-Eleven franchise owners added more than 50,000 associates.
7-Eleven and its franchisees are also recruiting an additional 20,000 employees to work in 9,000-plus U.S. convenience stores.
"I am constantly inspired by our 7‑Eleven Heroes — franchisees and employees alike — who have stepped up to serve communities as we continue to navigate through the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic," said 7‑Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto. "Hiring 20,000 more store employees allows us to continue to fulfill our mission to give customers what they want, when and where they want it, whether in stores or at home."
Convenience Stores Lag Other Retail Industries in COVID-19 Safety
Ipsos' Mystery Shoppers' program hit retail stores across the United States to evaluate how retailers score when it comes to health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New York-based global research firm used the findings to compile the second wave of its Consumer Health & Safety Index, which identifies several top performers that did an excellent job of installing health and safety signage reminding customers of social distancing practices, and ensured near perfect compliance of employees wearing PPE properly, among other benchmarks.
In the convenience channel, Ipsos Mystery Shoppers surveyed 7-Eleven, Wawa, RaceTrac, Circle K, Kwik Trip and QuikTrip locations.
Among the key c-store findings, the firm found that one in five consumers do not trust any stores across industries when it comes to cleanliness and safety protocols; convenience stores are among the least trusted retailer types.
Frontline Solutions Key to Successful Post-Pandemic Retailing
Whether it's the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — which has spurred many convenience store operators to accelerate the implementation of technology — or just the fact that they recognize how essential it is to stay atop their store operations, it appears c-store retailers are rapidly adopting digital workplace solutions.
A recent Convenience Store News webcast, sponsored by WorkJam, a leading digital workplace platform for organizations with frontline employees, discussed how leading c-store retailers are driving resiliency and uniform execution across their brands.
7-Eleven Franchisees Express Displeasure With Corporate Support Around Pandemic
Convenience stores remained opened as essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, a recent survey of 7-Eleven Inc. franchisees found that most respondents are unhappy with corporate's support over the past six months.
According to a survey of National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisee (NCASEF) members conducted in July and August, more than 83 percent of its members responded "fair" or "poor" when asked to rate 7-Eleven's financial support throughout the ongoing pandemic.
Less than 17 percent rated the support "good," "very good," or "excellent."
In an email to Convenience Store News, 7-Eleven Inc. detailed the steps it has taken to support its franchisee network during the recent health crisis.
"Since the start of the pandemic, 7-Eleven has provided franchisees with more than $136 million in direct support, promotional funding, or savings as they serve as essential businesses on the front lines of their communities," the c-store operator said. "That includes $88 million of financial assistance in the form of direct credits and expense waivers during this unprecedented liquidity crisis. 7-Eleven has remained focused on ensuring the safety and success of franchisees."
Gasoline Demand Plummets to Lowest Level Since Mid-June
Gasoline demand has reached a new low. According to the latest Energy Information Administration report, gas demand is at 8.3 million b/d — the lowest level since mid-June.
"Typically lower supply levels translate into higher pump prices. However, even with consistent declines in gasoline stocks, that's just not the case right now," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "Despite the steady supply dip, continued low levels of demand helped push the national gas price cheaper on the week."
Pandemic Stress Causes Many U.S. Consumers to Put Dieting on the Backburner
Stay-at-home restrictions and the stress of the global pandemic have caused many consumers to put dieting on the backburner.
According to the NPD Group's Health Aspirations & Behavioral Tracking Service, adult participation in total diet or nutrition programs dropped from 48.3 percent in April 2019 to 43.8 percent in April 2020. However, consumers on lifestyle diets such as keto, gluten-free and clean eating has remained relatively unchanged from a year ago.
"Nutrition programs, like keto and gluten-free, offer a clear roadmap that provide consumers a sense of control," said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD. "On the other hand, indulgent comfort foods provide an escape from increased stress levels and offer a simple splurge that is popular during challenging times. Both paths are coping mechanisms to managing stress and disruption."
NACS Shares Initial Details as Virtual 2020 NACS Show Takes Shape
NACS is launching the Crack the Code Experience, a five-week digital experience and curated marketplace that will bring together convenience store retailers and suppliers virtually in lieu of an in-person NACS Show.
The event, to be held Nov. 2 through Dec. 4, is designed to let participants reconnect and forge new connections across the miles as the industry continues to innovate and serve its communities, according to NACS.
Members of the industry can sign up now to be notified when registration for the all-new virtual experience opens later in September.
Wawa Shows Support for Florida Teachers With Free Beverage Promo
Wawa Inc. is helping educators and staff go back to school with a free beverage offer. From Sept. 8-30, the convenience retailer is showing its appreciation to educators for their work and commitment to supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering free any-size coffee or fountain beverages to all teachers, faculty members, school administrators and support personnel.
Alexa Helps Motorists Fuel Up at ExxonMobil Stations
Paying at the pump just got an assistant. ExxonMobil is teaming up with Amazon and Fiserv to deliver voice-enabled payment at more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobil locations.
On Sept. 1, "Alexa, pay for gas" went live, giving motorists with Alexa-enabled vehicles, devices like Echo Auto, or the Alexa app on their smartphones the option to pay through the virtual assistant.
With the solution, motorists can pull up to the pump and say, "Alexa, pay for gas." Alexa will confirm the station location and pump number, then activate the pump. The motorists can then select the fuel grade at the pump and begin fueling, with payment completed automatically afterward.
Sheetz Earns Nod as PEOPLE’S '50 Companies That Care'
The convenience store chain, which is based in Altoona, was named one of the 2020 People's "50 Companies That Care," presented by Great Place to Work and People magazine. The annual list, now in its fourth year, specifically focused on how companies have responded to the COVID-19 crisis to care for their employees, their communities and the world.
"The health and well-being of our team members, customers and communities we call home has been our top priority since the onset of COVID-19," said Travis Sheetz, president and chief operating officer of Sheetz. "As an essential business, Sheetz has been committed to staying open to serve the needs of the community. We are truly grateful for the dedication and commitment of our employees, who have worked tirelessly to provide total customer focus, especially during these challenging times. They are the true heart and soul of this company."
Wawa Launches Sweepstakes to Counter National Coin Shortage
Wawa Inc. is holding a chainwide sweepstakes through which customers can enter to win "Shortis for a Year" by exchanging a minimum of $5 in rolled coins for dollar bills at any Wawa store. The sweepstakes runs through Thursday, Oct. 1.
The "Shortis for a Year" sweepstakes is an extension of Wawa's Customer Coin Exchange Program. Participants who exchanged $5 or more of coins received a coupon for a free coffee, fountain beverage and/or ICEE, while customers who exchanged $50 or more received a coupon for a free Shorti hoagie.
Casey's Adds Curbside Pickup to Its Mobile App Offerings
Casey's General Stores now offers curbside pickup through a technology-enabled offering accessible via the Casey's mobile app.
Customers can now have Casey's pizza and more than 100 products delivered to their car.
The service is free of charge and performed by employees who continue to practice enhanced safety precautions.
Circle K & Mastercard Teaming Up for Frictionless Retail Pilot
As convenience store retailers seek enhanced technology for in-person engagement during COVID-19, Circle K is teaming up with Mastercard to pilot a rollout of frictionless solutions at checkout.
Circle K will launch a pilot of Mastercard's Shop Anywhere platform beginning in October at select locations in the United States and Canada.
The platform, which is supported by artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision technology partner Accel Robotics, improves the speed of the shopper journey by eliminating existing points of friction through robust inventory and participating shopper analytics — offering consumers no wait, no checkout lines and secure payments.
Shell Offers to Take the Ride as Local Escapes Lead 2020 Travel Plans
As Labor Day approaches, Shell Oil Co. is encouraging Americans to safely venture out on their own "StateEscape" — a safe road trip vacation born out of the desire to get away while not venturing too far from home.
Shell launched a variety of travel resources for those consumers planning to embark on a "StateEscape" with services such as road trip planning materials, an interactive map, Spotify playlists, safety tips and more. These resources can be found here.
"As Americans are looking outside their hometown and turning toward road trips, Shell is truly everywhere that drivers are, helping them make the most of their stops," said Shannon Bryan, manager of Brand and Communications for Shell Retail US. "We have created touchpoints to share road trip tips and tricks to help fuel safe StateEscape road trip vacations. Throughout the late summer and fall, we will continue to inspire travelers with weekly social media surprise and delights, ideas for planning a StateEscape, and more."
BP Expands Fuel Discounts in Support of Local Communities
BP is extending its thanks to more local heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering extra fuel savings. Active military personnel, veterans, teachers and students can save up to 15 cents per gallon at BP and Amoco gas stations for 60 days.
Sonny's Introduces Live Online Virtual CarWash Expo, Fall Edition
Sonny's Enterprises LLC is going virtual with its annual CarWash Expo. Taking place Sept. 22-23, the Virtual CarWash Expo, Fall Edition will feature a live Q&A with real-time inbound messaging to panel members and options to schedule one-on-one meetings for site proformas, equipment, chemistry, signage, controls and marketing.
"With months of disruption and fall regional shows cancelled, there's even more reason for our industry to connect and get together," said Paul Fazio, CEO of Sonny's. "We set out to answer three questions. How do we help the industry right now? How do we help current operators right now? And how do we help new investors learn more, right now?"
The event will include:
- Panel discussions on how operators managed the business impact from COVID-19;
- Sessions on key trends, business management and membership revenue models;
- Presentations on how to get started in car washing, how to boost sales and potential pitfalls;
- Keynotes from Fazio and Sonny's Enterprises President Anthony Analetto;
- Operator insights on converting a full-serve to express; and
- Free one-on-one meetings with car wash experts.
"Nothing will ever replace face-to-face interaction — especially in our industry. People like to come together," said Kati Pierce, senior vice president. "That said, the online Expo is the next best thing. Once we heard all the fall shows were cancelled, we wanted to create that experience in an online format. All the education and information without the travel!"
The Virtual CarWash Expo, Fall Edition will be live from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST on Sept. 22 and 23. Registration is free. Click here for more information.
Convenience Stores Are Poised to Play a Leading Role in Economic Recovery
This year is turning out to be like no other. As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps its grip on the United States, many are looking for a return to normalcy.
In his keynote presentation at the Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference, Gene Marks, owner and operator of Marks Group PC, said in his 25 years of running a business, he has never seen such an unprecedented amount of uncertainty. Mix in an election — the entire U.S. House of Representatives, one-third of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. presidency — and you end up with a lot of question marks.
Still, retail businesses have a responsibility to their customers, their suppliers and their employees to make the right decisions. To that end, data and metrics are helpful in determining investments and making hiring plans around them.
Tobacco Basket Value at C-stores Is Up 28% From Last Year
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, if there's one thing convenience store retailers can rely on it’s the tobacco category.
According to the latest Koupon Insights report from Koupon Media, tobacco and its subcategories are demonstrating strong growth from 2019, with dollars per basket growing by an average of 28 percent and units per basket growing by an average of 12 percent.
The variance indicates that: on average, consumers are purchasing more expensive tobacco products and tobacco is price inelastic, according to Koupon Media.
Mars Wrigley to Launch Digital Platform Enabling Virtual Trick-or-Treating
Like all holidays and other cultural events in 2020, Halloween will look a little different this year, so Mars Wrigley is ensuring consumers enjoy the festivities with the launch of Treat Town, an app-based digital experience for families to virtually trick or treat for real candy.
The virtual Halloween portal will launch at midnight on Oct. 1 and will offer consumers the ability to create personalized spooky avatars, customized Halloween decorations for their in-app door, and the ability to "knock" on the doors of friends and family across the country.
Participants will earn candy credits in the app that can be redeemed for real Mars Wrigley products through national retail partners, online and/or in-store.
Pandemic Pressures Force Green Zebra Grocery to Shutter Two of Its Four Stores
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted businesses and employees globally, forcing many businesses and organizations to shutter under the economic pressure.
Green Zebra, a Portland-based convenience store chain that focuses on natural and organic goods, is one example of a channel player closing up shop.
In a recent company statement, Green Zebra Founder and CEO Lisa Sedlar announced the operator would close its Portland State University and Llyod District locations. The sites, which rely on student and business populations, have been hit the hardest, she explained.
Green Zebra will also close its Store Support office. In total, 60 team members will be laid off.
"The decision to close these two stores was extremely difficult to make. We have been doing everything we can to keep our team fully employed and with healthcare benefits. Saying goodbye to our valued team members who have been working so hard as essential service providers, is something I had hoped we could avoid," Sedlar said.
Will Convenience Retail Be Forever Changed by COVID-19?
Even before the pandemic, retail was in the midst of a digital transformation, but now the industry is "in hyper-drive to cater to new needs," said Randy Evins, industry advisor, food, drugstore and convenience, for retail software provider SAP.
Consumers who previously preferred the in-store experience are now buying products online. As a result, online shopping has increased well beyond its predictions for 2030 already, which could have long-term implications on how retail brands interact with consumers, noted Evins.
The COVID-19 crisis is also forcing operators to think of ways they can make themselves even more efficient, while ensuring consumer safety. Technological innovations are crucial now — not only for future success, but also to balance the negative implications of the current environment.
New COVID-19 Case Spikes Modestly Impact C-store Visits
For the first time since mid-April, convenience store sales have experienced three consecutive weeks of modestly negative sales growth vs. year-ago levels, and trips and baskets are also down slightly, according to Koupon Media's latest Koupon Insights report.
With the recent rise in new COVID-19 cases, Koupon Media assessed the correlation of the pandemic and retailer in-store trips by measuring the growth of each metric on a week-over-week moving average basis. It found that:
- In the four weeks beginning in mid-March, in-store trips dropped a double-digit percentage basis. This was a result of a few specific hot spots that emerged nationwide and consumers severely limiting their time out of home.
- Trips began growing again in mid-April, while there were only a few thousand cases nationally. For the next 90 days, cases grew steadily while trip growth stayed within a narrow range of 0 percent to 4 percent. Consumers returned to c-stores, settling into new patterns.
- From late June to late July, cases grew more than 100 percent and retailers saw a net 4 percent decline in in-store trips, demonstrating a modest inverse correlation.
Exxon Mobil Teams Up With Waze to Offer Contactless Fuel Payment
ExxonMobil is partnering with navigation app Waze to add a new payment option at 11,500 Exxon or Mobil stations across the United States. Waze will now automatically display a prompt for contactless payment through the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ app upon arrival at a participating gas station.
The notification that drivers can safely and securely pay for fuel using Exxon Mobil Rewards+ will appear after the vehicle has come to a complete stop. Drivers can then select their fuel pump number from inside their vehicle or aim their smartphone at the pump's QR code, after which the app coordinates the transaction.
QuickChek Makes Its Complete Foodservice Menu Available for Delivery
QuickChek Corp. customers have a new way of getting their favorite food items at any time, day or night. The convenience store chain is now partnering with DoorDash to offer its complete foodservice menu for delivery.
To commemorate the launch, the first QuickChek order placed with DoorDash will be delivered for free.
Majority of Consumers Plan to Scare Up a Creative & Safe Halloween
Halloween may look and feel different this year as consumers decide how they will celebrate — whether it’s from a socially accepted distance, staying home or somewhere in between.
A poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the National Confectioners Association (NCA) surveying 2,000 adults found that 63 percent believe that consumers will find creative, fun and safe ways to celebrate the Halloween season this year.
In another poll conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NCA, 74 percent of millennial moms and young parents say that Halloween is more important than ever this year as Americans are looking forward to the first major holiday to add some normalcy and joy to what has been an unprecedented time.
"Consumers report that they will be getting creative throughout the month of October to make sure that they can stay safe and still enjoy the Halloween season," said NCA President and CEO John Downs. "The results of our research reveal a deeply rooted enthusiasm for Halloween, even if it means that people have to rethink their approach this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Consumers Embrace Contactless & Mobile Payments During COVID-19 Pandemic
New research by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Forrester shows the of use of mobile payments and contactless credit or debit cards increased in the past few months as the United States grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Health experts say there is no clear evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted by cash or credit cards but retailers are putting health and safety first and have rolled out a variety of no-touch payment options in order to err on the side of caution," said Leon Buck, NRF vice president for government relations, banking and financial services.
The State of Retail Payments study, conducted for NRF every other year by Forrester, found 67 percent of retailers surveyed now accept some form of no-touch payment. That includes 58 percent that accept contactless cards that can be waved past a card reader or tapped on the reader, up from 40 percent last year, and 56 percent that take digital wallet payments on mobile phones, up from 44 percent.
Many retailers also allow customers to pay online or over the phone and then pick up merchandise in-store or at curbside, avoiding the need to touch card readers, sign for transactions or enter a PIN, according to NRF.
Commuter Disruption Takes Its Toll on C-store Trips
As commuters' everyday routines continue to be impacted the COVID-19 pandemic, convenience store retailers are battling for a shrinking share of trips.
According to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior, the weekday morning daypart remains stalled at 85 percent of year-ago trips for convenience stores, while lunchtime trips also show signs of slipping, as reported in NACS Daily.
For the two-week period ended July 26, overall trips declined. During the 11 a.m. to 2:59 p.m. daypart, trips fell to 88 percent of year-ago trips from 90 percent for the prior two-week period ended July 12.
AAA: No Spike Expected in August Gas Prices
The national gas average is holding steady, as AAA expects no spikes in prices during the final month of summer.
On the week, the national gas price average held steady at $2.18 as most state averages saw minimal impact at the pump. Apart from a few outliers — Florida (10 cents), Utah (10 cents) and Idaho (5 cents) — state averages either decreased by 4 cents or less or increased by no more than 2 cents.
"This summer is no doubt the cheapest at the pump for motorists in more than a decade. The last two months have yielded a national average of $2.14," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "While we expect to see typical fluctuation, August gas prices are not expected to spike, especially amid increases in COVID-19 cases."
COVID-19 Causes Consumers to Hit Pause on Health Focus
Stay-at-home advisories nationwide have forced consumers to revisit their health and wellness priorities, as they've come to experience a drastic lifestyle shift.
According to new information from NPD Group's National Eating Trends service, as part of adjusting to this new normal, consumers are going back to the basics.
For example, in-home consumption has increased for eggs, cold cereal and bread. Additionally, the consumption of snacks and treats indicates that consumers are using some foods to help with boredom and keep their spirits up.
Cancelled: NACS Show 2020 Will Go Virtual
The 2020 NACS Show is the latest victim of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused the cancellation of live events across industries and venues throughout the country.
In a statement released today, NACS said: "As part of daily communications with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), NACS was informed that the 2020 NACS Show, scheduled for Oct. 11-14, cannot be held due to the ongoing pandemic."
Speaking with "a heavy heart," NACS President and CEO Henry Armour said the association had worked closely with the health department, the LVCVA, its official partners, vendors and other stakeholders to develop a world-class "city within a city" that prioritized safety for attendees and staff. "At the same time, there are issues beyond our control that led to this decision," he explained.
The association will be directly communicating to registered attendees and exhibitors no later than Aug. 7 to quickly facilitate full refunds for the event.
The live show will be replaced by a new virtual experience.
Speedway Introduces New Innovation to Enhance Customer & Employee Safety
Speedway LLC is amping up its safety efforts surrounding customers and employees with the introduction of the "Speedy Safe Zone."
The Speedy Safe Zone will be prominently displayed in every Speedway store and offer amenities such as a hand sanitizer station and complimentary disposable gloves for customer use. Disposable face coverings will also be available for small fee.
"As more and more states and localities move to mandatory face coverings while out in public, having easy access to inexpensive masks provides a valuable convenience for customers on the go," said Speedway President Tim Griffith. "In addition to the Speedy Safe Zone inside our stores, we will have disposable gloves available at our fuel dispenser islands as well to provide an additional layer of cleanliness for our customers."
New Technology Helps C-stores Modernize Lottery Sales for the COVID-19 World
Scientific Games Corp. (SCiQ) is enabling lottery retailers to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic by helping convenience stores operators modernize the customer experience, reduce staff labor hours and reimagine how lottery instant scratch games are sold.
This includes streamlining the purchasing process and creating operational procedures critical to new in-store health and safety standards, the company said.
NATSO Encourages Truck Stop Industry to Adopt Mask Requirement
NATSO is encouraging truckstops and travel plazas nationwide to adopt a policy requiring that customers wear masks or face coverings in order to protect the health and safety of both employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Different mask requirements from one locality to another have created confusion for professional drivers and other travelers, according to NATSO, adding that a mandatory mask policy would prevent truck drivers from navigating differing policy requirements as they cross state and local boundaries.
RaceTrac Offers Essential Workers Free Membership in Monthly Fuel Subscription Program
RaceTrac Petroleum is rewarding healthcare and essential workers with VIP status. Now through Aug. 31, any healthcare or other essential worker who signs up for the RaceTrac Rewards VIP program will receive the first month of the service free from the sign up date.
Last month, the convenience store retailer debuted RaceTrac Rewards VIP, a monthly fuel subscription program, whereby for $2.49 per month, members save 10 cents per gallon on the first 40 gallons and 3 cents per gallon afterward on each fuel purchase they make.
Getting Better, But Not Nearly Normal
Recent data suggests that business is improving at the nation’s convenience retail establishments after the nearly three-month economic shutdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. As many states around the nation begin to reopen for business, convenience store traffic appears on the road to recovery — though business is still quite a ways off from pre-pandemic levels.
For the week ended May 30, inside sales at U.S. c-stores were up 3 percent over the prior week, according to Nielsen, while unit improvement exceeded dollar growth.
"A positive read on traffic recovery," commented Jeffries Equity analysts Christopher Mandeville and Blake Anderson. "Better trends were realized nearly across the board, with alcohol remaining a source of strength and, importantly, prepared food showing market improvement (down 13 percent in dollars and 24 percent in volume vs. a 21 percent decline in dollars and 30 percent volume loss compared to the previous period)."
Poll: COVID-19 Pandemic Forces C-store Retailers to Significantly Scale Back Employee Travel
Convenience store retailers have dramatically scaled back employee travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll conducted by Convenience Store News.
Nearly nine out of 10 c-store retailers instituted travel restrictions on their employees due to the pandemic, with most of the restrictions starting in February/March 2020. Of those that instituted restrictions, 40 percent banned all business travel, while a third of respondents banned just air travel.
The poll also found that most retailers (80 percent) have not announced when their travel restrictions will be lifted. Of those that have, half said August/September 2020 is the timeline they’re targeting. However, 25 percent of respondents expect their travel restrictions will remain in place until 2021.
COVID-19 Pandemic Taking Toll on Financial & Mental Health of Shoppers
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, shoppers are far more cautious than optimistic about the future, as the global health crisis takes a financial and mental toll.
According to Acosta's eighth insight report on the continuing evolution of consumer behavior and outlook amid the coronavirus pandemic, 64 percent of shoppers are looking ahead with caution and nearly a quarter (24 percent) are looking ahead with optimism.
The recession is also adding stress for many shoppers. Thirty-seven percent said they are worse off financially than they were pre-pandemic, including 9 percent who said they are "much" worse off. Millennials are the hardest-hit generation, with 43 percent expressing this sentiment.
7-Eleven Adds Pickup Order Option to Its 7NOW App
7-Eleven Inc.'s 7NOW delivery app now offers customers the option to order and pay for items ahead of time. The move provides customers with added convenience and minimized time spent in stores, according to the convenience store retailer.
To utilize the new service, customers:
- Download the 7NOW app via the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store;
- Enter their location in the top left corner, then select "Pickup" instead of delivery;
- Add items to their cart and pay in the app to complete their purchase;
- Track the entire order process as it is "picked," "packed" and "ready for pickup"; and
- Head to the store, show the nearest store associate the four-digit code on the 7NOW app and pickup their items.
C-stores Continue to Enhance Operations With Safety Measures & New Services
Convenience store retailers are continuing to enhance operations to address new consumer preferences related to safety protocols and convenient shopping options that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the latest NACS Retailer Member survey:
- Nine in 10 stores (89 percent) have installed plexiglass barriers at checkout and 87 percent provide hand sanitizer inside the store;
- Forty percent have introduced or increased contactless payment options inside stores; and
- Nearly two in three retailers (63 percent) are supporting medical/healthcare personnel, first responders or others affected by the crisis.
Conexxus to Hold Virtual Education & Strategy Conference
Conexxus' annual Education and Strategy Conference will go virtual this year. The three-day event, being held Aug. 11-13, will focus on how retailers have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the association, the goal of this year's conference will be to empower attendees with the knowledge and tools to not only survive the coronavirus pandemic but to thrive during it.
Each day will include a different topic of discussion:
- Day one: Attendees will focus on "the new normal" and its impact on retail and society as a whole, including old concepts used by retailers that won't be normal going forward, as well as which ones were heightened and even accelerated.
- Day two: Attendees will focus on how industries are being reshaped in response to the disruptions caused by the pandemic, and how retailers can grow their new business models.
- Day three: Seminars will discuss how digital transformations in strategies and designs will be essential moving forward in retail industries.
In addition to each day's individual focuses, the conference will feature Technology Education Sessions that will be open to both members and non-members.
The 2020 Conexxus Education and Strategy Conference is sponsored by NACS, Bullock Technologies, Cybera, Gilbarco Veeder-Root, Diebold Nixdorf, Hughes, NCR, Security Innovation, SoundPayments and Stuzo.
Registration opens July 20. Space is limited. More information is available here.
Less Social Engagement During Pandemic Takes Toll on Gum Category
According to new insights from Koupon, candy sales are growing 6 percent, and baskets with candy are experiencing a strong 14 percent increase in dollars from 2019, aligning with the overall COVID-19 era trend of inflated dollars per basket figures.
Larger chocolate bars and packs are witnessing strong growth, but non-chocolate bars and packs are also pulling ahead and growing at a faster rate. Despite the growth of both, the purchasing of larger packs is contributing to a decrease of overall trips, which dipped 12 percent.
Although trips are down across all subcategories of candy, gum is the only subcategory experiencing a year-over-year sales decrease. Gum is the only subcategory most affected by COVID-19, as its trips and sales are significantly down from a year ago.
AAA: Gas Demand & Supply Continue to Be 'On a Rollercoaster Ride'
Gas demand increased on the week to the highest level since March as stocks decreased, but the combination wasn't enough to significantly impact gas price averages nationwide.
On the week, the national gas price average only increased 1 cent to $2.19. That is nine cents more than last month and nearly 60 cents less than a year ago.
"The Energy Information Administration's data shows gasoline demand and supply continue on a roller coaster ride," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "As motorists react to unfolding COVID-19 information, we are seeing driving behaviors related to filling-up ebb and flow."
Two-Thirds of C-stores Hampered by Legacy Infrastructure During COVID-19 Pandemic
The recent COVID-19 pandemic shifted how the convenience channel does business and put retailers' technology capabilities into focus.
In a recent survey by Censuswide on behalf of Zynstra, an NCR company, found that inflexible infrastructure delayed convenience store retailer from adapting their store operations. Specifically, 63 percent of respondents said legacy infrastructure held them back from making changes.
In addition, 81 percent of c-store retailers said COVID-19 elevated the role IT plays in the eyes of C-level decision makers, with 100 percent of c-store retailers with 500-plus stores identifying this as a new reality.
Convenience Stores Ask for Exact Change as Coin Shortage Continues
Convenience retailers are urging customers to bring their coin purse when they shop as stores across the country deal with a short supply of change.
Among those chains asking shoppers to use exact change or pay with an alternative payment method like credit cards or mobile pay are Thorntons LLC, Wawa Inc., Y-Not Stop and QuikTrip Corp.
It's a problem affecting all channels. Several retail organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve calling on federal policymakers to take action to address the nationwide shortage.
They requested Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin address the shortage by releasing more coins from federal inventory or increasing coin production to meet immediate needs.
Thorntons' Loyalty Program Adds Contactless Text-to-Enroll Registration
Thorntons LLC is keeping its customers safe and making enrollment in its Refreshing Rewards loyalty program quick and easy by releasing a streamlined text-to-enroll registration solution.
Customers only need to text the word "fuel" followed by a valid email address to 737-57, after which they will immediately receive a 15 cents off per gallon offer to redeem the next time they fill up their gas tank.
C-stores See Contraction in Trips & Basket Spend Amid Continuing COVID-19 Crisis
Trips and basket spend contracted in the convenience store industry during the last two weeks of June as market dynamics continue to change countrywide.
According to the latest biweekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior, packaged beverages and beer contributed to the biggest trip declines for the two-week period ended June 28, but trip setback generally broadened.
During and since stay-at-home orders in April and May, the packaged beverage category experienced a significant climb but reversed course in the final week of June. The foodservice and commissary categories continued to lag most categories.
Sweets & Snacks Expo Debuts a Digital Platform
Adapting to the new norms presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sweets & Snacks Expo (SSE) launched Sweets & Snacks On Demand, a digital platform designed to bring together the sweets and snacks community from any location at any time.
According to SSE sponsor the National Confectioners Association, this impactful and innovative approach to community building will allow retailers, buyers and manufacturers to celebrate innovation, learn through education programs and share and discover the industry's newest products.
Rutter's Takes Precautions in Reopening of Video Gaming Rooms
Rutter's is reopening its video gaming rooms as most of Pennsylvania moves into the "Green Phase" of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the retailer is taking steps to maintain customer safety.
Each room features plexiglass barriers between the five game machines, as well as hand sanitizer and stickers designating where to stand while waiting for a machine to open. The safety measures are in accordance with Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board guidelines for video gaming rooms.
7-Eleven Hawaii Adds E-Commerce & Home Delivery
7-Eleven Hawaii Inc. is teaming with Vroom Delivery to offer customers e-commerce and home delivery.
Residents of and visitors to the island can now order many 7-Eleven items online, including grocery staples, snacks, beer and more, as well as local favorites such as Spam Musubi and pork hash.
"We are excited to be working with Vroom Delivery to offer this service, especially given the current circumstances," said 7-Eleven Hawaii Merchandising Manager Masayuki Imada. "Home delivery is a great way for our customers to safely access our products and order from the comfort of their homes."
Cumberland Farms Suspending Beer & Wine Ballot Question
Massachusetts voters will not get to decide the issue of alcohol license limits for retailers this year.
Cumberland Farms, which was spearheading the efforts to bring the question to the voters this November, decided to pause its pursuit. On June 26, the convenience store chain said it was dropping its bid as retailers continue to deal with the impact of COVID-19.
Restaurant Reopenings May Be Having Adverse Impact on C-stores
Trips to convenience stores are gradually increasing as state lockdowns ease, but consumers aren’t spending as much as they did just a few weeks ago.
For the week ended June 14, trips for lottery/gaming, foodservice and commissary increased, but beer and wine trips, while still well above last year, eased. Reopenings of restaurants may be having an adverse impact on c-stores, slowing down off-premise consumption of alcohol. Trips for cigarettes and other tobacco products also fell, according to the latest weekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.
Gas Demand Ebbs & Flows as Americans Remain Cautious
The rate at which gas price are increasing is slowing as demand dips.
"Demand levels are likely to ebb and flow in the coming weeks as people continue to be cautious about travel," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson.
As a result, pump prices will likely continue to increase, but at a slower rate through the end of the month, she noted.
Since June 15, 30 states only saw an increase of 1 to 2 cents, pushing the national average more expensive by 3 cents to $2.13. Today' national average is 19 cents more expensive than a month ago but remains significantly cheaper than a year ago by 53 cents.
Nationwide Coin Shortage Impacts C-store Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for another nationwide supply shortage: coins.
"What's happened is that, with the partial closure of the economy, the flow of coins through the economy has gotten all — it's kind of stopped," Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said.
Rep. John Rose (R-Tenn.) first pointed out the shortage during a virtual hearing with the House Financial Services Committee, noting that many banks in his district weren't given their normal amount of coins and were struggling to help customers and businesses get the coins they needed, reported WKRN.com.
According to Dave Miller, president of First Horizon Bank of East Tennessee, the average bank customer wouldn't notice a coin shortage, but gas stations and convenience stores were the kind of businesses that would.
Average Fuel Buying in U.S. Dropped to 2.8 Transactions a Month Between March 1 & May 31
Demand for fuel has been at record-lows across the nation since the COVID-19 outbreak, new Pay with GasBuddy data reveals.
According to the report, which shares how the top 50 most populous U.S. cities rank in fueling activities during the pandemic at the height of stay-at-home orders, between March 1 to May 31, American consumers made on average 2.8 fuel transactions per month, a drop from the usual 4.5 times per month prior to the outbreak.
Cities that saw more frequent visits to the gas pump were clustered in the Great Lakes region (five out of the top 10) and Texas (three out of the top 10), while cities with the fewest fuel transactions were centered in California and the East Coast.
Kwik Trip Sees Substantial Increase in Dairy Purchases Over Recent Months
Kwik Trip saw its in-store dairy purchases increases substantially during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic due to people spending more time at home.
The convenience store chain saw a boost in sales of gallons and half gallons of milk rather than smaller to-go cartons.
"Part of that is because when people are on the go or the driving work, they grab their little container of milk, but if they're confined at home for a couple of days or a week, they'll buy the full gallon," said John McHugh, director of corporate communications for Kwik Trip.
Workweek Trips to C-stores Bouncing Back in First States to Reopen
Convenience stores are reaping the benefits of states that are entering into recovery phases as consumers begin to resume their daily routines.
According to the latest weekly report from NACS and PDI on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior, workweek trips in the midday and evening dayparts have almost fully recovered in states that were first to ease stay-at-home restrictions, while the convenience channel as a whole is seeing trips at about 90 percent of year-ago levels.
For the week ended June 7, consumer spending increased in-store as Americans increasingly ventured out. Except for liquor, year-over-year trips increased for every major category.
7-Eleven Day Cancelled Due to COVID-19 Pandemic
7-Eleven Inc. will not mark 7-Eleven Day on July 11 this year due to uncertainties associated with the recent coronavirus crisis.
However, the convenience store retailer will still celebrate its birthday by giving 1 million meals to Feeding America, a domestic hunger-relief organization.
"At 7-Eleven, our top priority is the safety of customers, franchisees and employees," said 7-Eleven Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Marissa Jarratt. "Gathering 9 million of our closest friends in stores on one day just didn't feel right, but I am heartened that we now have the opportunity to help the communities and neighborhoods that have been the lifeline of our business since 1927."
Working From Home Greatly Impacts Shopping & Purchasing Behavior
The widespread adoption of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting not only what people buy but how they feel about their shopping experience, according to full-service sales and marketing agency Acosta's sixth research report providing insight into the continuing evolution of consumer behavior and outlook during the crisis.
This information is particularly relevant to retailers planning for the long term, as the report also found that working from home may continue for an extended period of time.
Shell Offers Special Fuel Savings to DoorDash Drivers
The Fuel Rewards program is launching a new collaboration between Shell and DoorDash.
From now through Aug. 10, DoorDash's drivers, known as Dashers, will be able to save 10 cents per gallon every time they fill up as part of their Fuel Rewards membership.
Wawa Launches Curbside Ordering With Expansion Plans in Tow
Wawa Inc. launched curbside ordering at multiple convenience stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey on June 8, with plans to expand the offering in the future.
Customers at participating stores will have full access to all items available for purchase inside — including freshly prepared foods, beverages and grocery items — without needing to exit their car.
The initial stores to offer curbside ordering are located in Center Square, Pa., and Ewing, N.J.
New Survey Reveals What Resonates Most With Philanthropic-Minded C-store Customers
With communities suffering from the economic downturn amid recent events, consumers seek more engagement from local businesses, including convenience stores.
According to a national consumer survey conducted for NACS by PSB Insights, more than half of respondents said they would feel more favorable about a retailer that contributes to community or charitable groups. At least one in three said that they would be much more likely to shop at that retailer.
The philanthropic questions asked in the latest survey were designed to help retailers define what may work best for their organizations — as well as how they could tell their stories to the communities they serve.
Consumers were asked: For each of the following initiatives, how much you would like to see each action taken in your community? If you saw a convenience store in your community participating in these initiatives, would you be more likely to shop at that store?
Travel Center Chains Are Reopening Their Restaurants With Lots of Modifications
As states begin to plan for and begin the reopening process months after widespread shutdowns due to stay-at-home orders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, travel centers are likewise reopening their full-service restaurants.
However, the professional drivers and highway travelers who visit them will encounter numerous changes to their usual operations, as operators make changes to ensure customer safety and comply with a variety of state and local guidelines.
National Gas Price Average Returns to Above $2 a Gallon
For the first time in more than two months, the national gas price average inched above $2 a gallon.
For 66 days, the national gas price average held below the $2 per gallon mark, pushing as cheap as $1.76. In the past week, the average inched up to $2.03.
Despite the consistent increases at the pump, prices are still significantly cheaper year-over-year. In fact, during the first week of June the past five years, gas prices have typically averaged $2.81, according to AAA.
"The beginning of June has not seen gas prices this low since 2004," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "As crude oil prices trend higher and gasoline demand increases, Americans will see gas prices push more expensive, but this summer will be cheaper than last."
Improvement in C-store Trips Stalls as COVID-19 Impact Continues
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, convenience store sales are at a stand-still.
For the week ended May 31, dollar sales growth narrowed from the prior week, and trips remained about the same, according to the latest weekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.
C-stores are still waiting for in-store trips to fully recover, and improvement appeared to stall in the week ended May 31. Except for the morning daypart, trips remain at roughly 90 percent of the year-ago week total.
Consumers Focused on Getting the Most From Their Stocked Pantries
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, consumers are focused on getting as much as possible from their food and beverage purchases, according to research by The NPD Group.
Following the initial rush on grocery stores at the beginning of the outbreak as consumers shifted to survival mode, shoppers are strategizing to avoid letting their purchases go to waste.
Consumers report that 63 percent of their eating occasions during the pandemic have been atypical, or that they are eating food and beverages that are different from their normal routines.
Community Service Spotlight: C-store Industry Continues Momentum Around COVID-19 Relief Efforts
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt every area of modern-day life, convenience store retailers and suppliers know that giving back through community service efforts and charitable donations is a positive force that will keep the channel moving forward.
In this special edition of Community Service Spotlight, Convenience Store News highlights these philanthropic efforts.
Convenience Distribution Association Turns CDBX Into Virtual Event
The Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) will host its annual business exchange this fall, but will bring it online.
According to the CDA, the Convenience Distribution Business Exchange (CDBX), scheduled for Sept. 21-24 in Chicago, will now be a virtual event.
"The health and safety of CDA's members is our primary concern. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, CDA is committed to bringing its members the meetings they count on year after year, and a virtual event ensures we will be able to hold those meetings," said Kimberly Bolin, CDA president and CEO.
Consumer Shifts Drive Sales of Natural Products
Consumers are purchasing more natural products in 2020, both pre-COVID-19 and during the pandemic.
According to COVID-19 and Navigating the Path Ahead: Supporting the Natural Products Consumer, a new report from IRI and SPINS, dollar sales for natural products continue to grow over one year ago, as much as 78 percent in the middle of March during consumers' initial stock-up period and continuing in the high teens at present.
"Given that natural products represent more than 8 percent of total store sales year-to-date and are outpacing sales of conventional products, there are significant opportunities for manufacturers and retailers alike to show support for consumers," said Steve Ramsey, executive vice president and general manager, Strategic Accounts, IRI.
The IRI and SPINS report highlights natural shoppers' product and shopping preferences, recommended strategies for manufacturers and retailers to attract and retain consumers, and suggested strategies to employ that will maximize new opportunities in the future.
Nouria Thanks Customers With Face Mask Giveaway
To say thank you to customers and encourage them to continue practicing social distancing, Nouria Energy Corp. is giving away free reusable masks.
On Friday, June 5, Nouria team members will hand out the free reusable masks while taking the necessary safety precautions, including wearing gloves and face masks, and not making physical contact with customers, the convenience store retailer noted.
"We are so grateful for our loyal customers during these tough times," said Tony El-Nemr, CEO and president of Nouria Energy Corp. "As a small way to say thank you to our loyal customers, we decided to give away reusable face masks to encourage people to practice safety measures during the pandemic."
Morning Daypart Trips to C-stores Are at 80% of Prior Year
Although trips to U.S. convenience stores saw a slight bump in trips for the week ended May 24 vs. the previous week, the channel is still lagging behind one year ago, according to the latest weekly report from NACS and PDI on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior.
Trips from 7 a.m. to 9:59 a.m. are at 80 percent of prior year trips, as consumers have not collectively resumed their pre-pandemic travel routines.
Despite this, data showed an improvement from the week ended May 17, when trips during the morning rush were at 75 percent of the level they were at on that date in 2019.
Drive-Thru Accounts for Almost Half of All Restaurant Occasions
The use of drive-thru has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic as total restaurant industry traffic fell, according to The NPD Group.
Drive-thru accounted for nearly half of all restaurant occasions (46 percent) during the month of April, primarily at quick-service restaurants (QSR).
Total industry traffic at chain and independent restaurants was down 35 percent during the same month compared to April one year ago, according to NPD's CREST foodservice market research. Digital orders rose 106 percent and now account for 20 percent of all restaurant occasions.
Five Ways C-stores Can Upgrade Their Restrooms to Safeguard Against Coronavirus
The COVID-19 pandemic has made consumers more aware than ever of how germs can be transmitted and raised new questions about the hygienic, safe usage of public restrooms. This will their perceptions of such facilities as businesses resume operations.
"As businesses and public establishments reopen and Americans return to using facilities, all eyes are on public restrooms," said Jon Dommisse, director of strategy and corporate development at Bradley Corp., a global manufacturer of restroom equipment. "Today's commercial washroom will be of paramount importance in providing hand washing systems and supplies, and mitigating sickness-causing germs."
There are five key considerations for keeping restrooms clean, maintained, well-equipped and prepared for a healthy hand washing experience, according to Dommisse.
Sheetz Wraps Up Free Meal Program After 600,000 Meals
Sheetz Inc. served nearly 600,000 free meals to children and families in need through its Kidz Meal Bagz program. The initiative was launched April 2 to help people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and will end on June 5.
The convenience store retailer will continue to fight hunger through its employee-driven charity Sheetz For The Kidz. At the end of May, the program donated $620,000 to Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief organization, to directly support child hunger programs.
Aramark Opens Pop-Up Stores in Health Care Facilities
Aramark Corp. opened more than 100 on-site, pop-up grocery stores for front-line health care workers as they work to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Located at health care facilities across the United States, they are meant to serve as one-stop shops for doctors, nurses and hospital staff to obtain necessities on their way home.
The pop-up stores are repurposed from existing retail spaces into grocery stores that offer a variety of fresh baked goods, bread, milk, eggs, non-perishable items, paper towels, health and beauty aids, and more.
Cumberland Farms Launches Curbside Pickup at Select Stores
Cumberland Farms is helping customers get their purchases quickly and safely through the launch of curbside pickup via its SmartPay Rewards app.
Available at all New Concept stores across Massachusetts, the initiative enables customers to order everyday essentials and hot food to be delivered to their vehicle at the curb or at the pump while they fill up on gas.
"Curbside pickup provides our guests a convenient, seamless and contactless way to shop for their everyday needs," said George Fournier, president of EG America. "We hope that this service helps make life a little bit easier for our guests as we all return to a new normal."
MAPCO Takes 'Full Service' to a New Level
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, MAPCO is introducing Full Service+, a new touchless full service experience for fuel and in-store items.
Here's how it works:
- From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, customers pull into a Full Service+ fuel pump.
- An associate will provide customers with a mobile card machine, allowing them make purchases from inside their car. Then, the associate will retrieve these items from inside the store.
Associates will also be responsible for cleaning car windows, and wiping down fuel pumps and any other services. They are required to wear masks and face shields.
Despite Reopenings, 69% of Americans Say They Will Delay Normal Work & Travel
Although municipalities nationwide are beginning to lift stay-at-home restrictions, consumers aren’t so willing to return to their normal work and travel routines.
According to new research from NACS, 58 percent of consumers say their communities will reopen more non-essential businesses within the next weeks. While reopening is underway, it’s mixed on what consumers will do. Approximately 69 percent of Americans say they will delay normal work and travel, while those who expect to commute again said they will, but not fully.
"The return of more commuters is certainly good news for the convenience store industry, which sells 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the country, and food and beverages that are the staple of rush-hour routines," said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard. "Retailers look forward to providing those everyday essentials and are continuing to enhance operations with a focus on cleanliness and safety."
How Consumers Shop for Snacks Shifts Amid COVID-19
With Memorial Day signifying the unofficial kickoff to summer, the majority of Americans (89 percent) anticipate their summers will be different compared to last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Frito-Lay's latest U.S. Snack Index report.
In its latest installment, U.S. Snack Index found snacks remain essential to summer, but with consumers increasingly buying through new channels and eating snacks differently than ever before. From minimal travel and socially distanced gatherings, to when, where and how consumers shop for snacks, consumer behavior is likely to have a lasting impact on the months ahead.
"Since the onset of the pandemic — what we eat, where we buy, and how we engage with one another has shifted dramatically — and we've had to reorient our business to address this," said Steven Williams, CEO, PepsiCo Foods North America. "Our ability to remain agile at the most critical time has enabled us to successfully meet consumer demand."
COVID-19 Is Shaping Three Key Confectionery Buying Behaviors
The confectionery industry is facing a once-in-a-lifetime period of uncertainty, as it is not immune to the pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers' candy buying behavior is reflecting heightened price sensitivity on one hand and, on the other, desiring moments of comfort and escapism.
This is something convenience store retailers need to understand and respond to — be it by offering experimental flavors that encourage affordable moments of indulgence, or offering traditional flavors that remind people of simpler times.
A recent webinar entitled "Seasonal Candy in the Time of COVID-19," hosted by Candy Industry Magazine and sponsored by Cargill and Ferrera Candy Co., explored how the confectionery industry will likely be impacted by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, and what effect it will have on consumers' attitudes, behaviors and shopping habits.
StrasGlobal Rolls Out New Online Ordering & Curbside Delivery Platform
In its effort to innovate with new initiatives for customers during COVID-19, StrasGlobal is rolling out an online ordering and curbside delivery platform.
OrderEveryday.com offers beverages, snacks, tobacco and essential grocery items. A foodservice menu is in development. The average order is about double the size of the average in-store purchases, according to the company.
"Operationally, the process has been smoother than we expected. Our customers appreciate curbside delivery during the COVID-19 crisis due to the social distancing aspect, which will likely extend for months, and we anticipate moving into home delivery very shortly," said StrasGlobal Chief Operating Officer Perry Kilgo.
Couche-Tard's Global Footprint Helps It Navigate Coronavirus
Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. revealed how its global footprint is helping the company navigate the COVID-19 pandemic in a recent business update.
Informed by their early learnings, Couche-Tard's teams in Europe recommended adjustments to the in-store assortment, which allowed stores in North America to better anticipate the changes in shopping behavior and the items that could see greater demand.
Then, by leveraging its Private Brands team, the company worked to source key items and ensure their availability for customers and employees. To date, there have been few meaningful stock-outs across its network, according to Couche-Tard.
Alltown Fresh Launches Four Contactless Ways to Shop for Groceries & Meals
To help customers safely purchase for fresh groceries and nutritious meals, Alltown Fresh launched four new methods of contactless shopping: fresh crates, meal prep & provisions, curbside pickup and delivery through Grubhub.
The new options build on the brand's belief that people should not have to sacrifice healthy, fresh food choices for convenience, and Alltown Fresh is committed to finding new ways to continue serving organic, natural, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and locally sourced meals, the company said.
Memorial Day Pump Prices to Be Cheapest in 20 Years
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the national gas price average leading into the Memorial Day holiday is less than $2 a gallon.
At the start of the Memorial Day work week, the national gas price average is $1.87. In 2003, motorists paid, on average, $1.50 to fill up. Even though gas prices this year won't be as cheap as then, today's national average is $1 cheaper than one year ago.
"Gas prices around Memorial Day have not been this cheap in nearly 20 years. However, as the country continues to practice social distancing, this year's unofficial kick-off to summer is not going to drive the typical millions of Americans to travel," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "Despite inexpensive gas prices, AAA anticipates this year's holiday will likely set a record low for travel volume."
Stewart's Shops Helps Ease the Burden of Dairy Farmers
Stewart's Shops is helping ease the economic burden of dairy farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dairy farmers that supply Stewart's Shops are continuing to produce milk and ice cream without having to dispose of unused milk as waste. Unlike many other milk suppliers that supply milk to restaurants and schools, these 25 farmers work exclusively with the convenience store retailer.
To help ease the burden that its dairy farmers still face, Stewart's has increased competitive premiums from 10 cents per hundredweight to 60 cents per hundredweight and decreased its hauling charge by five cents per hundredweight.
C-store Chains Launch Skip's New Order Ahead Platform
As contactless increasingly becomes the preferred method for customers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, three convenience store chains are launching Skip's new order ahead platform.
High's, SpeedyQ and Volta are adding Carry-Out and Curbside Delivery as part of Skip's Order Ahead platform, which streamlines the process of contactless shopping methods such as Scan & Go, order ahead and delivery.
Wawa Adjusts to Business After COVID-19 Pandemic
Wawa Inc. is making key changes to its operations and response to the COVID-19 pandemic as some regions begin the transition to a new normal.
Those changes include the launch of the Wawa Clean Force, a dedicated and trained sanitizing SWAT team; adding more protections and safety policies; and helping customers to continue social distancing by offering visual markers, more hand sanitizer stations and a renewed focus on making their visits fast and friendly.
AAA Eyes Memorial Day Travel Through COVID-19 Lens
With the unofficial start to the summer just days away, AAA decided to withhold its annual travel forecast in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it created.
According to the organization, the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by the current health crisis. The annual forecast — which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend — will return next year.
Despite not issuing an official forecast, anecdotal reports suggest fewer people will hit the road compared to years past for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season, AAA said.
"Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend — the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. "With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend's travel volume is likely to set a record low."
Michigan Toddler Inspires Acts of Kindness for Professional Drivers at Pilot Co. Travel Centers
One mom and son duo have found a way to thank professional drivers at Pilot Co. who have been crucial in keeping America moving during the COVID-19 pandemic. While practicing social distancing, Carla and two-year-old Luke from Smith Creek, Mich., have come to enjoy watching professional drivers come and go.
Seeing how much a simple honk and wave brightened Luke's day, Carla decided to show her gratitude for these hard-working men and women by purchasing 20 Pilot gift cards for the team members at Store #596 to hand out to professional drivers as them come in to make their purchases.
Carla's act of kindness moved several team members and professional drivers to tears, as some were experiencing financial struggles or had been separated from their families for weeks on end due to COVID-19. One professional driver even continued to pay it forward for other drivers, buying additional gift cards.
GasBuddy: Cleanliness Significantly Impacting Consumer Ratings & Foot Traffic at C-stores
Cleanliness at convenience stores is significantly impacting consumers' ratings and foot traffic at gas stations across the United States.
During the first quarter of 2020, gas stations with above-average cleanliness ratings drove 17.23 percent more visits than their below-average competitors, according to GasBuddy's Consumer Ratings & Foot Traffic Report.
"Convenience retailers are essential businesses during times of crisis, but COVID-19 is bringing consumers to the stores with new questions and concerns," said Frank Beard, convenience store and retail trends analyst at GasBuddy. "Is it safe to touch the pump handles? When was the last time the store was cleaned and disinfected? According to GasBuddy data, expectations are sky-high."
C-stores See Lift in In-Store Category Performance
The convenience channel's in-store spending has entered into positive territory.
Following more than a month of lagging performance amid stay-at-home orders, consumer spending finally turned the corner for the week ended May 3 compared with the year-ago week as trip declines continued to slow, the latest weekly report from PDI and NACS on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior revealed.
According to the report, easing of state restrictions, coupled with a boost in consumer spending tied to first of the month pay/benefits, helped to lift in-store category performance for the week ended May 3.
OSHA Provides Safety Tips for Food & Beverage Businesses Around Curbside Pickup & Takeout
As the foodservice operators continue to shift to takeout and curbside pickup models due to mandated closures of dine-in service, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an alert with safety tips for restaurants and other food and beverage businesses with safety tips to protect employees from exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Gas Prices Fluctuate Across the Country as More States Reopen
Gas prices are fluctuating nationwide as more states reopen and lift stay-at-home restrictions. On the week, the national gas price average is 6 cents more expensive. However, it is still cheaper on the month by 3 cents and on the year by $1.02.
Regardless of the national increase, 40 states still have averages of $2 or less per gallon.
"Pump prices are fluctuating throughout the country as demand increases and gasoline stocks decrease," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "The boost in demand continues to push pump prices up around the country, as more states re-open businesses. Motorists in the Great Lakes, Central, South and Southeast states are seeing the most volatility at the pump."
NACS Moves Forward With 2020 Expo & Conference
As many industry events have been cancelled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some convenience channel members have wondered what the fall will bring. Among several rescheduled events, it will bring the 2020 NACS Show.
In an email to exhibitors on May 8, NACS said it is moving forward with plans to hold its annual event from Oct. 11-14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"New technologies have brought us together during this period of social distancing. And NACS has embraced new communications platforms, including the recent recast of the NACS State of the Industry Summit Virtual Experience, which pivoted to an online and on-demand offering to ensure delivery of industry-critical, time-sensitive insights," wrote Bob Hughes, vice president, Supplier Relations and Expositions at NACS.
"But at some point, we'll come back together in person — and we're already looking ahead to the fall," he added.
Registration for the 2020 NACS Show opens on May 12 and the association is "offering the best possible price" on registration and official NACS Show housing through June 24. NACS also extended its badge registration cancellation policy to 30 days pre-event to offer attendees maximum flexibility.
"This year's show will mark the 60th anniversary of NACS bringing together industry leaders from around the globe to share ideas, learn about new innovative products and make each other stronger," Hughes wrote. "We've always taken this responsibility seriously — and this year is no different. Our number one priority remains the onsite health and safety of our attendees, staff and partners — your team and booth personnel included. Talking with these groups has led to fresh insights."
For real-time updates on all the 2020 NACS Show enhancements and safety precautions, click here.
Love's Extends Raises & Time Off, Offers Employees Additional Bonuses
Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores will extend its base pay increase and sick pay related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and offer free employee meals for all hourly store employees to a variety of later dates.
The travel stop operator also added a new $200 bonus for employees who work the month of June.
The free employee meals are extended through May; the $2 per hour pay increase is extended to June 2; and the COVID-19 related sick pay is extended through July 31.
Candy & Packaged Beverages Begin to See Positive Spend Numbers Return at C-stores
Consumer spending and trips continued to improve last week as some areas of the country began gradually lifting stay-at-home restrictions and more Americans received stimulus payments.
According to the latest weekly report from NACS and PDI on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior, for the week ended April 26 showed that dollars per transaction in nearly every category saw improved performance vs. the prior week when dollars per transaction slipped.
The hard-hit candy category inched up positive spend numbers for the first time since March, and packaged beverages also experienced a surge. The alcohol and other tobacco products categories continued to outperform other categories, while non-edible groceries and frozen foods are still seeing growth, albeit small.
Pump Prices Inch Higher as States Begin to Reopen
After weeks of cratering gas prices, the national average gas price rose by 1 cent.
Less than a dozen state averages rose last week, but their increases were large enough to push the national average to $1.78 as of May 4, reported AAA.
The current national average is 16 cents less than a month ago and $1.11 less than one year ago.
GPM Will Host Hiring Event to Expedite Onboarding
GPM Investments LLC is looking to provide employment opportunities for workers in local communities who have lost an income due to the economic impact of COVID-19 through a hiring event, which will take place the week of May 11.
"We are seeing record numbers of people filing for unemployment," said GPM Investments Senior Vice President of Human Resources Veronica Donchez. "We want the communities where we operate to know that we have a place for them and would love to have them join our team. We have put together a team event where we are focused on interviewing and getting new associates onboarded in a timely fashion. Our communities need us, and we will be there for them!"
Sheetz Extends Wage Boost for C-store Employees
Sheetz Inc. will extend its policy of extra compensation for store employees until June 4. The retailer previously announced that it would boost hourly pay by $3 from March 13 to April 23, as Convenience Store News reported.
As the situation around COVID-19 continues to evolve, Sheetz is extending the pay increase to showcase its gratitude to thank its employees, according to the company.
"This extension is to express our continued gratitude for our hard working employees," said Travis Sheetz, president and chief operating officer. "We are so proud of the way they have pulled together to serve the community during this unprecedented time."
Love's Travel Stops & Girls Scouts Team Up to Keep Professional Drivers Snacking
Love’s Travel Stops and Girl Scouts are thanking professional drivers in New Mexico and Oklahoma for their essential work during the COVID-19 pandemic with a free box of cookies.
Starting April 29 and 30, drivers can pick up one free box of cookies at six Love's locations in New Mexico and one in Oklahoma while supplies last. Each store will have 1,200 boxes.
"The creativity of the Girl Scouts has to be applauded for this great idea," said Jenny Love Meyer, executive vice president and chief culture officer of Love's. "They've figured out how to fundraise in a challenging environment while also helping the hardest working men and women in America who have been vital in the fight against COVID-19."
Thorntons Enhances Guest Safety at the Pump
To make it safer while getting gas, Thorntons LLC added GripHero anti-static hand protectors to every fuel pump at every Thorntons convenience store.
The hand protectors are single-use, biodegradable and meant to add peace of mind for customers, the company stated.
"At Thorntons, we care greatly about the safety and well-being of our guests and our team members. We are pleased to offer this innovative new solution as an added layer of protection to bring our guests extra peace of mind when they shop for fuel and other great products at our always clean stores," said Simon Richards, Thorntons president and CEO. "Thorntons stores are open 24/7 to serve our communities with safe and clean places to shop for quality fuels and other great food and beverage offers."
7-Eleven Partners With Third Parties to Make Delivery Available to More Consumers
To better serve the needs of customers under extended stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders, 7-Eleven Inc. is expanding its on-demand delivery providers.
In addition to its proprietary 7NOW delivery app, 7-Eleven is partnering with third-party delivery platforms Postmates, DoorDash and Google. Additionally, Texas customers can place orders for delivery through Favor Delivery.
Customers can request contactless delivery in which orders will be left at the door for added peace of mind.
FriendShip Fine-Tunes Its Supply Chain to Assist Local Hospitals, Homeless Shelters & More
FriendShip Stores is increasing its efforts to support the local communities it serves by fine-tuning its supply chain management process to secure and donate hard-to-find items to hospitals, homeless shelters and other local organizations.
"We recognized early on during this pandemic, that our sole focus is to support our people and our communities. We have great supply chain partners like H.T. Hackney, GFS Foods, Cintas and City Services to name a few, and we have teamed up with them and others to secure critical cleaning and safety supplies for our stores and our communities," said Dean Beck, co-owner and senior vice president of Beck Branded Fuels. "We have been able to secure additional supplies such as gloves and even toilet paper, and have been reaching out to community agencies and hospitals and donating these hard to get items."
C-store Spending Gets a Boost From Federal Stimulus Checks
A week after consumers reported a decrease in spending at convenience stores, the channel is getting a boost.
According to the latest weekly report from NACS and PDI on how COVID-19 is impacting consumer insights, spending at c-stores rose during the third week of April compared to the week prior. A notable uptick was seen on April 15 — the date millions of Americans received federal stimulus payments.
While overall spend and trips are still down compared to one year ago, there are signs of improvement, as the decline in year-over-year spend further slowed from a 12.1-percent decline for the week ended April 12 to a 5-percent decline for the week ended April 19.
C-store Competitors Sheetz & Wawa Team Up to Fight Hunger Caused by Coronavirus Pandemic
Instead of competing for consumer dollars, Pennsylvania-based convenience store chains Sheetz Inc. and Wawa Inc. are joining forces to provide emergency food bank relief to the communities they serve amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The retailers donated a combined 1,000 lunches and a combined $4,000 to both Helping Harvest Food Bank in Reading, Pa., and Second Harvest Food Bank of Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania. The lunches included a turkey sandwich, cookie, fruit cup, string cheese and bottle of water.
NACS Advocates for Liability Legislation to Protect C-stores & Other Essential Businesses
Despite convenience retailers efforts to keep a clean and safe environment for employees and consumers, there are some plaintiffs' attorneys who are running TV ads looking to build class action lawsuits against essential businesses that have stayed open during the crisis, according to NACS.
In a bid to protect c-store retailers from individuals alleging they were exposed to COVID-19 at these businesses, the association is supporting legislation that provides liability protections for essential businesses from claims related to COVID-19 exposure, provided businesses were not grossly negligent.
NACS is advocating that Congress include reasonable liability legislation in a phase four stimulus package. While this legislation would have to pass both chambers of Congress, the White House has indicated that it supports liability protections as America discusses steps to re-open the economy, it added.
C-store Suppliers Switch Gears to Meet Demand Driven by COVID-19 Pandemic
Convenience store industry suppliers are doing their part to combat COVID-19 by producing much needed protective face masks and hand sanitizer that will be distributed to organizations and communities across the United States.
The Hershey Co. is committing $1 million to acquire, install and staff a new manufacturing line dedicated to the production of face masks. The new line will be capable of producing up to 45,000 masks per day and will become operational near the end of May.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is leveraging its capabilities, relationships and reach to provide assistance to those in need by producing and distributing hand sanitizer to accommodate the growing need across the U.S. Its flagship breweries in Baldwinsville, N.Y. and Los Angeles are producing hand sanitizer alongside their partners at Cutwater Spirits in San Diego and Devils Backbone Brewing Co. in Roseland, Va.
House Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Support C-store & Grocery Workers Through COVID-19 Crisis
In a bipartisan show of support for convenience and grocery store workers, Representatives Glenn 'GT' Thompson (R, PA-15) and Dwight Evans (D, PA-03) introduced H.R. 6567, the Giving Retailers and Our Convenience Employees Relief Act, or GROCER Act.
The bill would establish a federal tax holiday for such employees from Feb. 15 through June 15 for individuals making less than $75,000 annually.
The bill also provides discretion to the Treasury to extend the benefit for an additional three months.
Sweets, Salty Snacks & Frozen Pizza Begin to Top Shopping Lists
As consumers' concern over the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, their shopping habits are continuing to shift, too. In Acosta's third COVID-19 research report, the full-service sales and marketing agency found that trends with e-commerce continue to surge as in-store trips take a dip, and shopper priorities are beginning to shift with comfort foods edging out pantry and paper products for the first time.
"While we're still seeing new trends form week-to-week, like the prioritization of comfort foods over pantry and paper products, we're also seeing trends solidify with e-commerce continuing to surge and in-store trips continuing to decline due to growing concern," said Darian Pickett, CEO of Acosta. "Our research shows that shopper concern continues to increase as weeks go by. In our first shopper survey from March 6 to March 12, concern levels averaged 6.9, and now it's risen to 8.2 out of 10. That said, we're optimistic these concerns will reverse with more than half of shoppers surveyed noting they expect their shopping habits to return to ‘normal’ once the pandemic is over."
7-Eleven Opens Pop-Up Store for Health Care Workers
7-Eleven Inc. is welcoming customers on the front line at Children's Medical Center Dallas.
The location at Children's Health flagship hospital is the first pop-up store for the convenience store chain. It provides access to food and essential items for health care workers and patient families during the COVID-19 health crisis.
The Food Services team at Children's Health is working alongside 7-Eleven to operate this pop-up store, including stocking shelves and checking out customers.
"The doctors, nurses and care teams at Children's Health are true heroes," said 7-Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto. "When Children's Health asked us to provide their team members convenient access to essentials during this unprecedented time, our team rose to meet the challenge; opening this first-of-its-kind store in less than two weeks. We are so proud to serve those on the front line of this pandemic."
QSR Declines Drive Restaurant Chain Customer Transactions Even Lower
U.S. restaurant chain customer transaction declines stabilized in the week ending April 5 at 41 percent, compared to a 42 percent drop the prior week. However, a further decrease in quick-service restaurant (QSR) transactions brought total transactions down 43 percent in the week ending April 12 compared to one year ago, reported The NPD Group.
NPD's CREST Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 70 quick service, fast casual, midscale and casual dining chains, found that QSR customer transactions declined by 41 percent in the week ending April 12.
FriendShip Stores Introduces Bonus Program for Frontline Workers
FriendShip Stores introduces the FriendShip Cares Bonus program for store employees, which provides them with a $2-an-hour bonus, and $100 per week bonuses to store managers, district managers and facilities team members.
"The decision to launch the FriendShip Cares bonus program was an easy decision for us, because it reflects our culture and our commitment to the success and happiness of our FriendShip team members," said June Bouillon, human resources director. "Two years ago we launched a Great Place to Work initiative and have made monumental strides in a variety of areas including communication, recognition, incentives, training and development. While we may be a small company, the Beck family certainly has big hearts."
The convenience store retailer has also been actively communicating with its store teams throughout the COVID-19 situation, holding daily calls with division managers, weekly calls with store managers, and communicating through a variety of other methods including FAQs, webinars and company-wide emails.
"While each method of communication is critical, nothing has been more important or impactful than what we learn visiting with our store teams regularly to see how they are doing," explained Olivia Beck, fourth generation family member in charge of special projects. "We want to make sure they have all the gloves, hand sanitizer, and surface sanitizer they need, and we always ask what else we can do support them."
Fremont, Ohio-based FriendShip Stores is the convenience retail arm of Beck Suppliers Inc., a family-owned and -operated retail and wholesale petroleum marketer.
GoPuff Sees Customer Base Diversify Amid Coronavirus
In just a few weeks, consumer behavior has changed rapidly, from preparation and stocking up to realizing a "new normal" of purchasing habits — with specific product category standouts along the way.
As part of goPuff's Integrated Data & Consumer Research practice, the digital retailer released a new white paper that analyzes the changing consumer habits weekly once COVID-19 began to spread across the United States, and provides informed decisions about the long-term effects of the pandemic on consumer trends.
7-Eleven, Sheetz & Stripes Announce New Delivery Initiatives
Delivery had been on the uptick before COVID-19 spread across the country, and now convenience stores are ramping up their services.
Sheetz Inc. and Stripes convenience stores teamed up with third-party delivery platforms to provide the service from participating stores.
The two chains also join 7-Eleven Inc. in offering limited-time promotions on delivery.
RaceTrac Introduces Online Ordering Platform
RaceTrac is launching an online ordering platform as the company's latest effort to combat COVID-19. Through the new service, guests are able to:
- Order directly from the RaceTrac website for pickup at a store location in the closest proximity.
- Select "Whatever Gets You Going" from a menu of available food, drink, alcohol and tobacco items, then edit quantities for the checkout cart.
- Pick up their orders from selected stores within 30 minutes using the "Grab and Go Box," which allows guests to provide their name on the order, pay at the pass-through window and receive the order. All online order transactions will allow guests to abide by safe social distancing guidelines, according to the company.
"RaceTrac is committed to the continuous support of our communities and guests through this unprecedented and uncertain time," said Melanie Isbill, chief marketing officer of RaceTrac. "Online ordering is the newest addition to the products and services we are offering to help continue to get our guests whatever gets them going while providing a safe, clean and reliable experience."
Thorntons Shows Appreciation to Frontline Medical Personnel
On April 12, Easter Sunday, Thorntons began delivering fresh doughnuts to Kentucky hospitals, a practice it intends to carry out indefinitely, according to the retailer.
The doughnuts are made fresh daily at Thorntons' Louisville, Ky.-based commissary, Fresh Serve Bakeries. The drivers who distribute the doughnuts to stores in Louisville, southern Indiana, Lexington, Indianapolis and Cincinnati have added the extra stop to their daily routes.
Hospitals receiving the free doughnuts include Norton Healthcare, University of Louisville Hospital, Clark Memorial Hospital, Baptist Hospital East and Baptist-Floyd Memorial Hospital in southern Indiana.
TravelCenters of America Furloughs 3,000 Employees Due to COVID-19 Pandemic
According to TravelCenters of America Inc., its full-service restaurant business has been impacted as elected officials across the United States have either closed or severely limited non-essential businesses and issued stay-at-home directives — driving down consumer demand.
As a result, TA furloughed approximately 2,900 field employees, as well as approximately 122 corporate employees. All furloughed employees currently enrolled in TA's benefits programs will continue to be eligible for healthcare coverage based on their plan, the company said.
"This decision was very difficult, but these are unprecedented times. We believe this step is necessary to preserve the long-term success of our company and to ensure our essential services remain available for the millions of professional drivers who rely on us daily," said CEO Jon Pertchik.
GSTV Adds COVID-19 Response Messaging to Forecourt Platform
GSTV, the national video network entertaining targeted audiences at scale, is updating its on-air consumer experience in response to COVID-19.
Updates to the network's consumer-first, family-friendly editorial strategy include shifts from content partners to feature relevant, informative and entertaining segments, as well as the launch of 10 new campaigns from ad and non-profit partners. In total, the move will garner more than 290 million media impressions and more than 73 million minutes of donated airtime to promote awareness among viewers.
The initiative marks the largest effort GSTV has launched in response to a national disaster impacting the country.
Wawa Dedicates This Year's Founding Day to Everyday Heroes
Wawa Inc. will celebrate its anniversary by honoring essential workers and everyday heroes.
On April 16 — the date the first Wawa store opened in Delaware County in 1964 and the date marking the launch of The Wawa Foundation six years ago — the convenience retailer is dedicating the day of its founding to these individuals by giving them recognition and resources.
"As an essential business, we remain open to help everyday heroes working hard to mitigate the impact COVID-19 has on our community," said Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens. "We are in awe of their strength and resiliency, and will fulfill our promise of standing by their side."
Louisiana Small Operator Seeks to Partner With Local Businesses to Overcome COVID-19 Challenges
Marathon Gas Station Management is hoping to overcome challenges posed by COVID-19 by partnering with local businesses.
The Gonzales-based convenience store retailer is hoping local businesses such as florists, pet stores and restaurants can sell their products while their stores are temporarily closed. The company’s management service StrasGlobal is implementing this measure as part of their COVID-19 response plan.
"The plan underscores our commitment to protecting the safety of our employees and customers, but also our desire to serve the communities surrounding them," the company said in a statement. "We want to connect with local restaurants and other retailers, as well as producers of fresh foods like farmers, to create partnerships to sell their products in our stores for the benefit of their employees and our customers."
Core-Mark Withdraws 2020 Guidance Amid Sales Volume Declines
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Core-Mark Holding Inc. Co.'s business, leading to several changes, including rightsizing its workforce.
"As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, our primary focus is on the health and safety of our employees, our customers and the communities in which we serve," said Scott E. McPherson, president and CEO. "Given the level of uncertainty surrounding this crisis and its duration, we are withdrawing our 2020 guidance.
Given the rapidly evolving impact of COVID-19 on economic conditions in both the United States and Canada, the company is withdrawing its full-year 2020 financial guidance provided on March 2 and is not providing an updated outlook at this time.
Core-Mark's other actions include:
- Reducing hours for non-exempt employees and headcount;
- Suspending employer contributions to the company's 401(k) plan;
- Revising vacation policies; and
- Eliminated non-essential business expenses, including travel, meetings and events and other discretionary expenditures.
Poll: Three-Quarters of C-store Retailers Say COVID-19 Has Negatively Impacted Their Sales
Three-quarters of U.S. convenience store retailers report that the nation's social distancing and other emergency measures enacted to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have had a negative impact on their sales, according to a recent online poll conducted by Convenience Store News.
Of the more than 150 c-store retailers who took part in the poll, only 8 percent said their sales levels haven’t changed significantly since the outbreak. The other 16 percent report an uptick in sales, likely due to panic buying by consumers.
U.S. Restaurant Transactions Decline by More Than 40% for Second Consecutive Week
The U.S. restaurant industry could be on the brink of bottoming out, new findings from NPD Group show.
The apparent "bottom" is likely due to the full effect of on-premise dining closures throughout the country and the industry's collective ability to convert to off-premise modes, like carry-out, delivery and drive-thru, according to NPD.
U.S. restaurant customer transactions declined by 41 percent in the week ending April 5 vs. a year ago, following a 42-percent decline in the prior week ending March 29.
AAA Reports 'Fast & Furious' Gasoline Demand Destruction
With more directives from the government to stay home, U.S. gas demand is experiencing "fast and furious destruction," according to a new report from AAA.
The national gas price average has steadily declined for seven weeks, pushing the average cheaper by 61 cents to $1.86 today. This rate is 6 cents less than last week, 44 cents cheaper than a month ago and nearly $1 less than a year ago.
"We are seeing fast and furious gasoline demand destruction. The latest data reveals demand levels not seen since spring of 1968," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "Every U.S. region is seeing builds in gasoline inventories and crude storage, which is just driving pump prices even cheaper."
Wawa Announces New Hours at N.J. Stores for High-Risk Groups
In a bid to boost social distancing, Wawa Inc. set aside 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at its New Jersey c-stores to accommodate those high-risk individuals. The move supports New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's recommendations to increase social distancing in the state.
According to the retailer, moving forward, all New Jersey Wawa stores will have:
- Door signage with details on mask requirements and new hours for high-risk groups; and
- In-store audio messaging sharing announcements on mask requirements and new hours for high-risk groups.
New Research Finds Six in 10 Consumers Have Decreased C-store Spending Since COVID-19 Outbreak
The convenience channel remains open for business during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, news research found basket rings are smaller than usual.
According to TrendSource, since the novel coronavirus began to spread across the United States, 64.4 percent of consumers have reported a decrease in spending in convenience stores.
On the bright side, a little more than half (51.7 percent) reported they expect their c-store spending to return to normal once the spread of COVID-19 begins to decrease, and 45.2 percent expect normal spending levels to return once the virus is eradicated.
Industry Coalition Calls for Federal Help to Keep Food Options Open for Trucking Community
A coalition has formed to urge the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to help keep off-highway food establishments open for truck drivers.
The coalition of groups represents cities and communities across the United States, off-highway foodservice businesses including truck stops and travel centers, and blind merchants that manage vending machines at interstate rest areas.
According to the groups, off-highway restaurants and foodservice operations are struggling to remain open as their sales fall 50 percent or more. If they close, professional drivers will struggle to conveniently access food options as they deliver essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Army & Air Force Exchange Opens in NYC to Support Military & Medical Personnel During COVID-19 Crisis
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) set up shop in New York as the city remains the top hot spot for COVID-19 in the United States.
The mobile field exchange (MFE) is located outside the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is serving as the Army's field hospital on Manhattan's west side. This marks the first time an MFE has been in New York since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Dallas-based AAFES opened the mobile exchange to serve the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command Soldiers, National Guard members and civilian medical personnel who are working the front lines against the novel coronavirus.
NACS Joins Fellow Industry Associations in Calling for Greater Flexibility Around SNAP Program
NACS joined with four other associations to pen a letter to Congress asking that convenience stores be granted hot food waivers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic. SNAP households cannot currently use their benefits for hot foods.
The letter requested "additional flexibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to better allow us to serve our customers in need."
In addition to NACS, signatories of the letter include the National Restaurant Association; the National Retail Federation; NATSO; and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
Casey's Introduces Contactless Purchasing Options
In the midst of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Casey's General Stores is taking steps to reduce contact to keep its customers and their families, and its team members safer.
The Midwest convenience store retailer is introducing a few ways to make it faster and safer to get Casey's products, including contactless delivery, pay ahead and carryout, and low-contact checkout.
Kum & Go Pilots Two New Programs to Give Customers More Fueling & Buying Options
As part of a broader effort to give consumers more purchasing and fueling options during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kum & Go LC is launching both full-service fuel and curbside pickup initiatives at select locations in the greater Des Moines region.
For full-service fueling, customers must call the main store number upon arrival at the pump, then hand their payment card or cash to the store associate who will run the transaction and perform the fueling process. Employees will wear a new pair of gloves for each transaction.
For curbside pickup, customers can call the main store phone number to place their order, which will be delivered to their vehicle upon arrival.
Sheetz Introduces 'SHcan & Go!' in Support of Social Distancing
Sheetz Inc. is launching a new payment option, SHcan & Go!, across its network.
By allowing customers to scan and pay for convenience store items through the Sheetz app, the retailer is minimizing interaction during the checkout process and supporting social distancing recommendations.
"This new feature continues to deliver on our mission to be the ultimate in convenience, allowing customers to scan and pay for items they need easily and quickly," said Travis Sheetz, president and chief operating officer of Sheetz. "Innovation has always been a key driver at Sheetz and we will continue to look for new, innovative ways to serve our customers and provide essential needs in these uncertain times."
Gas Demand Plummets Across the U.S.
Gas demand continues to plummet across the United States as Americans are urged to stay home at least until the beginning of May.
On the week, pump prices continued to push less expensive with gasoline demand registering at its lowest point since 1993. The national gas price average of $1.92 is nine cents cheaper than a week ago, 48 cents less than a month ago and 81 cents less expensive than a year ago.
"This week, market analysts are watching crude oil prices, which started to increase at the end of last week," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "However, given the low demand readings, increases in crude aren’t likely to have an impact on gas prices in the near-term."
How C-stores Are Coping With the Daily Challenges of COVID-19
The whole world is coping with uncertainty and change as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The U.S. convenience store industry is not exempt, forcing retailers to adapt rapidly to the new reality.
Among the steps retailers have taken to date are: intensifying their cleaning routines; enforcing social distancing through the use of drive-thrus, contactless payment and curbside pickup; and rewarding and protecting frontline employees to the best of their ability.
To help c-stores face this ongoing crisis, Convenience Store News brought together several industry leaders for an April 3 webinar entitled "Coping with COVID-19: The Convenience Store Industry in Action." Panelists included leaders from RaceTrac Petroleum, Yesway and StrasGlobal.
My Love Rewards Members Maintain Loyalty Status Through May
Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores is granting professional drivers their current My Love Rewards loyalty point status regardless of their purchases through the month of May. Members can still upgrade their status during this time but won't be downgraded for any reason, the travel center operator said.
"We know that professional drivers have a lot to worry about during this time," said Dave Frankenfield, vice president of marketing for Love's. "We want to ensure all My Love Rewards members will at least maintain their loyalty status through May and will have access to the amenities and services they depend on so that Americans can continue to depend on them."
My Love Rewards members have access to free drinks, free showers and points they can spend on meals and other essential items.
Oklahoma City-based Love's operates more than 510 locations in 41 states.
GPM Investments Installs Plastic Shields Across its C-store Network
GPM Investments LLC is taking extra precautions at its convenience stores as the novel coronavirus continues to grip the United States.
The Richmond, Va.-based company installed plastic shields in its c-stores to safeguard the associates and customers from coughs, sneezes and other potential sources of exposure to COVID-19.
"As a company, we are dedicated to prioritizing the health and safety of everyone who enters our stores," CEO Arie Kotler said. "I personally want to thank our front-line associates for their efforts during this challenging time. I am grateful for everything they do. They are heroes."
In addition to the plastic shields, GMP's previous actions against the spread of COVID-19 include:
- Regular cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces
- Emphasis on routine washing and sanitizing hands
- Providing disposable gloves for store employees to wear
- Practicing social distancing inside the store
- Closure of dine in areas in foodservice stores
- Suspension of refillable cups and mugs
- Allowing contact-free merchandise deliveries whenever possible
GPM Investments operates or supplies fuel to more than 1,400 stores in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Its brands include: 1 Stop, Admiral, Apple Market, Bread & Butter Shop, Bread Box, Cash's, Crenco, E-Z Mart, Fas Mart, Jetz, Jiffi Stop, Jiffy Stop, Lil' Cricket, Next Door Store, Roadrunner, RStore, Scotchman, Shore Stop, Town Star, Village Pantry and Young's.
Casey's Withdraws Financial Guidance Due to COVID-19 Pandemic Impact
As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into another month, Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores Inc. provided a business update on how the crisis is impacting its operations and supply chain.
According to President and CEO Darren Rebelez, all of the chain's convenience stores remain open; however, Casey's is withdrawing its financial guidance for its fiscal year 2020 as consumer behavior shifts.
"Casey's started the fourth fiscal quarter with strong momentum, with many of our strategic initiatives maturing and accelerating business performance. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decline in store traffic and consumer demand across our business, and we believe it is prudent to withdraw our financial guidance for fiscal 2020," Rebelez explained.
Convenience Channel Partners Rise to Meet Challenges of COVID-19 Crisis
Several convenience store industry suppliers are rolling out new platforms to help their retailer partners operate efficiently as COVID-19 continues to grip the country.
DRB Systems, Liquid Barcodes, PDI together with Vroom Delivery, and Steritech are among the companies launching new initiatives.
GoPuff Expands as Demand for Essential Items Increases During Virus Outbreak
As the demand for essential items increase during the COVID-19 outbreak, digital convenience retailer goPuff is expanding its services.
In addition to its current delivery portfolio of 170-plus locations, the Philadelphia-based operator is piloting new market launches and expanded delivery zones in six locations: Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Pensacola, Fla.; Manchester, N.H.; and Houston.
The move comes less than two weeks after goPuff launched the Health Care Support Initiative, a commitment of $1 million in orders to hospital employees working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. The commitment is in the form of digital credits for use on delivery of goPuff's wide range of essentials, including cleaning supplies, home needs, over-the-counter medications, food and drinks.
C-store Chains Launch Free Meal Programs for Local Families in Need
Multiple convenience store operators are lending a helping hand to those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As consumers face job losses, furloughs and reduced hours, retailers are kicking off programs to give away free meals to children and families during the crisis.
Care packages, free lunches and meal bags are available at Daily's, Little General Stores, Mirabito and Sheetz locations.
Pilot Co. Debuts Push4Points Program to Reward Professional Truck Drivers
From April 1 through June 30, professional drivers can activate Push4Points in the Pilot Flying J mobile app to earn up to four points per gallon on every diesel fueling transaction.
"As our country continues to navigate this difficult time, the resolve and dedication of the trucking industry and professional drivers continues to amaze all of us," said Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Co. "Our team has been working hard on our new Push4Points program and now, more than ever, we want to help drivers save money while they are away from their families and working overtime to supply our country. Thank you, drivers, for all you're doing to help keep our country moving.
Push4Points enables professional drivers to earn more points faster and reach maximum earnings after just six fills.
More Than Half of Convenience Retailers See Their Grocery Sales Rise Amid COVID-19 Crisis
As customers increasingly turn to their local convenience store for essential items amid the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers are seeing an increase in sales.
More than half of c-store retailers (52 percent) reported that their grocery sales increased, according to a national survey of U.S. convenience store owners conducted by NACS, the trade association that represents the convenience and fuel retailing industry.
C-stores are known for traditionally selling immediate consumption items — 83 percent of all products sold at a store are consumed within an hour — but they have pivoted to providing items that can be brought home. Fifty-two percent of operators said they are adding more cleaning/toiletry items, 31 percent are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals and 28 percent are showcasing multi-pack/bulk items.
International Dairy Deli Bakery Association Cancels Annual Trade Show
The International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) will not hold its 2020 trade show, previously scheduled for May 31-June 2 in Indianapolis, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although IDDBA leadership previously hoped to put on the annual event, conversations with show exhibitors, attendees, and government and industry leaders made it clear that cancellation was in the best interest of attendees' health and safety.
"Our hearts go out to all those with family and friends battling this virus," said IDDBA President and CEO Mike Eardley. "Global impacts and hardships that our members, community and industry continue to face while carrying the daunting responsibility to keep food on our tables during these difficult times, has been unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime of being in this business."
Planning for the 2021 IDDBA Show, to be held June 6-9 in Houston, is already underway.
N.J. Fuel Retailers Association Calls on Governor to Temporarily Allow Self-Service
To help slow the spread of COVID-19, the state of New Jersey should temporarily suspend its prohibition on self-service gasoline, according to the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association (NJGCA).
A survey of NJGCA members found that their primary concerns include:
- Employees that work as gas attendants do not feel safe having contact with customers who may be infected with coronavirus, as it is impossible to maintain a six-foot distance while interacting with drivers during the fueling process.
- Many drivers have the same concerns as gas attendants and do not want to break the six-foot social distancing guideline.
- It is becoming more difficult to staff gas stations as the virus continues to spread.
Pump N Pantry Closing Some Stores, Making Others Fuel-Only to Stop Coronavirus Spread
Pump N Pantry is doing its part to slow and ultimately stop the spread of Coronavirus by closing some stores and making other fuel-only:
- As of March 26, all nine convenience stores across the state closed at 7 p.m. One location on the Tunkhannock Hunter Highway reopened Friday, March 27 with limited hours of 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for gasoline and diesel self-service only.
- The Pump N Pantry in Montrose will remain open 24 hours for gas and diesel service. The store’s drive-thru window for all items, including food, will also remain open all day.
- The Tunkhannock Mile Hill, Lenox, Lake Winola, Mansfield, Tioga and Leroy stores will remain closed to all business, including gasoline and diesel.
Couche-Tard Announces Emergency Measures Against COVID-19 Pandemic
Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., with its subsidiary Circle K, is enhancing its response to the spread of COVID-19 by enacting emergency measures to support both customers and employees.
This includes significant in-store safety measures, additional financial and healthcare measures for hourly store employees on the frontlines, and free beverages for first responders, health care workers and store employees.
Convenience Channel Helps Fuel First Responders & Medical Personnel
Convenience store retailers across the country continue to take steps to support their communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Multiple companies have announced policies of free beverages for first responders and other essential workers, as well as enhanced safety procedures for stores.
GPM, Love's, RaceTrac and Wawa all recently announced complimentary beverages for customers in uniform or with relevant ID.
C-store Chains Close Stores After Workers Test Positive for COVID-19
Convenience stores remain open, taking enhanced steps to offer safe environments for their customers. However, retailers have made the decision to shutter locations for deep cleaning after employees contracted the novel coronavirus.
According to news reports, Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc. and Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.'s Circle K temporarily closed locations within the past few days.
"Wawa will always remain transparent, especially in times of uncertainty, and we continue to take immediate action to protect our customers and associates. It is our policy and public health guidance to close stores for professional deep cleaning and disinfecting after being notified of an associate with a confirmed case of COVID-19," the company said in a statement on March 28. "We are notifying our customers of temporary closures in stores for precautionary cleaning and sanitizing. We will continue to provide more information as we have it, including when the store will reopen."
Altria Joins NATO in Asking FDA to Extend PMTA Deadline
With approximately six weeks to go until premarket tobacco applications (PMTA) for deeming products are due, there is a push for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to move the date back.
On March 25, Richmond-based Altria Group Inc. sent a letter to the agency asking that the May 12 PMTA deadline be pushed back eight weeks as the country continues to the deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bloomberg Law.
The National Association of Tobacco Outlets also sent a similar letter to the FDA.
A spokesman for the FDA said the agency received numerous inquiries from the industry expressing concern about the impact of COVID-19 on the May 12 deadline and is having internal discussion on how to address the issue.
7-Eleven Implements Social Distancing Measures
To slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), 7-Eleven Inc. is implementing social distancing measures in its franchised and corporate stores.
The convenience retailer will begin installing plexiglass sneeze guards for the front sales counter in its 9,000-plus U.S. locations. Installations will begin at stores in areas hit the hardest by the pandemic and expand to include all other locations over the next two weeks.
In addition to the new checkout barriers, 7-Eleven has taken preventative steps against COVID-19 by:
- Enhancing its standards and procedures for hygiene, handwashing, sanitation, food handling and preparations in stores, and increased the frequency of cleaning high-touch surfaces.
- Securing necessary cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, masks and gloves for franchisees, their employees, and corporate associates.
- Installing high-quality floor decals that instruct customers to practice social distancing in stores.
- Waiving the delivery fee for all 7NOW orders made now through April 30. Customers also have the option of contactless delivery, whereby the driver will leave the order at the door.
Thorntons Thanks Its Local Communities With Limited-Time Fuel Discount
From now through March 31, Thorntons LLC is offering a fuel discount of 10 cents per gallon across its network. All customers are eligible for the savings at any location.
The retailer is also inviting all first responders and health care workers to stop into any Thorntons convenience store through March 31 for a free small coffee, cappuccino or fountain drink as a thank you for serving Thorntons' communities during this challenging time as they cope with COVID-19.
More C-store Industry Retailers Give Raises & Bonuses to Employees Amid COVID-19 Crisis
As many workers across the United States are staying home, convenience retail employees continue to keep convenience stores going. In turn, many c-store chains are recognizing their efforts with increased wages, bonuses and other perks.
Casey's General Stores Inc., Enmarket, Pilot Co., RaceTrac and Sheetz Inc. are the latest retailers to make moves to help their team members get through the COVID-19 crisis.
RaceTrac Petroleum Installs 'Night Pay Box' Pass-Through Window
Atlanta-based RaceTrac is equipping locations with a "Night Pay Box" pass-through window. Intended initially to be used during late-night shifts, the window allows customers to purchase in-store items without entering the convenience store.
The Night Pay Box is also available at all hours for those guests who do not wish to enter the store, but still may want an item from inside. Guests can simply approach the window and ask the RaceTrac team member to select their items for them and pay, with limited contact.
Another option is to call ahead to place an order to be paid for and picked up at the Night Pay Box.
A list of location addresses and phone numbers is available here.
7-Eleven Waives Delivery Fees Through April 30
As retailers and consumers alike navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, 7-Eleven Inc. is waving delivery fees for all orders made through its 7NOW delivery app.
Now through April 30, customers can activate free delivery by applying the promotion code "FREE4U" upon checkout. They will also have the option for contactless delivery, whereby the driver will leave the order at the door.
"7‑Eleven is a neighborhood store known for convenience, and we believe it's our responsibility to help shoppers get what they need, where and when they need it, especially during this unprecedented pandemic," said 7‑Eleven President and CEO Joseph DePinto. "As citizens do the right thing by social distancing, quarantining, or sheltering in place, we want to make it easy for them to access essential food and household items."
National Confectioners Association Cancels 2020 Sweets & Snacks Expo
The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has canceled the 2020 Sweets & Snacks Expo, scheduled to take place May 18-21 in Chicago.
"We are extremely disappointed not to be able to offer the experience, inspiration, insights and connections so many in our community have come to rely on in association with the event, but the health and welfare of our community is our top priority," NCA President and CEO John Downs wrote in a letter to registrants. "As restrictions and recommendations on mass gatherings continue to build in cities and states across the country, including those issued in the state of Illinois and in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it became clear that cancellation of the show was the only path forward to protect the well-being of our community."
The NCA has a schedule of distance learning events planned for June, July and August as part of its Sweet Insights Unwrapped series.
"Please know how much we appreciate being part of this community. The cancellation of the Sweets & Snacks Expo is disappointing, but our enthusiasm for the confectionery and snack industries is stronger than ever thanks to the outpouring of support and encouragement we have had this month from exhibitors and retail customers alike," Downs said.
An event cancellation FAQ is available here.
Giant Eagle's GetGo Stores Adding Plexiglass Dividers at Checkout
As social distancing continues to be a vital element in slowing the spread of COVID-19, Giant Eagle Inc. is modifying the checkout areas in its GetGo, Giant Eagle and Market District convenience store, supermarket and pharmacy locations by installing pieces of plexiglass to each register and customer service counter.
The retailer also has temporarily paused the use of reusable bags and installed floor indicators and signage at checkout lanes, visually indicating appropriate social distance between guests.
"These are just a few examples of the steps we are taking to safeguard the health and wellbeing of both our team members and guests," said Dan Donovan, Giant Eagle spokesperson. "We are not wavering in our commitment to providing an unparalleled guest service or a future free of single-use plastics, but rather are asking our guests to take this opportunity to help us promote the safest shopping experience possible."
QuikTrip Offers Parking Lot Pickup Service as COVID-19 Spreads
As consumers continue to practice social distancing, QuikTrip Corp. launched On-Lot Pickup at 25 stores in the Tulsa, Okla., area.
The Tulsa-based convenience store chain is letting customers skip the line and will deliver items to the vehicles. Customers must place their orders through the QT mobile app, as KTUL.com reported.
"Six months ago, we began designing this new convenience to make the customer experience as pleasant and efficient as possible," said QuikTrip Digital Marketing Manager Mattie Garrison. "Our customers all have varying preferences and goals for their visits to QT, and we hope this option will accommodate many who aren’t able to come inside for a visit."
Participating locations are listed in the QT mobile app.
Exclusive Research Shows Coronavirus Pandemic Is Driving Grocery Shoppers to Convenience Stores
Among the many change-of-life impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, convenience stores are seeing an increase in shoppers who typically would go to supermarkets for their grocery needs.
Fifteen percent of shoppers said they are more likely to shop at convenience stores for groceries due to the pandemic, according to a new study conducted by Convenience Store News’ parent company, EnsembleIQ. Fielded March 13-15, the survey was conducted among 1,001 primary household grocery shoppers in the United States.
Poll: How Is COVID-19 Impacting Your Business?
Gas Prices in 29 States Drop Below $2 a Gallon
Atypical gas prices during the COVID-19 crisis prompted the national average gas price to drop to $2.12 per gallon as of March 23. On average, this puts pump prices at 50 cents less than they were one year ago, reported AAA.
In the past week, crude oil prices fell to $22 per barrel, the lowest price since 2002.
U.S. Restaurant Customer Transactions Decline Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreading throughout the country, more people working from home and social distancing guidance in place, U.S. restaurant customer transactions declined by 8 percent in the week ending March 15 vs. a year ago, according to a new report from The NPD Group.
In the prior week ending March 8, the quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain "breakfast wars" helped to drive a 4-percent increase in total U.S. restaurant customer transactions compared to same period a year ago, according to NPD's CREST Performance Alerts, which provides a rapid weekly view of chain-specific transactions and share trends for 70 quick-service, fast-casual, midscale and casual dining chains.
QSR chain customer transactions, which represent the bulk of U.S. restaurant transactions, declined by 7 percent in the week ending March 15. The full-service segments of casual dining and midscale/family dining saw transaction declines of 22 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
"The U.S. restaurant industry situation remains very fluid and the most recent week read of customer transactions reflects performance before mandated on-premise restaurant closures were implemented in multiple states," said David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. "Some of the areas I'll be watching closely in the coming weeks are delivery capacity, the pizza category, and third-party delivery platforms like DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats."
Terrible Herbst Adds Water Stations Across Nevada's Clark County
Several Terrible Herbst convenience stores have added water stations across Clark County, Nevada, amid decreasing supply of bottled water.
According to a company Facebook post, customers can bring any refillable 1-, 3- or 5-gallon container to a participating location to fill up at a hylyte alkaline WaterStation for 40 cents, $1.20 and $2, respectively. A station locator is available here.
Terrible Herbst operates more than 160 convenience stores.
Convenience Store Chains Support Workers With Raises, Bonuses & Paid Time Off
As the convenience channel navigates the tumultuous waters of COVID-19, retailers are supporting the efforts of their employees with raises, bonuses and paid time off. Among the operators making such moves are 7-Eleven Inc., Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Wawa Inc. and Yesway.
7-Eleven and Yesway enhanced their employee emergency sick leave and paid time off policies, respectively, while Love’s and Wawa increased their hourly wages.
C-store Retailers Hiring Thousands to Serve Customers During COVID-19 Crisis
Many businesses across the United States have hit the pause button as the country deals with the rise of COVID-19 cases. However, convenience stores remain open for business and are looking to add to their employee count as the channel navigates its new normal.
Among those c-store retail chains hiring more employees are GPM Investments LLC, Kwik Trip Inc., Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, 7-Eleven Inc. and Thorntons LLC.
TA and Petro Stopping Centers Remain Open, Committed to Serving Drivers
TravelCenters of America Inc. (TA) will keep its travel centers open as sites for essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Managing Director and CEO Jonathan M. Pertchik announced.
"At TA, we are working hard to keep our travel centers open for business to support the critical work of professional drivers as they transport vital goods around the U.S., and all of our customers who need our goods and who utilize our services," he said. "It is important to note that our business is an exception to some of the general stay-in-residence and retail/restaurant closing requirements. Federal, state and local governments are so far allowing our travel centers to remain open as ‘Essential Services’ to support commerce, the local backfilling of shelves with essentials, and ensuring that goods reach those in need throughout the U.S."
Pertchik noted that although it is too early to quantify the business and financial impact the crisis will have on the company, TA has seen elevated year-over-year diesel fuel sales volumes in March, "indicating to us that the U.S. supply chain remains intact and functioning under these unprecedented circumstances. We value our customers, employees and investors, and are confident we have the right team in place to navigate TA through these challenging times.”
A list of, and updates to, TA's available services and amenities can be found here.
NACS Details 2020 State of the Industry Summit Virtual Experience
This year's NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Summit has been recast as a virtual, on-demand experience that will be available for viewing beginning April 14. The 2020 NACS SOI Virtual Experience will include nearly a dozen sessions analyzing industry performance, trends and economic forces in a new era of "anytime, anyplace convenience," according to the association.
The virtual offering will also feature a special session looking at how coronavirus (COVID-19) is shaping consumer demands for convenience, in addition to informative sessions that will explore how to take the headwinds of retail disruption, technology and changing consumer need-states and turn them into tailwinds to accelerate innovation and win customer trips.
"In this virtual experience format, we realize one of the most powerful benefits of the live State of the Industry Summit — networking with industry friends and peers — cannot be replicated. We’re excited to bring new virtual collaboration, interactive questions and discussions to the 2020 SOI Summit Virtual Experience. Each session will be accompanied by interactive discussion boards, an 'ask the presenter' question-and-answer forum, and opportunities to engage with other attendees on your thoughts and ideas for each presentation," said NACS Vice President of Research Lori Stillman.
Complete topic details and speaker bios, along with registration details, can be found here.
Conexxus Cancels 2020 Annual Conference
Conexxus has decided not to hold its 2020 Annual Conference, scheduled to take place April 26-30 at Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz.
"The health, safety and well-being of our members, conference participants and staff is of paramount importance. We believe it is in the best interest of everyone to cancel the conference and do our part to help our attendees remain healthy," the organization said, adding that the decision to cancel its flagship event "was not taken lightly."
This will be the first time Conexxus has not held an annual conference or meeting live since it began 17 years ago.
"The annual conference is eagerly awaited by industry participants as the only technology conference dedicated to the convenience and fuel retailing sector, focusing on new technologies and technology standards to improve business processes, reduce costs, and increase profitability," Conexxus said. "It has always been an excellent opportunity to meet with industry experts, hear about industry trends and cutting-edge new technologies and how they affect our businesses."
For more information and to view an initial FAQ document, click here.
Altria CEO Willard Temporarily Steps Aside After Contracting COVID-19
Altria Group Inc. Chairman and CEO Howard Willard is taking a temporary leave of absence after contracting COVID-19. In connection with his leave of absence, the company's board of directors tapped Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer Billy Gifford to take over Willard's authority and responsibilities until the chief executive returns.
Altria is also temporarily hitting the pause button on operations at its Philip Morris USA (PM USA) Manufacturing Center in Richmond, Va. The company made the move "out of an abundance of caution" after a second PM USA employee tested positive for COVID-19.
The company expects work at the manufacturing center to take a two-week break, though PM USA will continue to monitor the evolving situation.
Separately, some John Middleton Co. domestic operations will also be suspended for two weeks due to COVID-19 related supply chain constraints.
Homeland Security Recognizes C-stores as Essential Businesses
The Department of Homeland Security released updated COVID-19 guidance identifying the essential critical infrastructure workforce during the ongoing national emergency. Among them: convenience stores.
Earlier this week, NACS sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security urging the agency to designate c-stores and their suppliers and distributors as critical businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its updated guidance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recognizes the following key businesses as essential:
- Retail fuel centers, such as gas stations and truck stops, and the distribution systems that support them;
- Retailers that sell food and beverage products;
- Restaurant carry-out and quick-serve food operations;
- Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees; and
- Employees and firms supporting food, feed and beverage distribution, including warehouse workers, vendor-managed inventory controllers and blockchain managers.
For the complete list of essential businesses, click here.
Service Plazas Along Pennsylvania Turnpike Reopen
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reopened all 17 of its service plazas starting Friday, March 20. Beginning at 7 a.m., restrooms inside all service plazas will be open 24 hours a day. The outdoor portable toilets will remain in place at the service plazas for approximately one week.
There will be a few changes. According to the commission, limited food options will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for takeout only on March 20. Thereafter, food will be available starting at 7 a.m. for all service plazas except the North Midway and Valley Forge locations, which will serve food 24 hours a day.
All service plazas will have limited staffing for the safety of the employees of HMS Host and 7-Eleven Inc., which operate the PA Turnpike service plazas. Fuel and all convenience stores inside the service plazas will continue to remain open 24 hours a day.
NACS Shifts Annual SOI Summit to Virtual Experience
NACS, the association representing the convenience and fuel retailing industry, is moving away from its in-person SOI Summit and focusing its efforts on a virtual offering this year.
"We are committed to keeping you fully informed and are currently exploring solutions that will simultaneously enable us to deliver the benchmarking data, analysis and emerging trends you have come to rely on from NACS, while strictly adhering to the guidance of the health agencies we are aligned with," wrote Lori Buss Stillman, vice president of research at NACS.
"It remains our commitment to deliver you timely, valuable industry content in a manner which does not jeopardize the personal safety of our members and employees," she continued. "We are working quickly alongside our partners to lock in as many details as possible this week with the goal of informing all registered attendees of the status and specifics regarding the new virtual offer."
NACS' SOI Summit is scheduled for April 8-9, and the association is coordinating the best dates and times with the event's speakers. Attendees with prior commitments will have the option to download materials from the event.
Retailers and suppliers with immediate registration questions can contact Amy Ashley-Burke at (703) 518-4239 or [email protected].
Six Key Consumer Behavior Thresholds Emerge Around Coronavirus
Correlating COVID-19 news events, such as public health announcements and government press conferences, lead way to identifying six key consumer behavior threshold levels.
In the eight weeks since China confirmed its first case of COVID-19 and the outbreak began to spread globally, Nielsen recorded record-breaking sales of health-safety products, as well as a ripple effect triggering broader consumer purchase behaviors.
The six threshold levels, based on early indicators across markets (though at different times as the virus outbreak evolves at different rates in different geographies), are:
- Proactive Health-Minded Buying
- Reactive Health Management
- Pantry Preparation
- Quarantined Living Preparation
- Restricted Living
- Living a New Normal
"As patterns begin to emerge in response to news events of this nature, it will be imperative for companies to learn from these scenarios, so they can sustain growth even in times where COVID-19 has uprooted people's lives," said Scott McKenzie, Nielsen Global Intelligence leader. "These patterns will help provide leading and trailing indicators to those trying to understand how people will respond as developments continue to play out at different times in different countries."
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C-stores Cease Self-Serve Food & Beverages Due to Coronavirus
Multiple convenience store retailers are suspending their self-serve food and beverage offerings. Kwik Trip/Kwik Star, Kum & Go and 7-Eleven no longer offer self-service for areas such as the roller grill, bakery case, hot prepared food, coffee bar and beverage fountain.
Certain products are shifting to an employee-served model or being sold prepackaged.
CDA Calls on Trump to Include Convenience Channel Among Critical Businesses
The Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) is urging the Trump Administration to include convenience stores and their wholesale distributor partners on lists of critical businesses in the event of a federal shutdown. The association also provided information to state associations to contact their governors and state emergency management personnel with that same message.
"Convenience stores are critical in this time of need as they provide essential services and products in communities. This includes critical fuel availability for healthcare and medical professionals, first responders, delivery workers and everyone else who needs to travel the roads. Without convenience stores selling fuel, for example, supply chains and deliveries will be disrupted," the CDA stated.
"When disasters or emergencies occur, convenience stores, most of which offer 24-hour operations, remain in operation as long as they can without putting their own employees' safety and wellbeing in harm's way. This means making sure fuel, food and other necessities are available for emergency workers and customers in need," the association added, noting c-stores sell roughly 80 percent of all fuel sold in the United States.
According to the CDA, 93 percent of Americans live within 10 minutes of a convenience store — including 86 percent of those in rural communities.
"People are able to quickly acquire critical items in their own neighborhood, thus limiting their need to travel to other locations or larger stores," the association pointed out.
C-stores provide essential items and services to consumers, including:
- Quick and easy access to cash from nearly one-third of all U.S. ATMs;
- Over-the-counter medicine (more than $2.5 billion in annual sales);
- Milk ($1.4 billion);
- Bottled water (47 percent of all individual bottles — excluding packs);
- Electronic Benefits Transfer: 111,816 c-stores are authorized to redeem SNAP benefits, which comprise 45 percent of all SNAP-eligible stores.
"In countless rural and urban communities designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as 'food deserts,' convenience stores are the community grocery store, drug store and community hub, serving those who would otherwise be left behind," CDA stated. "The small format and quick transaction time means most stores are a manageable size to clean regularly (the average convenience store is 2,951 net square feet) and consumers are in and out of the store in under four minutes on average."
Truckstops & Travel Plazas Remain Open to Serve the Need of Truckers Transporting Goods
In the midst of the uncertainty of COVID-19 coronavirus, truckstops and travel plazas are staying open to serve the needs of truckers transporting goods.
Travel centers and truckstops across the United States continue to provide food, fuel and other essential amenities needed by professional drivers, including showers, said NATSO, the association representing the travel plaza and truckstop industry.
"Truck drivers are depending on truckstops and travel centers as they deliver food and life-saving supplies. Our members are committed to doing their part during the nation's response to this emergency," said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. "As the nation confronts the coronavirus outbreak, the country's travel centers and truckstops are committed to remaining open and serving America's drivers. Fuel retailers are 'essential' businesses that must remain open even if other 'nonessential' businesses are forced to close."
Acosta Offers Additional Services to Brand Partners
Acosta Sales & Marketing is stepping up to help its brand partners weather the international crisis to ensure minimal disruption to business by offering additional services at no charge for as long as the coronavirus continues to be a widespread threat.
With many consumer-packaged goods manufacturers cancelling business travel and large gatherings and meetings out of concern for their employees' safety, the disruption can be costly for manufacturers who cannot travel to perform essential headquarter and selling services, such as selling new products, negotiating promotional programs and conducting category reviews, Acosta stated.
With highly qualified associates aligned to retailer headquarters and stores in all markets across North America, Acosta is prepared to conduct these important services at no cost on manufacturers’ behalf without traveling — even if the services are not part of the company’s existing work with the brand.
In addition to the no-cost offerings above, Acosta is reaching out to its retail partners to offer supplementary incremental support in an effort to contain further outbreaks, such as cleaning and sanitizing hard surfaces, to ensure the health and safety of their employees and shoppers.
QSRs, Coffee Shops Shift to Takeout Service Only
Multiple foodservice and beverage operators across the United States are adjusting their service by limiting patrons to takeout, drive-thru and delivery orders in order to encourage social distancing.
Starbucks, Dunkin' and McDonald's USA are closing dine-in operations and shifting to a to-go model only. Customers can walk in to order food for takeout or place advance orders for pickup via mobile app, as well as use the drive-thru or a delivery service where available.
Pennsylvania to Close State-Owned Wine & Liquor Stores
Approximately 600 state-owned wine and liquor service centers will shut down at 9 p.m. on March 17, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced. Online sales ceased the prior day.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf previously ordered state-owned stores in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties to close due to "confirmed evidence of risk."
Liquor Control Board Chairman Tim Holden stated that fighting the public health crisis must take priority.
Dollar General Dedicates First Hour of Operations to Senior Customers
Dollar General Corp. is putting seniors into focus as it amends its hours of operation. In addition to closing one hour earlier to allow employees to clean and restock store shelves, as well as for their health and wellbeing, the discount retailer is encouraging the first hour of operation to be dedicated solely for the shopping needs of senior customers, who are one of the groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The retailer wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need and want at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods, Dollar General stated. Other customers are encouraged to plan their shopping trips outside of this window of time.
"In keeping with our mission and our ongoing commitment to serve our communities, we are dedicating the first hour of each day to seniors. We appreciate our customers' understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices," said Todd Vasos, Dollar General's CEO. "During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities. We are proud to live our mission and provide customers with everyday low prices on the household essentials that are used and replenished most often."
Normal operating hours by individual store locations are available here.
Kwik Trip Offering Free Delivery to Help Customers Practice Social Distancing
La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. is waiving the delivery fee on any order of more than $8 purchased through its delivery partnership with EatStreet. The change came on March 16 as U.S. consumers began to limit their interactions, with COVID-19 cases continuing to spread.
"These are largely unprecedented times, and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get the items they need without having to take on additional costs," said David Jackson, Kwik Trip's digital marketing and loyalty manager.
Pump Prices Plummet Across the Nation
During this uncertain time of COVID-19, gas prices are declining despite increasing demand and decreasing U.S. stock levels.
For the most recent week, gas price averages in 35 states decreased by double-digits, pushing the national average to $2.25, the cheapest price point of the year.
"The national gas price average is 13 cents cheaper on the week and nearly 20 cents less than the beginning of the month. These are significant decreases in just seven and 16 days," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "AAA expects gas prices to continue trending cheaper, with the high likelihood of the national average hitting $2 per gallon before the end of March."
The top 10 largest weekly decreases nationwide were: Ohio (27 cents), Kentucky (21 cents), Michigan (21 cents), Wisconsin (21 cents), Indiana (19 cents), Illinois (19 cents), Oklahoma (15 cents), Iowa (15 cents), Maine (15 cents) and Minnesota (15 cents).
Amazon Creates 100,000 New Positions, Temporarily Increases Wages
As employees face an uncertain few weeks, with retail stores either closing or cutting back their hours and some restaurants closing their dining rooms and moving to takeout and delivery options only, Amazon is looking to boost its payroll.
The ecommerce retailer is opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions across the United States in its fulfillment centers and delivery network. The company is taking this step "to meet the surge in demand from people relying on Amazon's service during this stressful time, particularly those most vulnerable to being out in public," the company announced on its blog.
"We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis. We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back," the company said.
In addition to the 100,000 new positions, Amazon is increasing its hourly wage by $2 per hour from its current rate of $15 or more, depending on the region, through April in the U.S. The company is taking similar wage increases in the United Kingdom and many European Union countries.
C-stores Remain Committed to Meeting Customer Needs Amid Coronavirus
As lawmakers across the country take steps to flatten the curve of COVID-19, convenience store retailers are assuring they are in this together. 7-Eleven Inc., Sheetz, Crosby's and Stewart's Shops are among the retailers addressing latest concerns.
In messages to its customers and associates, the convenience store chains stressed their enhanced cleaning measures, and precautions they are taking to ensure they can continue to meet customers' needs. For example, Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz established an advisory board of senior leaders and experts in the field of sanitation and food safety, and Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven is temporarily discontinuing the use of personal cups for hot and cold dispensed beverages.
Core-Mark Cancels All Trade Shows & Events Through April 30
Convenience distributor Core-Mark International is cancelling all in-person trade shows scheduled for March 13 through April 30. In lieu of a physical presence, the company will transition to a "virtual show" format, which will enable customers to capitalize on the benefits of the activity without introducing themselves to unnecessary health risks, according to the company.
"While it is unfortunate that we must cancel some activities, we are taking these steps to ensure the health and safety of our customers, vendors and all employees involved," said Scott McPherson, Core-Mark president and CEO. "We will continue to closely monitor this situation across our entire geographic footprint, and will work with the appropriate local, state and federal agencies and other entities as the situation evolves."
For a complete listing of the trade shows affected, click here.
U.S. Restaurant Transactions Rose Last Week
The 24/7 news cycle around the coronavirus didn’t deter Americans from patronizing restaurants last week. U.S. restaurant customer transactions for the week ending March 8 were up 4 percent compared to the same period a year ago, according to market researcher The NPD Group.
Looking at the various segments of the industry, quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains experienced their highest gain in a four-week period, growing transactions by 4 percent in the week ending March 8. However, midscale/family dining chain transactions declined by 3 percent, and casual dining restaurant chains saw transactions drop by 5 percent during the same timeframe.
“In these uncertain times, we are monitoring trends to detect possible disruption in the market but, thus far, the QSR sector has been resilient,” noted David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “In good and bad times, consumers are always looking for convenience and value and they get that at QSR restaurants.”
C-store Retailers Taking Precautions to Protect Customers
Many convenience store retailers are taking exceptional precautions and educating both workers and customers about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has nearly paralyzed the nation.
Among the actions being taken, retailers are stepping up their cleaning, personal hygiene and sanitizing procedures; providing checklists to help store associates follow proper safety procedures to prevent the spread of the virus; and sending physical and digital notices to their customers about efforts to protect their health and well-being.
Gas Prices Decline Driven by Lower Crude Oil Demand
With convenience stores selling roughly 80 percent of the gasoline purchased in the United States, one byproduct of the coronavirus is being reflected in prices at the pump. According to AAA, a recent decrease in crude oil prices has been driven by the growing impact of the virus.
"The market continues to worry that the impact of the virus will lead to a reduction in global economic growth and global travel, with crude demand expected to decrease," AAA said. "Until it appears that the international public health threat from the virus decreases and China's industrial sector recovers from the impact of the virus on production, crude prices are likely to continue facing downward pressure."