The Latest Industry News Around COVID-19
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."