ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Focusing on offering fresh and healthy options vs. more indulgent items that prompt impulse purchases has long been a topic of discussion in the convenience store industry. Yet success may be found in opting not for an all-or-nothing approach but rather by having options for consumers wherever they are on their health and wellness journey, according to the presenters of the "Bananas and Donuts: Good vs. Fresh vs. Healthy" education session during the NACS Crack the Code Experience.
One in three Americans turn to c-stores for healthy food options, but half of consumers say their favorite c-store could improve its product quality and variety. Additionally, 68 percent of Americans say they would visit their favorite c-store more often if it offered healthy sandwiches and salads, while 63 percent said the same about fruits and vegetables.
"We know there's opportunity to satisfy their needs," said Kay Segal, founding partner of Business Accelerator Team, a consultancy that provides business-development proficiency to the convenience retailing, foodservice, CPG and petroleum marketing industries.
Retailers can promote the healthier options they do have by highlighting their beneficial or nourishing attributes, Segal said. Using more descriptive, taste-focused terms such as crisp, juicy and refreshing for apples is likely to have a stronger effect than simply labeling them as healthy.
Retailers also should keep in mind that the health and wellness journey is aspirational. Knowing where consumers are in the journey now and understanding that they may have aspirations to be more disciplined provides the opportunity to stock different products that appear at different stages of the journey.
Basic healthy products include items that are generally energizing, wholesome and nutritious. Advanced healthy products include medicinal products and superfoods that contribute to good gut health, reduce inflammation, and have clean labels.
Older generations tend to look for items that help with specific ailments, such as heart disease and diabetes, while younger generations seek more holistic eating and drinking for good mental health. Retailers can cater to both by looking for commonalities, such as less processed products that contain less sugar and use beneficial ingredients.
Rather than setting up a specific area for better-for-you products, Segal suggests that retailers stock them throughout the store since healthy products are available in frozen, shelf-stable, refrigerated, fresh and foodservice formats.
Good marketing of these products makes a difference, too. Natural woods, food art and lighting can all signal that fresh and healthy products are available.
"You want to market inside and outside your store with visual cues," Segal said.
Using social media and community interactions to engage with consumers and support lifestyles that align with health is a good practice as well. Creating a survey to get standard information and ask consumers what they want to see is one simple, straightforward method to find inspiration for what to offer and how to offer it.
Erica Haight, nutritional label specialist, food research and development, at Kwik Trip Inc., discussed some ways the La Crosse, Wis.-based convenience store chain has made healthy, fresh items part of its food-focused offering and had successful results.
The company's vertical integration helped, but it still "took a lot of hard work and dedication," Haight said, with plenty of trial and error.
Taking part in food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) can bring in customers who want to purchase healthier items.
Haight suggests that retailers make sure to: keep their fresh fruit displays stocked up, as no one wants to buy the last choice of fruit; use merchandising to remind customers that there is produce throughout the store, whether it's fresh, canned or frozen; and cross-promote fresh products that complement each other.
Continued promotion is important because c-store customers may not be aware that healthier products are available. Kwik Trip promotes its produce and fresh options through a variety of methods, including storefront signage, fuel pump ads, and truck designs.
C-stores can also get creative on social media and with digital display boards.
The NACS Crack the Code Experience was a five-week digital event that brought together convenience store industry retailers and suppliers virtually in lieu of an in-person NACS Show this year. The event concluded Dec. 4.