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As Seen at the 2015 NACS Show

On the first day of the 2015 NACS Show, Convenience Store News editors asked retailer attendees what was No. 1 on their hit list at this year’s event.

“The No. 1 thing is innovation. What new things are coming out that we can put into the store as an extra profit center?” replied Selcuk Alemdar of Alcroft Inc., based in Shoreline, Wash.

“We are trying to find a competitive edge, seeing what’s new technology-wise and what we can offer our customers. Similarly, as far as marketing goes, what can we do differently than our competition and excite our customers before our competitors excite them? That’s the whole idea,” remarked Babir Suttan of Fav Trip, headquartered in Independence, Mo.

“We’ve never been to the NACS Show before, so we are taking it all in, seeing what it has to offer in new products,” said Serena Ewer of Western Choice Cooperative in Killdeer, N.D.

These three retailers were among the 24,392 registered attendees — 9,038 of them classified as buyers — who flocked to the Las Vegas Convention Center Oct. 11-14 with their own personal hit lists. Attendance topped the previous record set in 2004.

The CSNews editorial staff also arrived in Vegas in force and at the top of our hit list was scoping out the hottest trends and newest products on the NACS Show expo floor, which was a record-setting 412,600 net square feet with 1,264 exhibiting companies.

Here’s our rundown of the top takeaways in each major product category:


Spicy was the buzzword this year around the foodservice section of the NACS Show expo floor, where exhibiting companies debuted new products boasting chipotle, chorizo, buffalo, jalapeño and pepper jack flavors, among others with a kick.

McCain Foods, which told CSNews it is focusing on snacks and sides, showed off four new spicy items available to the convenience channel: Pepper Jack Tortilla Wedges, Chipotle Cheddar Nuggets, Spicy Corn Nuggets, and Early Risers Fiesta Bold Chorizo Stuffed Hash Browns.

Bold flavors appeal especially to generation Z consumers, and they “don’t know there used to be ‘bad’ food at convenience stores,” said William Neider, director of McCain’s Special Markets Group. He also noted that c-stores have an opportunity to get consumers to transition their afternoon and late-night snacking to more profitable hot foods instead of sweet or salty snacks.

Snacks, sides and bundling are likewise on the mind of Hunt Brothers Pizza, which discussed its 2016 plans with CSNews at the NACS Show. Another part of its strategy for the upcoming year is doing more limited-time offerings (LTOs), building on the existing success of its Buffalo Chicken Pizza (available in the fall) and Bacon Chicken Ranch Pizza (available in the spring).

Summer 2016 will usher in a third LTO pizza for the first time, according to Keith Solsvig, vice president of marketing. And the goal is to eventually do one quarterly. In addition to driving sales increases for Hunt Brothers retailers, LTOs keep the excitement level high.

No matter where a c-store operator is on the food spectrum, quality product and quality execution are paramount for success, Tyson Convenience executives relayed on the NACS Show expo floor. With this in mind, the company debuted several new items that leverage its well-recognized brands: handheld Tyson Chicken Sandwiches in two varieties, Jimmy Dean Bowls for the freezer case, and Hillshire Snacking Small Plates in four varieties.

Tyson also linked up with Anheuser-Busch (A-B) at this year’s event to promote the connection between beer purchases and prepared food purchases. Visitors to the A-B booth were able to see merchandising ideas — some with beer as the main driver and others with prepared food as the main driver. Tyson and A-B execs shared with CSNews that a merchandising unit combining roller grill, condiments and single-serve beer is currently in testing.


Even as growth in the vapor products segment has leveled off recently, there was no shortage of vapor companies that took to the expo floor to feature their products.

Growth has a lot to do with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the industry awaits final regulations from the agency, according to John Wiesenhan Jr., co-founder and CEO of Mistic Electronic Cigarettes. “Retailers are hesitant right now until the FDA makes regulations.”

The vapor industry is also still young, pointed out Todd Millard, co-founder and chief operating officer of Mistic. “The industry is still growing in unmeasured channels — vape shops, online. It is shifting,” he explained.

The Mistic family consists of four brands, including Mistic and Haus. It also has Unbroken, which is a vape shop specific line, and the Craft Collection, which aims to bring the vape shop experience to c-stores, Millard said.

“The Craft Collection is a big step forward toward satisfaction. It is the first product at mass retail that is different than a pen-style vapor product,” Wiesenhan said.

VMR Products is also embracing the type of more advanced products consumers typically find in vape shops now. Over the past several years, VMR has grown its business from online only to more than 50,000 retail stores including traditional gas/convenience, vape shops and tobacco outlets, according to Rafael Llopis, vice president of sales at VMR.

“Retail is limited to the number of SKUs because of space, so we take what we learn from online sales and its customer base to drive our presence at retail,” he said. In testing right now is the extension of its V2 Pro to include the V2 Pro Series 7. The new product launched online earlier this year and then moved to retail, mainly tobacco outlets and vape shops.

Dune Vapor Group LLC is another vapor company bringing a bit of the vape shop experience into c-stores with its Oddfellows brand of e-liquid. “There is no reason why c-stores can’t have quality liquid instead of losing customers to vape shops,” a company executive said.

Alternatives to traditional tobacco products are not limited to electronic cigarettes and the vaping segment either. Smokey Mountain, which offers a tobacco-free, nicotine-free smokeless product, has seen double-digit growth over the past five years, according to President Dave Savoca, who added “we were a tobacco-free product before it was cool.”

This year, the company is moving forward with new packaging, as well as new associations with former Dallas Cowboys standout Randy White, WWE superstar Shawn Michaels and former Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones, host of “Major League Bowhunter.”


Sixty-five percent of purchases come out of the cold vault, making it “the most valuable real estate,” Scott Tillman, group director, commercial operations for The Coca-Cola Co., told CSNews. So, it was no surprise that this year’s NACS Show floor showcased a plethora of new beverage products and flavors, once again proving the prominence of beverages.

Coca-Cola in 2016 plans to introduce new flavors to the market for its Gold Peak, Powerade, Fanta and illy brands. “We’re continuously adding new products to our portfolio to drive category incidence,” the company said.

Another beverage company adding to its portfolio is Talking Rain Beverage Co., maker of Sparking Ice, which announced the addition of a Black Cherry flavor. Chosen by fans via a social-media initiative, Black Cherry deviates from the traditional bright-red cherry color and delivers a bold, dark color that has real fruit flavor with a light, refreshing fizz.

“We’re thrilled to launch our new products and initiatives to convenience store retailers … and we look forward to continuing our growth by increasing our convenience store partnerships,” said Kevin Klock, Talking Rain’s president and CEO.


The dominant trend in candy right now isn’t a single flavor, but rather a flavor style. According to candy suppliers on the NACS Show expo floor, today’s consumers still enjoy their sweets but with a sour twist, and this is prompting the introduction of both new product lines and sour variants of existing brands.

For instance, Wrigley featured several sour variants of its brands, including Skittles and Starburst.

Seasonal is another strong trend for the category. While suppliers acknowledge seasonal candy sales at c-stores are not yet as strong as they could be, sales continue to grow as retailers learn they do not cannibalize regular candy purchases. Candy companies recommend consistency in the placement of seasonal offerings and suggest retailers add boxes of individual seasonal candy pieces near the cash register to increase impulse purchases.

Shareable and take-home candy packaging innovation also continues to grow as consumers increasingly purchase a treat without the intention to eat it all at once.

Some of the new candy products debuting at the show included Mars Chocolate North America’s Snickers Crisper bar, following in the footsteps of its recently returned M&M’S Crispy. The Hershey Co. displayed new varieties of old favorites, such as the Reese’s Snack Mix bag and the oversized Kit Kat Big Kat bar, along with high-quality Allan gummy candy it plans to bring to the United States from Canada’s Allan Candy Co., which it acquired in late 2014.


Bold flavors and better-for-you products were among the top snack trends spotted at the NACS Show, particularly among salty snacks and meat snacks.

Sriracha and other spicy flavors were well represented among new products, such as General Mills’ Simply Chex Xtreme line. Local/regional flavors are also popular, which prompted ConAgra Foods to develop a trio of new Slim Jim varieties featuring the flavors of California tacos, New York buffalo and Philadelphia cheesesteak.

Consumers are also interested in snacks that incorporate more whole grains. Plus, cereal bars and “fresh” snacks are gaining resonance. A General Mills representative noted “fresh” doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning for everyone, but generally if a product can go stale, consumers will consider it fresh. Accordingly, muffins in a resealable package are considered fresh.

With the market for protein snacks strong and expanding, particularly among women, meat snack suppliers are developing more flavors and styles of jerky. For instance, Jack Link’s introduced Lorissa’s Kitchen, its new meat snack brand designed to be natural and simple, with ingredients that could be found in an average person’s kitchen.

Overall, snack suppliers are working to improve shelving for products to draw consumers in a way that doesn’t just mean expanding the snack section to offer more variety. Both ConAgra and Jack Link’s featured racks that simplify shopping for the style and flavor of meat snacks that customers want by visually distinguishing items and flavors at a glance.

In regards to marketing, Mindy Rickert, associate director of shopper marketing for Mondelez International, told CSNews that the snack food supplier is excited about Shopper Futures, a follow-up to its successful Mobile Futures project which paired its brands with select startups and retailers to accelerate mobile marketing innovation.

“We have gone through our immersion process and built out the plan with our partners (Kum & Go, QuickChek and 7-Eleven, among other retailers),” said Rickert. “Our objective is to be in the market by December and start seeing results at the end of the first quarter of 2016.”

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