Supplier Spotlights: Hostess Brands, Mondelēz International & PepsiCo

NATIONAL REPORT — While it's important for convenience store retailers to market themselves, new products, services, promotions and other initiatives by c-store suppliers are a major part of capturing consumer interest. Convenience Store News will regularly highlight such efforts in this roundup.

Here are the latest supplier spotlights:

Hostess Brands

Hostess Brands opened a new, world-class Innovation Lab to support its ongoing commitment to crowd-pleasing product innovation. Located in Lenexa, Kansas, the Hostess Innovation Lab employs approximately 20 researchers, product testers and bakers.

The Hostess Innovation Lab provides an inspirational testing center for Hostess Brands to develop new product prototypes, and then test those prototypes through custom-built sensory booths and a focus group room where consumer advocates are invited to participate in the process.

"The Hostess Innovation Lab enables product innovation to the highest level of consumer delight, ensuring that the most desired products are going to market with the utmost quality and sustainability," said Darryl Riley, senior vice president of quality, food safety and R&D. "The Innovation Lab gives us the testing capabilities, analytics and market research insights we need to support innovation that meets consumer needs and expectations — such as the Hostess Hot Fudge Sundae CupCakes recently conceived and tested for early 2021 production. As the category leader, we take it upon ourselves to make a sustained investment in this consumer-centric area of our business."

KÖE Kombucha

KÖE Kombucha expanded its brand through new distributor relationships and retail placements across the country. So far in 2020, the company doubled its distribution footprint to c-store and grocery chains, including select Speedway stores and 7-Eleven's greater Los Angeles and San Diego locations.

"During a time when all consumers have health on their minds, KÖE falls within the perfect intersection of function, value, craveable flavor, and availability," said Louisa Lawless, chief strategy officer at Stratus Group. "Our expanding retail and ecommerce network allow consumers to find KÖE through whichever channel is most convenient for them. We want to make it easy for people to choose better-for-you products that fit their budgets, health goals, and their desire for drinks that actually taste great."

KÖE is on track to earn placements in 40,000 retail locations by the first quarter of 2021.

Mondelēz International

Sour Patch Kids candy brand celebrated 35 years of fun and flavor by transforming a store at the corner of Bond Street and Broadway in New York City into the first-ever Sour Patch Kids store.

Operated by specialty candy retailer IT'SUGAR, the store features a wide range of colorful, limited-edition merchandise, from mugs and t-shirts to socks and beach totes. Visitors will get a chance to create their own candy mix, pose with the Kids inside a full-size yellow taxi and experience a first-of-its-kind Sour Patch Kids Sweets Bar with treats to-go.

"We're excited for the Kids to bring their playful, sour-then-sweet attitude to the Big Apple and make their mark with the first-ever Sour Patch Kids store," said Danielle Freid, Sour Patch Kids brand manager. "We created this new experience for our fans to engage with the Sour Patch Kids brand on a whole new level, but of course understand that these are uncertain times. With this store as our new permanent home, we want our fans to know that the Kids aren't going anywhere. We welcome visitors to join us for a colorful, flavorful experience whenever they're ready to explore the city again. The Kids will be waiting!"

For the time being, the Sour Patch Kids store has lowered its maximum capacity to allow enough room for social distancing, and all visitors are required to wear face coverings. Additionally, the Sweets Bar will only feature a to-go menu until the city permits indoor dining.

PepsiCo Inc.

Mtn Dew brand is backing the ultimate heroes with the return of the Dew Fuel the Mission program, which supports Team Rubicon, a disaster response nonprofit organization that leverages the skill sets of veterans and first responders to help disaster victims in communities domestically and internationally.

Mtn Dew will be giving funds toward the mission and raising awareness through sales of specially marked Team Rubicon one-liter bottles and multipacks of 12-ounce cans of Mtn Dew, Diet Mtn Dew and Mtn Dew Zero Sugar. Mtn Dew x Team Rubicon limited-time bottles and multipacks will be available widely across retailers throughout the country beginning Aug. 9 through Oct. 30.

"Dew Nation has always honored heroes who serve communities across the country, so we wanted to shine a light on the ultimate doers on the front lines of disaster relief — Team Rubicon," said Nicole Portwood, vice president, marketing, Mtn Dew. "In response to COVID-19, Team Rubicon continued to deliver on its core capabilities of disaster response but also expanded to include on-site medical support, mobile-testing operations, food delivery to at-risk communities, and opportunities for volunteers to help their neighbors through individual acts of service. Going into year two of our partnership, we wanted to go bigger and bolder by rallying hometown heroes to donate and redeem exclusive gear to support and thank Team Rubicon for their heroic efforts amidst the current pandemic."

PepsiCo also announced the winner of its second annual North America Greenhouse program: Spudsy, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based, female-owned company that makes sweet potato puff snacks that are certified non-GMO, vegan, gluten free, and sourced from ingredients in a way that reduces food waste.

The six-month business program awarded 10 emerging food and beverage brands the opportunity to partner with PepsiCo as they looked to scale their businesses. Collectively, the 10 participating companies in this year's North America class were able to overcome challenges and grow their average revenues more than 240 percent over the course of the program.

"We are so proud of all of the finalists in this year's Greenhouse program who persevered during a time that has forced companies big and small to rethink and adjust their business strategies," said Daniel Grubbs, vice president, PepsiCo Ventures Group. "The Spudsy team was able to not only show tremendous growth in a few short months, but importantly was able to continue to build a strong purpose-driven brand. We look forward to seeing what they do with the $100,000 grant."

Schwan's Food Service

Schwan's Food Service and fellow CJ CheilJedang (CJCJ) subsidiary TMI Trading now offer a wide array of 100-plus authentic Asian food menu solutions for foodservice operators in the U.S. Together, CJCJ, Schwan's and TMI are bringing their complementary Asian food heritages, expertise and capabilities to market as a single portfolio to drive Asian category growth for foodservice distributors and operators nationwide, the companies said.

As a part of the announcement, Schwan's Food Service acquired a portion of TMI Trading's foodservice business and is now offering more than 60 products made by TMI Trading. The combined product portfolio provides operators with everything from egg rolls and dumplings to noodles and fried rice to stir fry kits and sauces.

"At Schwan's Food Service, we may be best known for having the most complete pizza portfolio in the foodservice industry, and we have offered some of the best egg rolls on the market for more than three decades," said Schwan's Food Service President Jacob Berning. "Now, as a part of CJ, we are teaming up with TMI to expand our Asian foodservice menu offerings and provide leadership and innovation in the Asian foods category for our customers in the United States."


Technology platform Skupos announced new platform integrations that now reach 79 percent of independent stores and chains with fewer than 200 locations that sell fuel.

The company's recent full integration with point-of-sale (POS) provider NCR is a purposeful effort to continue the expansion of its integration roster that includes other popular POS solutions from Verifone, Gilbarco and Clover, giving convenience stores more choice and flexibility than ever, according to Skupos.

"We believe in creating a fair, competitive marketplace in the convenience store industry," said Happy Wang, chief technology officer at Skupos. "Our newest POS integrations provide a broader base of customers access to our products, allowing them to capture new revenue and increase repeat business with the entire Skupos platform at their fingertips."


NATSO selected branded mobile app and web ordering provider Smooth Commerce to provide truck stop and travel center operators with a customizable platform that allows customers to order ahead for pickup and delivery, pay, earn loyalty and more. NATSO members will receive a significant cost reduction on upfront app design and setup fees.

Smooth Commerce's digital platform will allow truck stops and travel centers to increase customers' transactions and basket size while providing valuable loyalty and engagement tools that increase customer satisfaction and drive sales, according to the company.

"Travel centers have always been extraordinarily responsive to their customers, and the COVID pandemic has changed how their customers want to buy food," said NATSO Vice President of Public Affairs Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman. "In just the last several months, thousands of locations have adopted curbside delivery, take-out dining and online ordering, and we expect many thousands more to follow. Smooth Commerce offers a platform to enable travel centers to make this transition, enhance food choices for America's truck drivers while ensuring they have easy access to information about their food options as they crisscross the nation."

Sonny's Enterprises

Sonny's Enterprises, manufacturer of conveyorized car wash equipment, parts, and supplies, is teaming with private equity firm Genstar Capital as a new investing partner. The new round of funding will allow Sonny's to accelerate product development, manufacturing, marketing and to invest more resources into its existing suite of solutions.

"Our partnership with Genstar will help attract and retain the best talent in the industry, and help us to continue to develop innovative new products that simplify the operations of our customers' car wash business," said Sonny's CEO Paul Fazio. "When I look back over the years, Sonny's has worked with so many entrepreneurs to help them get their start in the car wash business and then grow from one site to multiple locations. My team and I remain committed to being the single source solution for car wash equipment, vacuums, chemicals, software, education and local support."

Sonny's serves both small independents and large national car wash chains. It is a one-stop provider of solutions spanning the entire car wash lifecycle, providing education on car wash operations, site and car wash business consulting services, a comprehensive offering of tunnel equipment, vacuums, lighting and signage, controls, chemistry, local service and support and aftermarket parts.


Stuzo's Open Commerce Transact MPAA product now comes free with a bundled subscription to its Open Commerce product suite.

"After hearing many retailers express frustration with contactless and mobile commerce being cost prohibitive, we analyzed our value chain to explore how we could reduce costs," said Gunter Pfau, founder and CEO, Stuzo. "The first realization came when we understood the high fees that retailers are paying for their Mobile Payment Processing Application, or MPPA, as defined by industry standards body Conexxus, which dictates the specifications and functionality of an MPPA.

"We uncovered that while Convenience and Fuel retailers see an MPPA as an integral component of enabling contactless commerce, it is by definition and purpose a standardized technology that cannot empower the retailer with a competitive advantage or meaningful differentiation," Pfau continued. "The reason for this is that the MPPA is governed by Conexxus specifications and is required to meet standards for interoperability with leading industry POS site systems (such as Verifone, Gilbarco and soon NCR) and other technology suppliers in the ecosystem. This makes the difference between the core capabilities of two MPPAs, regardless of supplier, minimal or non-existent."

Van's Kitchen

Egg roll manufacturer Van's Kitchen teamed with three new brokers to increase their coverage and service in the c-store channel. This expands the company's commitment to the market. KC Krafts will handle the western United States, Total Convenience Marketing will oversee the East, Southeast and South, and CSM Sales will cover the upper Midwest.

"We have had some early success in the channel and are looking to our new broker relationships to move us much farther," said CEO Theresa Motter.

Van's Kitchen egg rolls provide c-store retailers the ability to offer their customers delicious product hot off the roller grill or from the refrigerated case to take home to heat up and eat.