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Supplier Superstars

Retailers select six companies as best of the best in six key performance areas

Convenience retailing today takes a village. Retailers cannot successfully serve the evolving needs of their customers without the constant support of the supplier community, whether it's in the demand for new products, the need for powerful marketing and advertising, or gaining access to the latest category research and consumer insights.

To honor those suppliers who excel in key performance areas, the Convenience Store News Supplier Excellence Awards return for their second year. Once again, CSNews conducted a survey among our retailer subscribers and asked them to name those suppliers they believe are the best at what they do in six different achievement categories.

From those responses, the winners of the second annual CSNews Supplier Excellence Awards were chosen based on the number of times a supplier was mentioned; the quality of the supporting reasons given by the retailers; and input from the CSNews Editorial Advisory Board consisting of representatives from 11 prominent convenience store chains.

The 2013 CSNews Supplier Excellence Awards winners are:

  • Marketing & Advertising Excellence: Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.
  • Partnership Relationship With Retailers: The Coca-Cola Co.
  • Effectiveness of In-Store Promotions & Merchandising Displays: The Hershey Co.
  • Best Order Fulfillment of On-Time & Complete Deliveries: PepsiCo Inc.
  • New Product Innovation: Logic Technologies
  • Speed to Market: 5-hour Energy

Three of the companies being honored this year are repeat winners from last year's inaugural awards program. Both Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo are back-to-back winners in the same categories, while Hershey is a repeat winner, but in a different category than last year.

Crowned Again

For the second consecutive year, convenience store retailers crowned Anheuser-Busch as winner of the CSNews Supplier Excellence Award for Marketing & Advertising Excellence. The supplier itself attributes much of its success to its marketing and advertising strategy.

"One of the main drivers of Anheuser-Busch's success over the past 150 years has been its ingenuity and innovation in advertising and marketing. As times changed, Anheuser-Busch always has created new ways to connect beer drinkers with its products," the company says on its website.

In verbatim comments to CSNews' industry-wide survey, retailers credited the beer supplier for backing its "strong brands with strong national advertising," combined with "great individual retailer tie-ins and promotions."

Anheuser-Busch won major kudos for tailoring its marketing and advertising to individual retailer needs. Retailers liked the supplier's "custom in-store point-of-purchase materials and chain-specific promotions," as well as the "strategic planning sessions held among retailers, [the] brewer and distributors." The company also was credited for getting "all the key parties involved" and gaining buy-in for new promotions.

Additionally, retailers cited the brewer's strong support of new product introductions, particularly Bud Light Platinum and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita.

"We are honored to receive this award for the second year in a row," said Tony Gaines, vice president, small format, for Anheuser-Busch. "Our marketing and sales organizations are committed to an integrated plan offering consumers the right product for the right occasion. This includes rolling out innovations to keep our brands fresh, competitive and top of mind among consumers, as well as executing relevant retail programs in the marketplace."

— Don Longo

A True Collaborator

When it comes to the retailer-supplier partnership, The Coca-Cola Co.'s goal is quite straightforward: to become its customers' "most valued supplier."

"We want to be that indispensable business partner that helps them grow not only their beverage business, but the entire store," said Mel Landis, chief retail sales officer for Coca-Cola Refreshments. "A big part of being able to do this is our ability to partner with our retail customers to really understand their business needs and objectives, and then build comprehensive plans to achieve them. Winning this award means we are making progress on that goal."

The beverage giant's journey to improving its partnership relationship with retailers started two years ago with the formation of Coca-Cola Refreshments. In developing this organization, company leaders spent a lot of time with retailers seeking their feedback on what they wanted and expected from best-in-class partners. They then used that feedback to structure the new organization and the capabilities embedded into the various teams. Today, each team is fully resourced to meet the needs of its retail customers, according to Landis.

Coca-Cola also has worked to develop a comprehensive customer value proposition, which starts with a thorough assessment of a retailer's needs and then develops customized solutions to meet those needs. "The goal of this work is to ensure each customer finds us easy to do business with; we delight their shoppers each and every day; and together we drive profitable growth," Landis explained.

This year, Coca-Cola is continuing its focus on building collaborative relationships that drive profitable growth for both the company and its retail partners. After talking with many convenience store retailers at the 2012 NACS Show, Landis said it's clear that two areas are on c-store retailers' minds. The first is transforming the shopping experience to become a destination for food and snacking occasions. The second is how to continue building connections with consumers through digital and mobile technologies.

"So, these will be two areas we will definitely be focusing on in 2013 to help [us] continue to become our customers' most valued supplier," said Landis.

— Linda Lisanti

Top Promos Urge Consumers to Be Impulsive

Success is a term defined in many ways and judged using a wide range of criteria, but the most successful suppliers know that it's vital to be strong in more than one area. The Hershey Co., whose ability to understand convenience store owners and operators earned it the Partnership Relationship With Retailers award last year, impressed retailers once again this year by offering promotions and displays that move product out the door and into customers' hands.

Retailers praised Hershey for offering well-planned shipper displays and counter units that led to sales growth. "Many examples of in-store displays coordinated with our loyalty program," one noted.

Another retailer praised Hershey's timing and the aesthetics of its merchandising efforts. "Dropping in the correct units at the proper time of year has been well received by our stores," this retailer said. "We are not 'just loading them up' in order to make contract dollars. It's been for the benefit of store sales."

Hershey's focus on developing outstanding point-of-sale displays with a comprehensive program benefits both the company and c-store retailers, according to Tom Joyce, Hershey's vice president of global customer and industry affairs.

"Candy is a highly impulsive category. It is critical to execute in-store merchandising of off-shelf displays to maximize sales potential. Combining top-selling brands with exciting consumer promotions sold from an effective merchandising display is key to incremental sales," Joyce explained. "Our marketing and merchandising teams do an excellent job providing our sales force with the tools necessary to be successful at retail. Working with retailers to develop, plan and execute in-store promotions is critical to the growth of the category."

The most surprising part of the convenience store class of trade is the opportunities associated with selling seasonal products, Joyce added. This is something Hershey will continue to focus on this year, along with its NCAA Corporate Partner agreement with college sports.

— Angela Hanson

Taking On-Time Performance to the Max

Every supplier strives to provide the best on-time and complete deliveries. However, one company has consistently stood out from the rest in this category, earning it back-to-back CSNews Supplier Excellence Awards. For the second time in a row, retailers voted PepsiCo Inc. — parent of the Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker and Gatorade brands — the winner for Best Order Fulfillment of On-Time & Complete Deliveries.

C-store operators cited the food and snack giant's superior commitment to service, as well as its attentiveness to providing additional stock during holiday and promotional periods.

"We're honored to be selected for the second year in a row," said John S. Phillips, PepsiCo's senior vice president of Customer Supply Chain & Logistics. "Being laser-focused on day-to-day execution is an extremely high priority across both our beverage and DSD [direct-store delivery] operations."

Phillips noted that 11 of the top 15 products sold in-store at convenience stores in 2011 were PepsiCo items, and keeping those products in stock is a top priority for the Purchase, N.Y.-based company.

"In just the past year, for example, we continued to invest in new technologies to meet the needs of c-store retailers," he said. "All of our front-line managers in both the snacks and beverage side of the company are now enabled with Apple iPad devices that provide them with a lot more real-time communication regarding planograms, promotional activity and, most important to this award, scheduling."

In addition, PepsiCo now has a sophisticated process where it tracks register movement. "We integrate that into how we create the order, calculate the inventory and it ultimately leads to reduced store out-of-stocks," the senior VP relayed.

According to Phillips, PepsiCo plans to go for a CSNews Supplier Excellence Awards "three-peat." "The c-store channel is super important to us, and we are up for the challenge," he concluded.

— Brian Berk

Smoking the Competition

Standing by tried-and-true products is a great way to maintain your business. However, innovation is the key driver of growth. Logic Technologies, winner of the CSNews Supplier Excellence Award for New Product Innovation, knows this balance well.

Despite heavy competition in the electronic cigarettes arena, Logic remains a strong player. The Livingston, N.J.-based company entered the market with disposable e-cigarettes and has grown its product line to include the rechargeable Logic Power Series and Logic One Pack.

Bringing new products to the market, though, will not help a supplier or retailer unless that item keeps consumers coming back for more. That is something Logic has done well. According to retailers, Logic's lower retail entry point for its Logic One Pack has helped increase consumer purchases. As one retailer noted, the Logic One Pack helped grow its other tobacco products category by nearly 10 percent in 2012.

"We try to put a good product in the store so customers will come back," said Logic Technologies CEO and President Eli Alelov. "We can make the product, but at the end of the day, the customer has to come back to the store to buy it."

Alelov credits Logic's breakthrough technology for growing the company's business more than 600 percent from 2011 to 2012. He also pointed to Logic One Pack's low entry price of $5.99 for its success. "The affordable entry price provides good margins for our retailers," he added.

Logic e-cigarettes can be found in approximately 20,000 stores, including convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven and The Pantry's Kangaroo Express. The company also works with more than 120 distributors across the country.

Over the past year, the e-cigarette company has embarked on a major marketing push, including spots on several New York City-area radio stations, signs on roughly 350 Big Apple taxi cabs and sponsorship of a red carpet event at the recently concluded Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

— Melissa Kress

Energizing Consumers by Going Pink

When Living Essentials LLC decided last year to expand its line of flavored 5-hour Energy shots, the company knew it wanted to support a worthy cause at the same time. What it didn't know was that Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy, created in partnership with the Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade, was about to take off in a big way with consumers. For its ability to get this new product to convenience store shelves in lightning-fast time and meet high consumer demand, Living Essentials earned this year's CSNews Supplier Excellence Award in the Speed to Market category.

According to retailers who nominated Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy, the product is "socially aware" and a "clever line extension." Retailers also said they were invited to meet with the company to develop a rollout strategy and signage, and received the new flavor on the first available date.

"We've always been an innovative and nimble company with strong relationships with our distributors and wholesale partners, and, of course, our loyal customers," Elaine Lutz, spokesperson for 5-hour Energy, told CSNews. "Rolling out Pink Lemonade quickly came naturally to us, but the process was made even faster knowing that the effort also was helping a worthy cause."

The Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy flavor was released in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 5 cents per bottle sold was donated to the Avon Foundation.

At first, Living Essentials was unsure how the new flavor would be received by consumers, so the Michigan-based company committed to a minimum donation of $75,000 and challenged fans to help it grow. A national advertising campaign got the word out across television, radio and Internet, as did the 5-hour Energy NASCAR vehicle driven by Clint Bowyer.

Pink Lemonade proved to be a hit, as two additional production runs were ordered to meet demand. By the end of the campaign, the company was able to donate $387,531.20 to the Avon Foundation.

Living Essentials is currently exploring another campaign to benefit breast cancer research this year and it decided to make Pink Lemonade a permanent addition.

— Samantha Negraval

Marketing & Advertising Excellence: Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

Partnership Relationship With Retailers: The Coca-Cola Co.

Effectiveness of In-Store Promotions & Merchandising Displays: The Hershey Co.

Best Order Fulfillment of On-Time & Complete Deliveries: PepsiCo Inc.

New Product Innovation: Logic Technologies

Speed to Market: 5-hour Energy

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