Sustainability & the C-store Consumer

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Sustainability & the C-store Consumer

By Angela Hanson, Convenience Store News - 04/03/2014

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Embracing sustainability doesn't just mean individuals living "green" as part of their everyday lives. It can also mean building customer loyalty and coffee sales, according to today's Convenience Store News webcast, "Coffee Sustainability & C-stores: Building Consumer Loyalty to Maximize Revenue."

The National Coffee Association of USA (NCA) and Mother Parkers Coffee and Tea presented the web event. Diane Ray, vice president of strategic innovation for the National Marketing Institute (NMI), and John Snell, director of global procurement, product development and sustainability for Mother Parkers, served as speakers.

NMI, a consulting, market research and business development company, surveyed more than 3,300 consumers -- including those who purchase coffee at c-stores and those who don't -- to examine their attitudes on sustainability, as well as their buying habits. In general, people view sustainability through the ways it affects the planet, their country, their community, and themselves and their families. Retailers that want to connect with customers are advised to think small, even as they keep the big picture in mind.

"If you address people's planetary concerns, you won't connect with as many as if you bring it home to 'me and my family,'" Ray said.

While c-store coffee purchasers and non-c-store coffee purchasers are similar in terms of their coffee consumption levels, c-store coffee purchasers are also heavy purchasers of all styles of coffee, including whole coffee beans and K-cups. Since approximately two-thirds of consumers aren't currently buying coffee at c-stores, this creates "a huge opportunity," noted Ray.

Many consumers consider attributes such as sustainably grown beans and environmental friendliness to be important when they decide what brands of coffee to buy, yet these consumers don't view c-store coffee as measuring up in this regard, NMI's research found.

By taking part in certain sustainability initiatives, c-store retailers can change this perception and attract the "sustainable mainstream" segment of consumers whose concerns include personal health and wellness, doing their part for the environment and the practical benefits of sustainability.

In particular, consumers want to support initiatives that:

  • Are long-lasting, not temporary;
  • Are transparent regarding how much of their dollar goes to people in need vs. office costs;
  • Show the total impact of the program; and
  • Let them see the faces and know the names of those that are being helped.

C-store coffee purchasers are significantly more interested than non-c-store coffee purchasers in initiatives that offer access to clean drinking water; quality education programs for farmers and their families; the empowerment of women and improved health care programs for women in coffee-growing regions; and access to credit that will ultimately improve farmers' standard of living.

Many consumers also say they are willing to pay 20 percent or up to 25 cents per cup more for sustainable coffee.

Translating Sustainability Into Consumer Speak

At the store level, sustainability can support brand quality (Is it good for me?) and promote brand relevance (Does it fit with my lifestyle?). C-store operators have various tools available to make sustainability initiatives known, such as using certified coffee that is recognizably stamped and taking part in and promoting anti-water waste programs.

The key is to translate sustainability features into "consumer speak." This can mean informing customers that by brewing certified coffee, the store is ensuring it is free of chemicals. Retailers can also reach consumers by using positive messaging, such as informing them how many people are joining them in taking part in a particular sustainability initiative, or noting how every individual purchase of sustainable coffee helps deliver clean water to coffee farmers.

"[Consumers] are a little uncomfortable with the prospect of having to do something for no benefit," said Snell of Mother Parkers.

Multiple communication tactics are available for this messaging. Package labeling is the No. 1 place consumers will hear about sustainability, and they take their cups with them. Retailers can also reinforce their messaging using the forecourt point-of-sale, in-store signage and streaming video online.

Whatever methods c-store operators choose, they must be engaged to stay relevant, according to Snell. The competing quick-service/doughnut channel in particular is buzzing with social and environment management communications, and is only getting more aggressive.

Click here to access the replay of the webcast.