I was struck by the change in the way many brands are viewing the c-store channel."
Each day, I’m immersed in the dynamic relationships between some of the world’s biggest brands and their convenience store customers. But last week, I was especially fortunate to engage in countless one-on-one conversations with the men and women who sustain and grow those relationships.
After participating in a meeting of the NACS Supplier Board’s membership committee in Miami, I flew to the 7-Eleven Experience in Las Vegas, where 8,500 of the world’s largest c-store operator’s employees, franchisees and vendors came together to move the business forward. On display at the 7-Eleven Experience was the pioneering retailer’s role as a channel powerhouse and impressive technology innovator.
Returning home, I was struck by the change in the way many brands are viewing the c-store channel, which, despite heavy merger and acquisition activity, is still marked by many different business models and go-to-market strategies. Consider this: Just three c-store operators — 7-Eleven, Alimentation Couche-Tard and Marathon Petroleum — account for nearly 15% of the channel’s store count and 35% of the stores operated by the top 100 chains, but more than 60% of c-stores are one-unit operations. Formats range from 800-square-feet kiosks to 5,000-square-foot hyper c-stores. Some operators are large public corporations, others family-run enterprises. Chains like Casey’s General Stores, Wawa and Sheetz are among the top restaurant operators, while others stock their shelves and coolers with nearly all packaged goods.
Not that long ago, most brands considered the c-store channel’s makeup as an expensive barrier to entry and distribution. Now, however, where they once saw obstacles, many see opportunity.
The consumer goods companies unlocking the most growth in the channel are no longer measuring success solely against incremental sales of core brands. They’re embracing and leveraging the dissimilarity of ownership, brand positioning, customer demographics, daypart strength and store formats by creating channel-specific products and programs to test new items.
Their fresh view: “We’re in the store with our core brands, let’s invest in an incremental display or rebate for product trial.” Some recent examples include single-serve roasted chickpea snacks, planted-based dairy products and probiotic beverages.
As brands take another look at the channel’s landscape, the change of view has led to new possibilities.