Nearly everything sold in convenience stores was on display at the 2014 NACS Show in Las Vegas earlier this month. Hosted by the National Association of Convenience Stores, there were a number of interesting new foods and beverages amidst the electronic cigarettes and energy supplements.
Known for being a place to stop for a quick snack while filling the car up with gas, the convenience store channel is undergoing dramatic changes, including the healthfulness of food and beverage offerings.
According to NACS president and chief executive officer Henry Armour, the c-store industry sells choice ... from indulgent treats to better-for-you products, all within arm’s reach. During a full-house general session, Mr. Armour explained how NACS is addressing the nutritional aspects of the industry by creating new opportunities for retailers to improve their ability to stock fresh products.
“The collaboration we announced earlier this year with United Fresh, the trade association representing the produce supply chain, is an early step in this initiative,” he said. “We want to help you improve your access to fresh products by re-positioning your offer — and getting credit for being a place to get fresh food and healthy options — while obviously remaining the preferred place for your customer to indulge themselves.”
During the exposition’s closing general session, Steve Loehr, vice-president of operations support for Kwik Trip, accepted the gavel as the 2014-15 NACS chairman of the board.
“We can truly make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
For Kwik Trip, making a difference means focusing on three areas: food, fuels and people. And in all three areas, Kwik Trip has several stories to tell.
When it comes to foods, Mr. Loehr boasted, “If you haven’t heard by now, Kwik Trip sells a lot of bananas. When I mean a lot, I mean about 44 million lbs a year. That works out to about 400 lbs per store, every day of the year. We sell a lot of other produce as well — apples, oranges, lettuce, onions and potatoes.”
But Kwik Trip does more than sell produce. It offers healthy options in stores and even partnered with a local hospital to create a series of smart choice meal options at its stores. Today, Kwik Trip has its own program, and it includes offering free fruit to co-workers every day.
Kwik Trip undertook the programs because its management believes they were the right things to do. They didn’t seek publicity, but others noticed, including the Partnership for a Healthier America.
“They told us that convenience retailers can play a big role in the national effort to make the healthy choice the easy choice for busy parents and families,” Mr. Loehr said. “And we agreed.”
Many packaged goods manufacturers are improving their c-store portfolio, too. Here are some products spotted at the show.
Donuts and coffee are no longer all that’s on the breakfast menu thanks to the recent introduction of REV A.M., from Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn. Made with meat, eggs and cheese, the breakfast wraps come in four varieties: bacon, egg and cheese; sausage, egg and cheese; ham, egg and cheese; and maple sausage, egg and cheese.
Hormel Foods also markets Skippy On The Go! Peanut Butter, which is a 1.12-oz pouch of single-serve squeezable peanut butter that consumers may put on bagels, bananas, apples, crackers and more, or they may simply squeeze and enjoy.
For consumers who like jelly with their peanut butter, the company will soon be rolling out Skippy On The Go! PB&J Grape Jelly Combo single-serve 2.12-oz packs. Packed with protein, peanut butter is a satiating food.
Nuts and seeds of all types are gaining popularity as high-protein snacks. The Warrel Corp., Camp Hill, Pa., introduced Crave mmm! Sweet & Spicy Peanuts. The 2.5-oz bags join other Crave mmm! offerings, including chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt, honey toasted nut mix and various pretzel and nut combinations.
Thanasi Foods L.L.C., Boulder, Colo., just started rolling out Bigs Cinnamon & Sugar Pumpkin Seeds. Not only are pumpkin seeds high in protein, they contain numerous vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. The company also has added Smokey Sweet Bar-B-Q to its Bigs Sunflower Seed line. The line has a flavor for everyone’s preference. Varieties are: Buffalo wing, Chesapeake-style seasoned, dill pickle, ranch, salt and vinegar, salted and roasted original, sea salt and black pepper and bacon.
From hot and spicy jerky, such as new cracked pepper turkey jerky and honey spice beef jerky from Provisionaire & Co., Brooklyn, N.Y., to new TGIFridays Happy Hour Snack Mix, bold flavors are trending in snack foods. The latter innovation includes four offerings, including cheddar bacon, sriracha ranch, sweet barbecue and sweet and spicy. They are a combination of miniature-size crackers and pretzels, along with nuts, seeds and other savory treats with crunch.
Bold is big in condiments, too, and with a growing number of convenience stores offering made-to-order sandwiches, bold condiments are making their way into the hands of operators. Tulkoff Food Products Inc., Baltimore, is rolling out a creamy horseradish sauce, an extra bold cocktail sauce and spicy chipotle chili aioli.
Not necessarily better for you, but definitely boldly flavored, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., will soon be introducing Pringles Original with Dip. Each single-serve pack contains 1.4 oz of the famous potato crisps and 1.4 oz of zesty dip in an attached dome cup. There are three dip options: creamy ranch, jalapeño cheddar and honey Dijon.
The company also is making its recently introduced retail pack of Cheez-It Grooves available in 3.25-oz snack-size bags. The grooves of this new chip-like cracker make it a lighter, crispier snack. Flavors are: sharp white cheddar and zesty cheddar ranch.
Boldly flavored and a brand extension, much like many of the other innovations, but also far from better-for-you, is Totino’s Pizza Chips from General Mills, Minneapolis. The chips combine the flavor of pizza with the crunch of a light and crispy chip. The 1.25-oz single-serve bags, which are exclusive to the convenience store channel, come in two flavors: cheese and pepperoni.
On the sweeter side of the convenience store menu is ConeBite, a grab-and-go, single-serve dessert from Belgian Boys, Farmingdale, N.Y. ConeBites are miniature waffle cones filled with cream designed to resemble ice cream, but at ambient temperature. The three offerings are: cream and candy, caramel cream and hazelnut cream.
Sugar-laden sodas continue to lose shelf space to better-for-you beverage options. NACS attendees got a sneak peak at Skinny Cow Iced Coffee from Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., which is scheduled to hit the market in early January 2015. Available in three varieties, including creamy cappuccino, mocha latte and vanilla latte, the ready-to-drink coffee-milk beverages are described as “rich, expertly roasted coffee folded into creamy, velvety dairy heaven and then whipped, not once, not twice but three times to deliver a uniquely thick and indulgent smooth coffee beverage.” Reduced-fat milk provides calcium and protein while monk fruit extract keeps added sugars down in the shelf-stable drink that comes in 8-oz bottles.
Snapple, a brand of Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Plano, Texas, is getting into the coconut water business. Come this February, new Snapple Whoa-Conut! will make its way into c-stores. The line of lightly sweetened drinks that combines the hydration and replenishment of coconut water with the taste of fruit juice comes in four varieties: berry blend, pineapple coconut and tropical medley.
For the youngest road-stop snackers comes Drink Blocks from Drink Blocks L.L.C., Ladera Ranch, Calif. It’s a beverage, a collectable and a fun way to learn a new language … either English or Spanish, depending upon the individual. The four flavors — apple, fruit punch, grape and orange — sport a bilingual label of either numbers 1 to 10, letters a to z, or an array of colors. In addition, the labels feature a child-friendly character and the bottles turn into stackable blocks for play. The naturally flavored waters contain no artificial colors or any calories, as they are naturally sweetened with stevia.The 2015 NACS Show is scheduled for Oct. 11-14, 2015, in Las Vegas. For more information, visit www.nacsonline.com.