Never out of style

Truckers and males ages 18 to 35 historically have comprised the c-store channel’s core demographic group despite attempts to reach out to a broader consumer base.

Moreover, because the industry is so huge — 154,000-plus stores account for $575 billion in sales, according to NACS — it’s become a target from other retail channels as well, according to Mr. Swanson. He noted pharmacies are competing against c-stores, especially because of consolidation among drug store chains and the fact they typically tend to draw more female shoppers. Dollar stores also are reacting by competing on price and convenience — the foundation of the c-store industry.

“Keep in mind that the channels are blurring on the retail side,” Mr. Swanson said. “The dollar stores and pharmacies offer convenience items as well. They’re getting more and more into the categories that c-stores offer. Our industry is large. We’re a natural target for other retail stores looking to expand their sales.”

Bud’s Best Cookies, Birmingham, Ala., serves multiple channels with its value-priced cookies and crackers, according to Al Cason, president and chief operating officer. The company offers its Bud’s Best brand of bite-sized cookies and its Uncle Al’s brand of standard-sized cookies for the bakery and c-store industry.

“In dollar stores, we provide items that you can purchase and bring home,” he noted. “Now, consumers want the grab-and-go items that c-stores have offered for many years.”

Mr. Cason said that dollar stores realized they were missing the boat by not offering impulse-driven products, some of which provided their stores with higher margins while giving consumers a better price than at other outlets.

“Now you’ll notice grab-and-go sections in dollar stores because they had been missing the opportunity to sell products that were formerly bought from convenience stores,” he said.

In c-stores, Uncle Al’s 5-oz packs of cookies — either wire-cut, rotary or sandwich cookies filled with cream — remain the top sellers. Often the tray packs retail from 79c to 99c, depending on the desired margin. Despite the calls for more healthful, protein-filled snacks and premium food service offerings, the reality is that the market remains focused on value-driven convenience.

With the potential for inflation creeping into the economy, bakers must toe the line on costs. Often, price ranks as high as convenience when it comes to cookies, snack cakes, bread or even combo subs and pizza with a beverage for around $3.00.