New Offerings at Nacs

Consumer surveys often report that today’s two most important concerns are convenience and health, and both of those things were abundant at last month’s National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) show in Las Vegas. As an indication of just how important the c-store segment has become, NACS reported record attendance at this year’s show, 10 percent higher than last year, as well as 328 first-time exhibitors. And while there were the usual share of indulgent treats to be sampled, this year’s show also seemed to have a record number of exhibitors showcasing healthier products.
Convenience faire has never been considered good-for-you, or in many cases, even good tasting. But the c-store industry has worked hard during the past several years to attract new consumers, especially women, with cleaner, brighter stores and more fresh foods and diet products. The number of companies touting fresher, “better for you” products in Las Vegas last month seemed to confirm that trend.
Convenience stores have always been one of the best launching pads for new products, especially beverages. In fact, beverages are some of the biggest sellers in c-stores. At $15 billion, non-alcoholic packaged beverages represented the third-largest category in convenience stores last year, growing 13 percent vs. 2002. Beer is the fourth-largest category, despite the fact that 5 percent fewer stores are allowed to sell beer these days. Total beer sales grew 5.8 percent last year. Foodservice sales of hot dispensed beverages (coffee and specialty coffee) grew 11 percent last year, and frozen dispensed beverages grew almost 14 percent. Fluid milk sales also ranked in the Top 10 convenience store product categories, at No. 9.
Several dairy companies, including Dean Foods, HP Hood and Stonyfield Farm all debuted single-serve dairy products, including lower-calorie milk and yogurt drinks, at the show. Welch’s showed off its new Low Cal juice products, made with Splenda and containing only 15 calories per serving. Campbell Soup Co. rolled out new convenience-minded PET packages for its traditional V8 vegetable juices and Campbell’s Tomato Juice, replacing all of its single-serve glass with plastic. Honest Tea also showed its new PET bottles for its organic teas.  
Even traditional c-store standbys such as Coke and Pepsi shared a new message. The Coca-Cola Co. debuted its Treat Yourself Light merchandising stations that allow retailers to group the company’s diet brands, including carbonated soft drinks and Minute Maid products. The company says it is part of an effort to target specific stores with tailored sales solutions — in this case, placing display units in stores in suburban locations or other areas with higher-income, female customers.
PepsiCo featured merchandising solutions by dayparts, grouping its Tropicana, Dole, Starbucks and Quaker products for morning, and soft drinks and other products on separate merchandising displays for later in the day.
These products and marketing efforts are interesting not necessarily because they are new — in many cases, they are only new to this retail segment — but because convenience stores seem to be such good indicators of overall beverage trends. With so many potential new options, it will be interesting to see the choices consumers make from now on as they grab and go. BI