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Convenience Stores Tout Healthier Food

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Oct 24, 2017

From sightings at the National Association of Convenience Stores tradeshow in Chicago in mid-October, convenience-stores also are selling healthier food and more of it. A report from the Chicago Tribune mentioned the boost in fruits, vegetables, salads and bottled water in the $550-billion convenience industry on display at the show. The massive convention of grab-and-go commerce highlighted more stores going from selling bananas by the cash register to a full assortment of healthier fare, aimed at millennials in particular.

There are practical reasons for this c-store shift, the report continued. Sales of soft drinks, cigarettes and fuel — longtime mainstays of the c-store business — are declining. And the rise of e-commerce and Amazon's business ventures threaten all bricks-and-mortar retail.

“It is a constant evolution. If you think today’s model is going to work, you’re done,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

The changes favor consumers with more options and healthier choices. Salads custom-made by a robot, for example — yes, they actually exist — won’t replace roller dogs popularized by c-stores, but might serve as an alternative. High-protein packaged products like upscale jerky and plant-based protein bars might also be accompanied with made-to-order food marketed as fresh.

The NACS show also featured protein, which seemed to be everywhere, marketed in various forms. Samples of Soylent, Silicon Valley’s meal-replacement drink, were handed out a few booths away from Powerful Yogurt’s protein drinks.

And the market for more upscale jerky products with modern attributes — cage-free, grass-fed and so on — in convenience stores is booming, said Brian Levin, founder of the Colorado-based Perky Jerky, who showed off packages of his top-selling Turkey Perky Jerky. “I call it a jerky jihad. It’s about as competitive as it gets. … And Big Food is running scared,” he said.

But big food companies are in the game, too. Chicago-based Conagra Brands, the parent company of Slim Jim, recently acquired the maker of Duke’s meat snacks and Bigs Seeds and Kraft Heinz has invested in its P3 portable protein packs of meat, cheese and nuts. At the show, Chicago-based Hillshire Brands introduced its Small Plates with items including apple chardonnay flavored pork and gouda cheese.

Last year, the c-store industry saw fuel sales slide 9.2 percent — from $349 billion in 2015 to $316.8 billion in 2016, according to data from the National Association of Convenience Stores. But inside-store sales jumped 3.2 percent, from $225.8 billion to $233 billion, with strong growth in healthier food and beverages, according to the trade group.