C-Stores Pivot to Food Sales During Pandemic
NACS survey finds the coronavirus crisis is changing customer preferences for more take-home, bulk items.
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C-Stores Pivot to Food Sales During Pandemic

April 8, 2020

NACS survey finds the coronavirus crisis is changing customer preferences for more take-home, bulk items.

Convenience retailers say they have seen an increase in sales of grocery staples as customers increasingly turn to their local convenience store for pantry items.

More than half of all retailers (52%) say their grocery sales have increased, according to a national survey of U.S. convenience store owners conducted by NACS, the trade association that represents the convenience and fuel retailing industry.

Convenience stores traditionally sell immediate consumption items—83% of all products sold at a store are consumed within an hour—but they have pivoted to providing items that can be brought home: 52% say they are adding more cleaning/toiletry items, 31% are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals and 28% are showcasing multi-pack/bulk items.

At the same time, convenience stores have dramatically scaled back self-serve foodservice and restaurant functions: 66% say they have closed public seating and dining areas and 45% have removed customer access to self-serve foodservice such as coffee, fountain drinks, bakery items and roller grill. It is important to note that these percentages reflect retailers who have made changes; many operators do not have dining areas, for instance.

Even with the significant shift in products sold, nearly half (46%) of convenience retailers say their current distribution system is working. Another one in five (18%) say the system is sufficient, but they are supplementing it with other deliveries.

New programs offer convenience, sanitizing

Retailers also are looking at new programs to allow social distancing and to enhance convenience: 14% are offering some sort of curbside pickup program, 13% have increased a focus on drive-thru and 11% have added or increased delivery options.

Convenience stores, which sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States, have ramped up the frequency of cleaning and sanitation practices inside the store and at the pump. Nearly one in three (31%) retailers are providing hand sanitizer at the pump and 20% provide gloves. Overall, 99% of retailers surveyed say they have enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as often as every 30 minutes.

Supporting communities

Nearly two in three retailers (60%) say they have reduced store operating hours, due to less customer traffic or to deep clean and restock during overnight hours. “We are here for the public and their needs. We are taking every precaution to conduct business safely,” noted one survey respondent.

Convenience retailers also are supporting medical/healthcare personnel and first responders: Nearly half (49%) of survey respondents are supporting these heroes in their communities by offering free beverages and steep discounts on food, delivering free meals to local hospitals and firehouses, providing free fuel for critical community groups that provide school lunch deliveries, donating product to food banks and other programs, and supplying masks and other supplies to emergency and healthcare professionals.

“We have always supported first responders with coffee and the like to help them through their shifts,” said Douglas Dean with 76/Circle K (Tamuning, Guam).

Retailers also stressed the importance of their teams serving customers. Nearly one in three (32%) said that employee conversations, no matter how brief, were the most effective means of communications to tell people about their pandemic response activities.

“It’s critical that we let our employees know we appreciate the fact they helped us hold our company together,” said Kim Robello with Minit Stop Markets (Kahului, Hawaii).

Summing up the current operating climate, Dennis McCartney with Landhope Farms (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania) noted, “The emphasis on cross-contamination and customer safety is something that has been highlighted over and over during this crisis and something that will continue long after this is over. We are vowing not to relax these ‘cleaning and sanitizing processes on steroids’ and will continue to magnify their importance to our associates and our customers.”

The NACS Retailer Member survey was fielded in late March and closed April 1. A total of 105 member companies, representing a cumulative 1,828 stores, participated in the survey.


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Posted on: April 8, 2020
Here are some feel-good stories about retailers serving their neighbors during the pandemic. From giving away goods to dedicated shopping hours for seniors, retailers are showing why they’re the heart of their communities. Here are some stories about convenience retailers and grocers who are going the extra mile to help customers during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip is providing free delivery via EatStreet at more than 70 Wisconsin locations for items such as bread, eggs and toilet paper, Madison Magazine reports. “These are largely unprecedented times, and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get the items they need without having to take on additional costs,” said David Jackson, Kwik Trip’s digital marketing and loyalty manager. “Whether you need bread and eggs, or some comfort food like our famous chicken sandwiches and a Big Buddy, we’re going to make sure you’re able to get what you need without having to leave home.” Choice Market in Denver is offering food pickup or takeout discounts to service industry employees who are hard hit by the sudden closure of in-store dining in bars and restaurants, plus emergency responders who are on the front lines of the public health crisis. “In an effort to support our fellow colleagues who have been the most impacted, Choice is offering a 20% discount on the entire bill for any employee in the service industry as well as any first responders and medical personnel,” Choice said in a notice to customers posted on its website. The hybrid c-store/fast-casual restaurant also is offering $5 off any UberEats delivery of $20 or more to help reduce the delivery expense to customers. Choice Market is featured in the 2019 Ideas 2 Go.  Across the Atlantic in Drylaw, Edinburgh, Day-Today convenience store has given away more than $6,000 in free products to seniors, as a way to help them prepare for quarantines, the Good News Network reports. Owner Zahid Iqbal packaged toilet paper, tissues, anti-inflammatories and antibacterial hand soap into “coronavirus kits” that he delivers for free to customers age 65 and older or to anyone with mobility problems. “We’ve given away more than a thousand now, that’s just over the weekend,” said Iqbal. “It’s a time when we need to stick together.” Meanwhile, some grocery stores and discount stores in the United States are setting aside special times reserved for elderly shoppers to help those most vulnerable to COVID-19 shop for essentials, CBS News reports. Foodtown, a grocery chain of about 30 locations in Texas, is opening its doors from 7 to 8 a.m. “to allow those ages 65 and older to shop in a less crowded environment,” the company announced on its website. Starting Thursday, Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop will open earlier to serve only customers who are age 60 and older from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., the company announced on its website. At Dollar General, the first hour stores are open will be for older shoppers only, USA Today reports. The chain is encouraging other customers to please shop “around this window of time to allow the most susceptible customers in our communities the ability to shop during the first hour that stores are open.” From NACS Read Full Article
Posted on: April 8, 2020
From California to Massachusetts, c-stores face varied circumstances as they put new protocols in place and rush to identify opportunities. As COVID-19 disrupts lives and businesses across the globe, U.S. convenience stores are experiencing different realities depending on their location, but many are already adapting by evaluating new opportunities to meet changing customer needs in the midst of chaos. At press time, California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington closed bars and restaurants beginning Monday, March 16, in effort to slow coronavirus, while internet rumors swirled — and which The National Security Council warned are “fake” — that a national lockdown could be imminent. As lockdowns emerge, tech-forward companies already offering order-ahead, pick-up at store and/or delivery may see an advantage as customers look for alternate ways to buy products while staying home. Amazon has seen such an uptick in delivery orders that it announced plans to hire an additional 100,000 temporary employees and raise wages. Convenience stores have an opportunity to also step up on delivery. C-Store Advantage C-stores have many advantages over other channels, Mel Kleiman, founder of Humetrics pointed out. For example, they don’t usually have the long lines grocery stores are known for, making them ideal stops for people concerned with social distancing. “Yes, there are going to be major disruptions in your operations, but let’s figure out how to make it a positive for growth, customer retention, employee involvement, as well as positive PR for your company and the industry as a whole,” he said. Savvy c-store retailers are looking for the opportunities, whether that means figuring out ways for customers to order at the pump, or passing out DIY hand sanitizer recipes or considering new ways to offer support to parents or communities. On March 16, Alltown Fresh, which operates four locations — two in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut — announced on Twitter that it was introducing order ahead and curbside pickup at its Massachusetts locations. Customers can call to place their order, and then call again when they arrive. The items are brought to the car, reducing social contact. “Stay tuned for the rollout to our (Connecticut) locations,” Alltown Fresh tweeted. Ashland, Ky.-based Clark’s Pump-N-Shop, with stores in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida, also took to Twitter to remind customers that its drive-throughs are an option for picking up supplies.The chain also announced that it’s hiring at ALL locations. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa, which operates more than 860 c-stores in seven states, also posted on Twitter to educate customers about its delivery services. Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz, which operates 600 stores in six states, tweeted to remind customers about its mobile app, which has a mobile point-of-sale so customers can scan, pay and go quickly without worrying about lines. It also allows customers to order ahead made-to-order foodservice items and pick them up curbside or in-store. The View From California In California, despite slower store and gas volume on Monday, March, 16, Rotten Robbie Gas Stations saw an uptick in non-edible grocery and take-home water sales, said Reilly Robinson Musser, vice president of marketing and merchandising for Robinson Oil Corp. dba Rotten Robbie Gas Stations, which operates 34 c-stores in California. Most schools in the area are closed for at least three weeks, and tech companies, such as Apple, Google and Facebook are allowing employees to work from home. “Restaurants are empty and people seem to be taking things seriously,” Musser said. Robinson Oil sent guidance information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to all employees and provided extra hand sanitizers and gloves. It’s asked employees to take precautions as far as social distancing, etc. Employees are asked to stay home if they are feeling sick and area managers are keeping in touch with all employees. They’re asking people to be flexible with scheduling to help accommodate those who have to stay at home with kids or who are out sick. aymond Huff, president of Denver-based HJB Convenience Corp., which operates 19 Russell’s Convenience stores in four states, began to see the effect of COVID-19 last Wednesday, March 11.  “Our stores are in the central business districts of Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco.  Sales were off 12% on Wednesday, 18% on Thursday and 22% on Friday. Prior to the crisis sales were trending up about 7%,” he said. While Russell’s is a tech forward company, offering frictionless checkout through the SKIP app, as well as two Russell’s Express micro marts, the buildings where the micro marts  operate have emptied, making identifying new opportunities more of a challenge. At its convenience stores employees are allowed to wear masks, if they choose and are washing hands every hour as well as when they touch surfaces, such as stainless steel.  “We are sanitizing all surfaces where customers touch hourly with the bleach and water mixture required by the health department,” Huff said. All Russell’s Convenience employees receive sick leave and vacation time. Huff added each area is implementing a plan of action. “In my opinion, the U.S. should just close everything down for two weeks, let this thing run its course and get us back to business,” Huff said. Silver Linings in Chicago Following news of the bar and restaurant ban in Chicago, The PRIDE Store’s Owner & CEO Mario Spina noted the chain’s brewery and tasting room would be closed but customers could still purchase the brand’s packaged beer inside its 15 Chicagoland PRIDE Convenience Stores, plus any other locations that sell 93 Octane.  The c-store chain’s restaurants — which include Urban Counter, Taco Urbano and Pride Café — will continue to offer carry-out and delivery through Uber Eats. “With many grocery stores being hit hard by consumers stocking up on products, our restaurants could continue to be busy because of the lack of options available,” Spina said. Stores were busy ahead of the lockdown.  “We have seen stores run out of dairy products, cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous home items. We are in the process of increasing the inventory carried at each store to be able to provide those core items to our customers,” Spina said. Protocols are changing too. Each cashier must wear plastic gloves during their shifts. The usually 24/7 stores are now closing from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. for a deep sanitation, although dispensers remain open for fueling. “We will also sanitize our dispensers (keypads and nozzles specifically) multiple times throughout the day. Luckily, a few years ago we installed hand sanitizers at each door for our customers,” Spina said. Managers are instructed to keep an eye out for team members showing flu-like symptoms. “Open communication regarding this is crucially important,” Spina said. Convenience stores across the country are beefing up their store sanitation and employee hygiene practices and alerting customers to the changes they are making to keep them safe. As CStore Decisions reported yesterday, Sheetz and Kum & Go both announced plans to extend paid sick leave to employees impacted by the virus. The c-store industry is no stranger to transformation in difficult times. It evolved from two-bay garages servicing cars to gas stations with “Cokes & smokes” shops to foodservice powerhouses offering frictionless checkout options. If there’s one thing this industry excels at it’s finding success by thinking outside the box amid changing circumstances. Humetric’s Kleiman pushed convenience retailers to think in terms of opportunities they can be building now when customers need them most. “The question to you is, what can you do to not only survive, but thrive?” From Convenience Store Decisions Read Full Article