Top Trends to Watch for at the NACS Show

Snacks aisle

CHICAGO -- With the convenience-store industry’s major trade show and conference upon us, CSP editors offer up the topics and trends in each major category that we expect to be the talk of the show floor.

The 2017 NACS Show will be held Tuesday, Oct. 17, through Friday, Oct. 20, at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Foodservice

Nitro coffee

Last year, fresh cold-brew coffee was a ubiquitous novelty on the NACS Show floor in Atlanta. This year, we’ll see cold brew as a visible, true fixture on the floor, along with nitro coffee. Moving beyond sampling of product, the primary focus will be all about tech-enabled, small-footprint countertop solutions for retailers. To that end, there will be a greater number of equipment pieces being modeled as must-haves to help c-stores execute on the cold-brew and nitro trend.

Meanwhile, there will be a back-to-basics mentality for foodservice, particularly in regard to the roller grill as a staple of c-store prepared foods. Flavor innovation will be anything but basic as attendees are treated to flavorful, robust and heavily spiced roller-grill items, with some alternative proteins beyond beef and pork, and ethnic accents beyond Mexican, including Mediterranean and Asian.

Fuels

Fuel pump

One way vehicle manufacturers are attempting to boost the fuel efficiency of their fleets to meet tougher federal fuel-economy standards is by adding highly efficient turbocharged engines. In doing so, they are modeling against a future fuel mix that is decidedly higher-octane—think 25% to 30% ethanol blends. With this in mind, fuel-equipment manufacturers are rolling out dispensers, hoses and other components that are compatible with E25-E30 and able to handle these more highly corrosive fuel blends.

On the software side of fuel dispensing, dispenser manufacturers continue to elevate the consumer experience at the pump with interactive displays that allow ordering food and other items, buying lottery tickets and playing games, while also giving customers a variety of payment options. Meanwhile, remote cloud-based fuel monitoring systems are giving retailers even greater access and control of daily forecourt activity.

Packaged beverages

Bottled water

Expect the biggest new-product push in packaged beverages to come in the bottled-water category. Enhanced and premium products will go head to head with low-priced alternatives in their battle to gain shelf space in c-store cold vaults.

Meanwhile, sweetened-beverage taxes continue to vex municipalities across the country. Beverage sales in cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, where such taxes have been enacted, have seen sales declines of more than 30%.

Snacks

Healthy snacks

Snacks continue to buck their traditional roles in convenience stores. Once considered a home to decadence and indulgence, convenience stores are becoming a destination for all kinds of snackers and snacks. Sales of natural products have grown by $63 billion in the past 10 years. And at convenience stores in particular, those numbers are up 14%, more than any cross-channel competitor, according to data from SPINS, a Chicago-based natural, organic and specialty consultancy.

While “natural” products command only 3% share of c-store dollar sales today, conventional products, which maintain a much larger market share, increased sales by only 1% last year. Those core snacking products will continue to command high sales volume, of course, but natural and better-for-you products’ 3% share is a signal of opportunity, and a chance for huge incremental sales growth potential.

Products that will play well in both spaces include nuts, trail mixes and a new genre called “snackfection.” These new products include the best of both worlds: chocolate treats, nuts, seeds, caramel and, in some cases, even meat snacks.

Technology

Loyalty

Even with the liability deadline for outside EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa) chip verification extended to 2020, retailers are getting ahead of the cutoff date with solutions designed to steer customers from the pump and into the store. Products such as Greensboro, N.C.-based Gilbarco Veeder-Root’s EMV and Applause TV media solutions rotate through advertisements that vary by content and time of day.

Meanwhile, loyalty-solution providers are competing to cook up programs that are easy to set up and customizable for different stores and different customers. Chicago-based Hatch Loyalty—formerly known as Belly—has released three loyalty solutions for retailers focusing on branding and customization. And Arlington, Texas-based Pinnacle’s loyalty solutions include tools to create branded cards, fobs and mobile apps so retailers can customize loyalty programs to their specific program or customer base.

Tobacco

Vaping man

The tobacco outlook took a sharp turn in a positive direction over the summer, when Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the newly appointed commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), issued a document that suggests a remaking of current tobacco regulation. In that statement, Gottlieb said alternatives to combustible cigarettes, such as electronic cigarettes, are in need of further public discussion, and he extended deadlines for manufacturers to submit required new-product applications. Many manufacturers feared those applications would be costly and time-consuming, so the news came as a relief. Now instead of 2018 deadlines, products such as cigars, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco have a deadline of Aug. 8, 2021, and e-cigarettes and vaping products have an Aug. 8, 2022, deadline.

Also part of the FDA’s new position was the concept of regulating nicotine levels in cigarettes, with the agency calling for input on benefits and adverse effects.

Meanwhile, several major cities, including San Francisco, Minneapolis and Oakland, Calif., have enacted bans or restrictions on the sale of menthol cigarettes, or changed the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.