After getting 11 years under his belt working for Reynolds American, Kevin Harder came to the c-store industry with some advanced insights in the tobacco product category. So it makes sense that for the past two and a half years he has led the tobacco category for Yesway, whose parent company, Fort-Worth, Texas-based BW Gas & Convenience Holdings, owns and operates more than 400 convenience stores throughout the Midwest and Southwest.

What do you like most about the tobacco/nicotine category?
There is always change, from regulation and taxation to manufacturer price increases to new innovative products. The category is filled with opportunity to make changes and make a difference.

Describe your category management philosophy.
Make the category shoppable. It should be easy for our customers to know what we have to offer and what our prices are, which ultimately drives sales.

How did the pandemic change the category?
Purchase habits appear to have changed with more customers buying rolls and cartons than before. With more people working from home, usage opportunities have increased, which has led to increased consumption. If the work-from-home movement sticks, there may be less decline than in pre-pandemic years. Production issues have really hurt certain segments like cigars but at some point they will overcome their issues.

What are your category goals for 2021?
Continue to make our stores more shoppable for our customers through new fixture initiatives, SKU rationalization, space optimization, and execution of our marketing and promotional plans with impact.

What are some of the most promising new products?
Zyn, On! and Rogue nicotine pouches continue to grow, and the promotional spend of the manufacturers is making the battle between these products fun to watch.

What are your biggest challenges today?
Ordering and inventory management. Turnover in c-stores has always been an issue, but COVID-19 has presented additional challenges. One of those is ensuring we have additional staff at stores who are trained to handle ordering responsibilities.

How have you partnered with your category captains?
Communication about important issues, including product availability, has increased.

What makes you most passionate about this category?
Helping our customers find products that will transition the category to a smoke-free future. It’s important for everyone’s wellbeing that we eventually get there, but it needs to be done responsibly in a way that moves people from smoking to less harmful forms of tobacco/nicotine usage over time. Solely legislating our way to a smoke-free future would have a tremendous negative impact on our business.