Jessica Tritten, dispensed-beverage category manager at Oklahoma City-based Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, joined the company in 2016 and has been in her current role for four years. Previously, she was a buyer for wholesale distributor Petra Industries in Edmond, Okla.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
Equipment upgrades. We’ve installed digital fountain machines and coffee equipment—drip and bean-to-cup. We’ve added iced coffee, hot tea and expanded coffee condiments. Bean-to-cup is relatively new, and it has become increasingly popular the last three to four years.

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
Drivers are asking for more and different food options. To accommodate, we’ve remodeled stores with a larger deli and more food and beverages, and new stores are getting larger deli areas as well.

What do you love about your category?
The fast pace. With beverages, there’s constantly innovation and things that are changing. It’s so fast paced. Younger generations of people are driving the fast pace, technology changes are making people’s preferences evolve faster, and our on-the-go nature of life in general. Also, people are learning about healthier options of drinks, and that makes for more constant innovation.

What is the biggest frustration?
This pandemic. I miss meeting with vendors in person. We’ve been able to meet virtually, but it’s just not the same.

How did the pandemic change your category?
Last March, self-service on our drink and roller-grill items was removed, and team members began serving customers items like coffee, soft drinks and roller-grill items. This is still in place where some state or local mandates require it.

What trends are you watching?
We’re always monitoring what’s going on with beverages and equipment technologies that help get customers in and out of our stores quickly and safely. We also continue to listen to customers and see what they want. We get information from vendor partners to see what’s going on, I subscribe to industry magazines, and I also watch what our competitors are doing and take it all in.

What products performed well in the past year?
2020 was a challenging year. From a growth standpoint, we stayed on track. Our customer base is the professional driver, who is essential and continued to drive through last year. We launched a cold coffee that rolled out around the start of COVID, and that’s done really well. We’re excited to see how it continues to perform in 2021.

What are your goals for 2021?
A few weeks ago, we announced that we plan to open up to 50 locations this year.

What are the biggest challenges?
We see opportunities in 2021 to continue to serve professional and four-wheel customers and provide safe, clean and well-maintained stops for them. Cleanliness is more important now than ever before, and thankfully that has always been a priority at Love’s.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
Having in-person meetings with coworkers and vendors hopefully later this year