Kim Jenks, CMOY winner for multiple categories, has worked for La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. for 27 years in departments as varied as retail, accounting and merchandising. Currently, she is category manager of alcohol beverages, tobacco and CBD.

What do you love about your categories?
Alcohol beverages and tobacco are constantly evolving, and they really keep me on my toes. I like that they challenge me and there is never a dull moment. We are constantly changing our product mix to keep up with what the sales and new trends are telling us.

What trends are you watching?
For alcohol beverages, I’m watching the canned ready-to-drink cocktails closely to see if they continue to grow and warrant expanded distribution and shelf space. For tobacco, I am watching all the alternative tobacco products.

What’s new and exciting in your categories?
Within the beer category, it is the strong emergence of seltzer products. Seltzers have quickly grown to be a key segment and drive incremental sales as these items tend to be an add-on purchase to a regular core beer purchase. The tobacco category continues to evolve with the alternative nicotine products. Oral nicotine pouches and lozenges have hit the ground running and are generating some great additional sales.

Any changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
This year, we developed a new rack we placed inside our beer caves to provide additional display space for the new ready-to-drink cocktail products that started hitting the market in 2020. This gave us a space to play with these new items without taking the much-needed space away from beer. With the tobacco category, we re-allocated space on the back bar by taking some away from combustible cigarettes and expanding space to vapor and the new alternative tobacco products such as nicotine pouches.

How did the pandemic change your categories?
Alcohol beverage sales increased significantly. The closing of many bars and restaurants drove consumers to purchase beverages for at-home consumption. We had to react quickly to work with our distributors to ensure we had sufficient product to meet increased demand. We also saw an increase in tobacco sales. 2020 was a unique year for cigarette sales for us; it was the first year we have seen an increase in sales with combustible cigarettes in several years. Supply chain was one of the biggest challenges during the pandemic. Shutdowns and shortages on raw materials caused problems with both alcohol beverages and tobacco. Neither category has fully recovered, and we anticipate continued inventory issues into 2021.

What products performed well in the past year?
The seltzer segment of the beer category was the shining star with the biggest increase for the year driven by White Claw, Truly, Bud Light Seltzer and Vizzy. Innovation and being first to market have been key for the beer category. For the introduction of our Kwik Series beers, limited-time-offer craft beers, we partnered with Karben4 Brewery in Madison, Wis. It helped drive incremental sales and gave us a point of differentiation.

What are your goals for 2021?
To try to maintain the sales we saw for 2020. It will be a challenging year to lap the increased sales we saw last year.

What are the biggest challenges?
The ever-changing legislation, specifically for tobacco. Staying on top of all the changes and proposed changes in multiple states can be frustrating. We operate in some states that allow local municipalities and counties to have their own tobacco ordinances, so it can be very challenging to stay in front of all the different situations from town to town.

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
A bit or normalcy in the world again.