Mike Varallo, assortment manager at Wawa, Wawa, Pa., is going all in on the ready-to-drink (RTD)/canned cocktail segment. The 900-plus-store chain is planning to make the section pop as part of its spring resets this year. Here’s how he manages the innovative category.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
Innovation is always exciting; however, having a completely new segment coming onto the scene takes that excitement to the next level. The RTD/canned cocktail segment is changing the landscape of our sets. As you look out over the horizon regarding all the potential variety this segment will be able to offer, both in flavor profile and base, it is limitless. It also correlates directly with the younger, millennial consumers who are looking to try new, exciting and flavor forward items. Additionally, what a great fit for a c-store. I mean, how much more convenient can you get than a canned cocktail for the nonbeer drinkers at a tailgate?

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
We are always looking for new ways to display our products. We have, and will continue to look to add, interrupters throughout our store with innovative items to assist in building baskets. Additionally, we are always evaluating and analyzing space, especially in ways to maximize efficiencies in our doors. We will also continue with the rollout of a new glide system and will manipulate our shelves resulting in an additional shelf in our 2022 sets.

What do you love about your category?
It’s so much fun. I get the opportunity to work in a challenging, innovative category and learn something new every day. Not to mention, I experience this with great people across a huge network. Last and certainly not least, it’s always fun being a consumer of the category that you are accountable for as well.

What is the biggest frustration?
Every job and position comes with some level of frustration. Personally for me, it’s what you cannot control that is challenging. That is more relevant in today’s environment more than ever. You can review, analyze, make fact-based decisions and everything can change with volatility that we are facing in our environment, supply chain, cost and so on. The silver lining in the frustration is that this unprecedented volatility demands more creative thinking and nimbleness, which helps keep the job fun and exciting.

What are your goals for 2022?
In addition to growing both our unit sales and margin, I want to enhance the customers’ experience of alcohol purchases at our stores. Whether that be via a better in-store experience with improved merchandising or virtually via in app and delivery, we have untapped potential for sales growth by improving our customers’ experience and gaining loyalty.

What are the biggest challenges?
Understanding and navigating our current norm. The utilization of trends and historic data is extremely cloudy right now. As you take that and layer on the environmental and supply change challenges, it can make the decision-making process more difficult.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
Another positive step in the direction of normalcy. Opening our doors to more customers and providing them with an enhanced experience when in our stores is a top priority.