In post-pandemic world, Kelley Gutierrez, center store category manager for Franklin, Tenn.-based MAPCO Express Inc., is eager to use industry networking to her advantage again. With MAPCO since 2017 when she first served as a business analyst, Gutierrez is responsible for architecting local-market category management blueprints at MAPCO Express stores to create competitive advantages across price, promotion and display strategies for packaged snacks and confection. With many conferences and events coming back live, Gutierrez believes she can ply her craft to an even higher degree.

What trends were shaping up at MAPCO Express stores amid the pandemic?
New loyalists to the channel emerged, and snacks and candy were a beneficiary. I like to point to two trends within packaged snacks during and after COVID: more consumers shopped convenience for items once reserved for grocery, mass, club and drug channels. Many saw c-stores as quick and safe, and once they saw the quality of selections they didn’t expect to find, they became more frequent convenience loyalists. The other trend post-COVID is that with salty snack sales, there’s a correlation between the number of folks who returned to work in 2021 with an uptick in sales. There was a re-activation of lunch-time meal deals bundling sandwich/chips/drink specials. We have a popular offer at MAPCO Express that pairs a roller grill item, drink and Frito-Lay grab bag—it’s one hot impulse offer.

What kind of learnings have you gleaned on candy/snack purchases with your third-party delivery partner?
The trend sees a growing number of users ordering candy and snacks with beverages, like they do while in-store. But what I notice with delivery is that customers order the affinity beverage—maybe two carbonated soft drinks or energy drinks—but order three or more snacks and candy brands, which are immediate consumable but also intended for later consumption. They also recognize c-stores as having more candy serving sizes and flavors than grocery, mass, dollar or drug stores do, and that’s a motivation. Customers also take advantage of both the MAPCO loyalty program and third-party’s loyalty program, which adds incentive.

What’s occurring at MAPCO across price, promotion and display when it comes to packaged baker and sweet snacks?
With packaged pastries, you have to have products in the right place. People are in a rush during the morning when sweet snack sales are highest. They need direction to find their items—so placement is key. When sweet snacks are positioned in proximity to both cold and hot beverages, it provides lift as a basket-filler. There’s also a correlation between sweet snacks and bottled beverages paired together. Breakfast is a planned not impulse decision, so you have to create that opportunity for people and make it as easy as possible for them: if they can’t locate that pastry in proximity to their breakfast purchase, it’s a lost sale.

What packaged snack segments need to be cultivated better in 2022?
Pork rinds and popcorn: With the former, the segment continues to grow at MAPCO Express. But, whereas a few years ago most pork rind consumers were content with single bags, more today want larger pack sizes. The same applies with packaged popcorn, and we’re eager to see suppliers adjust their assortment plans. Some voids had been created that saw a reduction in SKUs. You always have to look at what the market bears, and currently bigger bags of chips, pretzels, cheese snacks, pork rinds and popcorn are the trend.