Jack Lewis understands the importance of innovation when it comes to products that are performing well and outpaced the market for a year, even during a pandemic. He has been a national package-beverage manager for retailer GPM Investments (dba Fas Mart, et.al.), Richmond, Va., for six years, and he has worked in the c-store business for 40 years.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
We started doing a new section in our coolers called the performance-energy section. We started expanding some more performance waters and energy drinks, and from there we saw some great increases in energy-drink sales. I’m on my third year of over 10% growth in the energy category. We also do an innovation shelf on top of the performance door, and we try to make sure to put in new brands every quarter to give them a chance to see what they do.

What do you love about the package-beverage category?
In 2015, I was acquisitioned by GPM from Village Pantry and became a national category manager for packaged beverages. At that point I changed the style, and we [placed products based on] space-to-sales. From there, margins grew, and for me to see something I put into place all the sudden hit budget or increase over budget and make extra margin dollars is very rewarding.

What’s your biggest frustration?
The one frustration I have here recently is that I put some brands in the innovation shelf, and because we’re a 1,400-store chain, a lot of these new energy go-to’s do not want to cooperate with the nonalcohol part of the business. They don’t get their paperwork turned in.

How has the pandemic changed the packaged-beverage category?
It affected us a little bit in 2020, probably from about March to June, but then as things started to open back up, we started seeing our sales come back pretty quickly. And for me in packaged beverages, I outpaced the whole market for an entire year. And then I had a great increase for a whole year in 2021, but the markets kind of caught back up with me. We really didn’t see a lot of loss; we had two good years, actually.

What are your goals for 2022?
I think we’re going to have another strong year. Inflation is helping because prices are going up so sales are going to be strong. The biggest thing we have to watch is that we don't erode margin as we do it. If we have a cost increase, we make sure margin percent stays there.