Don Caudill of Love’s Is Category Manager of the Year for Alcohol

Convenience-store leader focusing on creating consistency
Don Caudill of Love's
Photograph by W. Scott Mitchell

With only two cooler doors dedicated to alcohol, Don Caudill is focused on consistency this year.

“So regardless of which one of our stores that you go to, they have a similar flow, brand flow. What's on the handle, what's on the hinge, what's on the top shelf, what's not on the top shelf,” says Caudill, the category manager of packaged beverages at Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores.

He’s been leading the category for more than two years, after first working in the field in operations for Love’s, Oklahoma City.

  • Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores is No. 16 on CSP’s 2024 Top 202 ranking of U.S. convenience-store chains by store count.

Caudill (pictured above with Krister Hampton, senior manager of industry engagement at Altria) was one of CSP's seven Category Manager of the Year award winners

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

How does your typical travel-stop customer differ from other non-travel stop convenience stores?

We are fortunate to have both. Love’s has 643 sites, and 580 are travel centers. The customers are very different, mainly when it comes to pack sizes. And sometimes brands. I don't think there's much of a trend there, but it definitely is pack size. Our truck drivers are heavy on singles like 25-ounce. Then there’s what I call the local stop and shop, a smaller footprint store with heavier gas traffic. Then it’s more six-packs, 12-packs, 30-packs.

What do you love about your category?

I like tracking the trends and seeing what's going on in the industry. There’s never a dull moment. The rise of a couple of brands that we've seen in the last year (after the dust-up with Anheuser-Busch) will be interesting to see how it's playing out. There's always something going on.

What’s been a top growth area for Love’s?

Twisted Tea is skyrocketing. I don't know how much longer they can continue their compound growth. It's like they're not stopping anytime soon, which is just crazy to me, but they're doing really well. Beer imports, Modelo and Constellation Brands, have been rolling after the impact of the Anheuser-Busch issues [sales for the beer company slumped after backlash from an Instagram post featuring a transgender influencer].

What concerns you in the category?

I'll be anxious to see if Anheuser-Busch figures out what they experienced from April through December of last year. They're down significantly, not only with us but with everybody in the country. …. I’m also curious to see how distribution will play out over the next 18 months or so. How it’s done today might be different from how it might be done in the future, as vendors get into more nonalcohol beverages. If a distributor adds water, for example, to deliveries, it introduces some complexities.

What is Love’s overall pricing philosophy?

We want to maintain the competitiveness of a lot of our locations. Some of our stores are in more remote areas, so it's hard to be competitive when your closest competitor is 30-40 miles away, but we’re always trying to maintain competitiveness.

Any surprising trends you’re seeing?

Ready-to-drink cocktails are probably the most surprising. Hard teas, too. It seems like everybody's trying to come up with hard tea. Arizona has its teas, and then the hard tea as well. Monster has The Beast. I’m concerned about the regulation that's going to come down later about that. It’s not heavily regulated right now, except that you can’t merchandise the products (alcohol and nonalcohol teas or energy drinks) side by side. We’ll see if there's any additional steps that come later.

What do you think is driving the popularity of flavored malt beverages?

I think it's a trend from COVID for micro indulgences. The consumer is treating himself a little bit more and looking for full flavor. All the cheladas surprise me. And there are flavor combinations like spicy watermelon, flavors that are fruity and hot, that are popular.

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