Love’s Holly MacFarlane Takes Home Dispensed Beverages Category Manager of the Year Award

Her forecasted trends include perceived better-for-you flavors and drinks at convenience stores, such as flavored teas, lemonades, energy lemonades and energy drinks
Holly MacFarlane
Photograph courtesy of W. Scott Mitchell

Holly MacFarlane, category manager, has been with Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, Oklahoma City, for 17 years and in her current position for two and a half years. She manages cold dispensed beverages, roller grill and mugs and Thermoses for more than 640 stores.

MacFarlane was one of CSP's seven Category Manager of the Year award winners.

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

What’s new and exciting in your category?

The flavor trends, and the better for you flavors and different type machines like bubblers, smoothies, flavored teas—that was a really big thing at the NACS [Show in 2023]. For my category, cold dispensed, we completed a fairly large reset in 2023 on fountain, and now I'm getting to see where those changes landed: what did well, what didn't and analyzing that data. That is exciting to see.

What do you love about your category?

I love the strategy behind it. I love learning about the trend data and seeing what’s out there, seeing what's new, seeing what's exciting and then taking that and trying to see how I can manipulate those strategies into my categories and how I can make it fit into my stores. And then there's the other side of that, when you go through changes like I did in 2023 when I changed a lot of flavors—analyzing that data and determining what went right, what went wrong? How do I pivot?

There’s also where you’re planning big rollouts or resets on a category, you have a perception in your mind of how it all will land or how certain flavors will do, but sometimes you're completely surprised when something goes completely the opposite from what you thought—either in a good way or bad way. But either way it’s a learning experience. Sometimes I throw in an extra flavor or two in certain areas and they end up doing extremely well. They were just side thoughts on top of my larger plan for the fountain. One example is Dr. Pepper Cream Soda.

Are there any trends you’re watching right now?

I'm really watching the perceived better-for-you type flavors and drinks. Those would be the flavored teas, the Aqua Frescas, the lemonades, the energy lemonades and energy drinks. Those seem to be very popular and very on trend.

What products performed well in the last year?

That definitely changes regionally. There are some brands and flavors that dominate certain areas, but aside from that, the products that performed very well are the zero sugars, outpacing their diet counterparts. Customers are saying that the zero tastes more like the original than the diet.

What are your goals for 2024?

To try to inundate the category and expand and change up the offerings we have. I also try to be extremely mindful about our stores and the operation side of it. I worked in a store for nine years, so I know what it's like. We want to innovate, but we also want to make sure there’s a sort of ease of operations in the store.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Certain innovations or certain pieces of equipment might be too complex for us, and it would probably be too much to test. I’m always thinking of our locations when I'm trying to plan something out. Another challenge is the market right now in general, not even in my category. The cost of goods and inflation affects ingredients for some of the products in my category, so I’m trying to navigate that.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Exciting new products for our customers are coming out, so I’m really looking forward to that. That’s all I can say right now.

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