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12 Big Ideas From the 2017 NACS Show

Improving the foodservice experience, driving premiumization, trends from the show floor and more

CHICAGO -- Once again, the NACS Show did not disappoint in offering ideas and products to keep convenience-store retailers of all shapes and sizes stocked with strategies to grow their businesses.

Here’s a look at 12 highlights that stood out to CSP Daily News editors …

C-store vs. QSR

Customer satisfaction surveys by SMG show that consumers who purchase food in a convenience store are on average more satisfied with the experience than those who purchase food at a quick-service restaurant (QSR). “And they rate the experience even higher when both food and fuel are purchased,” said Peter Berger, vice president of customer engagement for SMG, a Kansas City-based app service that surveys consumers about their retail shopping experiences. SMG’s survey results show 54% of QSR customers said they were satisfied with a recent visit vs. 63% of c-store food-only customers. Sixty-six percent of c-store customers who bought both fuel and food rated their overall visit as satisfactory. Where c-stores lagged was in the fuel-only visit, which 51% of consumers rated as satisfactory or better. "When you’re talking about service at the pump, it’s a matter of operational function, which you have limited ability to affect,” Berger said. “For prepared foods, the experience is more service-related or employee-driven. That’s [an experience] you can do something about.”

Fast and Friendly

Convenience-store retailer Sheetz’s experience with SMG’s customer-survey service revealed some stark differences in what consumers expect from their shopping experience, depending on the reason for the visit. For example, for consumers who were dissatisfied with a fuel visit, 37% (the most chosen option) of those surveyed said they were unhappy with the pump experience, and 23% (the second most cited reason) said it was a matter of functionality. Meanwhile, for customers who were dissatisfied with a made-to-order food experience, 78% said the issue was the time it took to receive the order and 25% said it was the time it took to pay. “What drives our customers’ satisfaction when it’s positive?” said Shianna Peace, program manager for Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz. “It’s when fast meets friendly.”

Trading Up

In 2015, the average household saved about $700 in fuel spending, according to NACS data. What did they do with all that extra cash? That year was a banner year for product premiumization, meaning folks were spending more for better quality products in c-stores. It turns out $700 can buy a lot of good jerky!

All-Day Breakfast Bonanza …

Breakfast products, from jerky to foodservice, have reach maximum density on the NACS Show floor. All-day breakfast at Jack Link’s means breakfast bacon and sausage jerky, while across the hall at Johnsonville, spicy sausage breakfast sandwiches were the lunch choice du jour. That's aside from the proliferation of innovative nitro and cold-brew coffee products. Breakfast is booming!

… Extends to the Roller Grill

A retailer’s roller grill ought to be fully stocked and driving sales in the morning daypart, given the wide variety of products available. Consider adding condiments such as syrup and sweeter buns to complement the flavor profiles of breakfast roller-grill items.

Get With the Program

To navigate acquisitions and retain the best culture and employees, Natalya Fater, vice president of human resources for Nouria Energy, Worcester, Mass., said retailers should have a transparent plan that communicates expectations as they change. In fact, retailers should overcommunicate and assess people on their willingness to accept new policies, systems and leadership.

No Charge

Unlike drivers of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, who often drive down to the final gallon of fuel in their tank, electric vehicle (EV) drivers typically drive to a 25% to 30% charge, according to charging-station provider ChargePoint. They also are less likely to “top off” their charge. This means the typical public charging occasion ends up delivering only a 50% charge to an EV’s battery.

Outside-the-Box Foodservice

Small, independent c-store retailers can leverage their ability to be nimble by getting creative—yet relatively simple—with innovative ways to grow their foodservice programs. Consider catering to local businesses, churches, even funeral homes, said Al Hebert, a Louisiana-based writer known as the Gas Station Gourmet. Anywhere people wait, there should be food, said Hebert. Retailers should "see if you can work with local businesses, like newly opened car dealerships, and find out if they will lease a space on-site to you for food," he said.

Data Update

Still struggling with the concept of "big data" and what it can do for you? Retailers such as RaceTrac are studying sales data to capture product affinities to better plan combo promotions and other advertising opportunities.

Nevertheless, Protein Persists

It’s the trend with sustenance: Protein-packed items continue to permeate the new-product pipeline in various forms. Oberto showcased a trail mix with jerky; Tyson had on display its Hillshire Small Plates with meat, cheese and other bites; and PowerBar unveiled its new Jerky & Nut Bar.

Who’s Your Competition?

Fuel retailers will not compete with the corner gas station for the business of EV drivers, said Derek Nelson, manager of sustainability for Kum & Go LC, West Des Moines, Iowa. Instead, they'll go head to head with quick-service restaurants such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, which can use their higher food margins to help alleviate any costs associated with offering EV charging stations.

Tracks of My Tiers

Consider tiered bonuses to motivate both employees and customers, said Todd Lutwak, partner with venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Menlo Park, Calif. At a pre-NACS technology event, he said not all people fall into the same bucket. Setting tiers allows more engaged people one set of rewards and those less engaged another.

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