MINNEAPOLIS -- More than 300 retailers and suppliers from across the Midwest recently gathered at the annual two-day Cenex Buyers Fair in Minneapolis.
In addition to engaging with more than 70 vendors representing foodservice, technology, snacks, beverages and more, they learned about:
- Consumer and menu trends from Abbie Westra, director of Winsight/CSP’s Retail Content Group
- Leadership traits from Jeff Goettl, learning and development manager for CHS (Cenex’s parent company)
- Branding strategies from Cenex brand manager Michele Tibodeau
“We recognize that our Cenex stores are not cookie-cutter. We view that as a plus,” Tibodeau told a forum of retailers as she introduced the company’s marketing program, Powered Locally, which accentuates the brand’s ties with neighborhoods in the Dakotas, the Great Lakes region and beyond.
Cenex is the retail arm of CHS Inc. and represents a network of about 1,400 independently run convenience stores and gas stations in 19 states.
Here are some highlights of the event …
Westra of Winsight, which produces CSP magazine, shared insights into how c-stores are increasingly the go-to choice for millennials and Generation Z. But their support is not unconditional, she said. The key will be maintaining their loyalty as they grow older, start families and expand into careers.
The younger generation—from mid-teens to early 30s—cares about social responsibility, which for retailers can mean anything from recycling to hosting community events. Healthy and interesting food and beverages, loyalty programs, free Wi-Fi and kid-friendly amenities prompt visits to c-stores for these groups.
On the foodservice front, it’s all about big and bold flavors, such as QuickChek’s Ghost Pepper Chicken BLT and Maverik’s Kung Fu Chicken Wrap.
Customer empowerment also continues to be important. Westra cited data that shows 72% of consumers say they expect restaurants to allow customization, which she said is “bad news for McDonald’s.”
“For us, it’s great because this is what we were built for,” she said, encouraging retailers to focus on variety on the coffee bar and condiment station, and to consider hot and cold food bars.
Embracing the Midwest
Homing in on the Midwest, Westra highlighted a distinct personality in the region: a customer base that loves pizza and doughnuts, according to Technomic research.
And don’t forget free Wi-Fi and seating. “Midwesterners want to sit down and stay awhile,” she said, pointing out that while Midwest consumers say they are content with the food and beverage offerings at c-stores, they underindex in how often they actually purchase foodservice items, compared to other regions.
Westra offered six key tips for driving more customer loyalty:
- Provide a loyalty program and free in-store Wi-Fi
- Understand the nuances of your local demographics
- Formalize a relationship strategy around store associates and customers
- Engage your community by demonstrating social responsibility
- Embrace millennials and Gen Z, and understand how their expectations will change as they age
- Appeal to young families through family-friendly amenities
Jeff Goettl, CHS’ learning and development manager, conducted a leadership session built on creating a structure that fosters improved internal communications, professional advancement and, most important, companywide buy-in of corporate goals and vision.
In establishing goals, he said, “You need to define the terms. What ‘clean’ means to one person may be different than what it means to another person.”
He underscored the importance of consulting employees, asking how management can make them more successful, clarifying their roles and tasks, and taking necessary steps to fully enable them. Goettle also touched on the importance of addressing the “whys” when implementing changes and innovations: Why this? Why now? Why me?