CHICAGO —Have you ever had to comfort a popular person who is upset because everyone wants to be them? That’s sort of what it was like for the convenience-store industry in 2018. C-stores should be both flattered and fearful that tech giants, startups, restaurants and grocery stores are all mimicking elements of the convenience model. Receptive to the chorus of disruption echoing throughout the industry, foodservice retailers made moves this year to prove that they truly are all that and a bag of chips.
Here are the stories that unfolded this year, forecasting where c-store foodservice is headed and the potential bumps along the way. ...
1. Massive investments in sustainability
Although sustainability is a buzzword brands have used to ingratiate themselves with millennials for years, in 2018, several retailers and regulators set the bar for humane and eco-conscious practices.
In June, Rutter’s, York, Pa., announced the company would transition to cage-free eggs in July. Shortly after, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., Laval, Quebec, announced an initiative to sell cage-free eggs by 2025. The chains joined operators such as 7-Eleven Inc., Irving, Texas, and Sheetz Inc., Altoona, Pa., which announced in 2016 that they would adopt the product by 2025.
Sustainably sourced coffee is another way c-stores are differentiating their foodservice programs. This spring, Wawa Inc., Wawa, Pa., announced that all of its espresso products would be Rainforest Alliance Certified, with a goal to sustainably source all coffee varieties within the next two years.
Amid a growing anti-straw movement that has ensnared the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks, California became the first state to mandate that full-service restaurants provide straws upon request only.
2. C-stores deliver on frictionless
As the year went on, more and more retailers invested in delivery, mobile ordering and other seamless offerings. For instance, Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip, Pittsburgh-based GetGo and Wawa all expanded their third-party delivery services this year.
In 2018, Wawa began partnering with both Grubhub and Uber Eats. “Since we began piloting delivery service last fall, feedback from customers on this added convenience has been extremely positive,” said Steve Hackett, delivery project manager for Wawa. The company set a goal to offer delivery at one-quarter of the chain’s stores by the end of the year, Hackett said. Ahead of the holiday season, Wawa launched catering in the Philadelphia area. As part of the service, Wawa associates deliver and set up the custom spread.
3. Mounting support against cashless stores
The growing momentum of cashless retail and foodservice concepts might hit a roadblock in New York City. A bill introduced in the City Council in November would fine retailers that do not accept cash. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat representing working-class communities in the Bronx, said no-cash polices can be discriminatory to individuals who cannot afford credit cards or smartphones. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Chicago have also proposed regulations on cashless businesses. If this type of legislation continues to garner support, Amazon Go’s 3,000 planned units and other cashless formats might be in jeopardy.
4. A new chapter for food safety
Right before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning to foodservice operators that all romaine lettuce could be contaminated with E.coli bacteria and should be thrown out. The incident might change the protocols for foodborne-illness prevention.
After an investigation, authorities found that the contaminated romaine was sourced from the central coastal areas of central and Northern California. Public health agencies are now working with romaine suppliers, processors and distributors to create a label citing where the product was grown and handled.
"By encouraging place-of-origin labeling for romaine lettuce, the FDA is moving the entire produce industry toward labeling that will make outbreak response more effective and safety warnings to consumers more targeted,” said Creighton Magid, head of the Washington, D.C., office for the law firm Dorsey & Whitney.
5. FDA doubts coffee causes cancer
In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) backed a proposal to exclude coffee from a California law requiring retailers to warn consumers about byproducts from the coffee-roasting process that have been linked to cancer.
Concluding an eight-year long lawsuit in March, a judge ruled that retailers and coffee purveyors must pay fines and post signage to comply with the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65. Under the law, retailers are required to post warnings on products that contain any of the 800 chemicals considered to be carcinogens. The Council for the Education and Research on Toxics, which brought the lawsuit against 90 coffee retailers and companies, argues that a naturally occurring compound called acrylamide is dangerous to consumers.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the ruling is more likely to mislead than inform consumers. “Strong and consistent evidence shows that in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases, such as cancer or premature death, and some evidence suggests that coffee consumption may decrease the risk of certain cancers,” Gottlieb said.