To Grow Fans, Convenience Stores Must Pinpoint What Makes Them Different in Craveability

It’s imperative that retailers figure out what sets them apart from competition, Supper Co.’s owners say at CSP’s Dispensed Beverages Forum
Kesha Alexander and Kyle Denon, co-owners of Supper Co.
Photograph by CSP Staff

For a retailer to cultivate a fan base inside the convenience store, it’s imperative to dive deep to find a point of difference in craveability, Kyle Drenon (pictured), said last week at CSP’s Dispensed Beverages Forum in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Drenon is co-owner of the Springfield, Missouri-based ad agency Supper Co. along with Kesha Alexander (pictured). The two spoke on growing hot and cold zones.

More Dispensed Beverages Forum Coverage:

“The name of game is craveablility,” Alexander said. “The product has to look good.”

Alexander rolled off some of the big names in craveability: Casey’s General Stores, Ankeny, Iowa, and its pizza; Wawa, Wawa, Pennsylvania, and its hoagies. “That’s what people know them for,” she said. “They do merchandise, which brings in guests who want to be a part of it. [Irving, Texas-based] 7-Eleven: the OG of iced and frozen beverages.”

In addition, Chicago-based McDonald’s recently launched specialty drink restaurant CosMc’s in Bolingbrook, Illinois, with plans for other locations. CosMc’s is a response to the $100 billion specialty beverage market, Alexander said, “and McDonald’s understands that. It’s a way to capture the beverage share via customer loyalty. The category is growing.”

Drenon added, “Our hires bring in those drinks. CosMc’s is built on what’s happening online. They share on TikTok. McDonald’s built an entire concept for that generation.”

Maverik, Salt Lake City, created its Bonfire Grill, Drenon said, to differentiate itself. “They wanted the outdoor feel, something to differentiate themselves. It’s really picked up in last 12 to 18 months.”

“NACS [the National Association of Convenience Stores] named them the No. 1 foodservice brand in 2023,” Drenon continued. “This is creating your own brand, and it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking like CosMc’s probably was. It’s just about taking the same things you’re already doing and putting it under a brand that you can own, that communicates the value you want to bring to your beverage programs.”

“This also can help you reach and expand into new target audiences, and that’s exactly what CosMc’s did,” he continued. “They knew McDonald’s skews a little bit older, and CosMc’s can be something that speaks to that 18-to-35 range that people are all trying to get a piece of.”

Alexander added: “This can be done in your beverage program as well. We have people coming into our office with their [Fayetteville, Arkansas-based drive-thru coffee chain] 7 Brew cup. That’s who they are. Give your coffee bar a brand.”

Drenon said, “Create a brand to speak to whom you want to speak. Give it a new look and a new message.”

When doing this, find the right channels and placement for the audience, including social media and websites, he said.

Menu Strategy

The pair then turned to menu strategy, explaining that driving incremental growth requires testing, research and innovation; however, menu strategy doesn’t require a Michelin star or a Fortune 500 budget.

“It can be done affordably,” Alexander said, citing Dutch Bros coffee, Grants Pass, Oregon, and its strong limited-time-offer strategy.

“They have introduced a protein coffee as an LTO,” she said. “It harkens back to some of the conversations we’ve had about health and wellness. This LTO performed so well that it’s now a category on their menu.

“This is an important idea for us to be thinking about: How to use LTOs to not only drive interest and bring that guest in, but how it can then give us that bump in sales, and then might become a category,” she continued. “This is what QSRs are doing, this is what those up-and-coming coffee chains are doing.”

“Create a brand to speak to whom you want to speak. Give it a new look and a new message.”

The Dutch Bros business is essentially a working lab for concept testing, Drenon said. “They launched this LTO, then took it away and assessed,” he said. “Then knew they needed to bring it back because it was so successful. An LTO strategy is a great way to concept test. Make a plan, put it on a marketing calendar, and give it a shot.”

A slide showed the growth of menu LTOs from 2019 to 2023. There were 14,749 LTOS from full- and limited-service restaurants in 2019 and 25,557 in 2023, according to data from CSP sister research arm Technomic.

This stat was followed by a quote from David Hall, vice president of global foodservice at Circle K, owned by Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard: “Over time, if we don’t provide something exciting, [the dispensed beverage program] becomes wallpaper.”

Create a Campaign

Finally, the pair discussed creating a high-performing campaign in four steps:

Craft a campaignable idea based on your point of difference. “Maybe it’s tapping into nostalgia and childhood,” Drenon said.

Next, create a communication plan to reach the audience you want to claim. The audience might spend a lot of its time on short-form vertical videos, such as Instagram Reels, TikTok and YouTube Shorts, he said.

“CosMc’s is built on what’s happening online.”

Next, create stunning visual assets to showcase your point of difference. “Maybe it’s a clear cup with your branding on it that Frazil is going into, and swirling around the cup and sweat is beading off the side off the cup, and it just looks delicious,” Drenon said. “That’s how you’re going to create that craveability.”

Finally, deploy. “Get it in front of the right people on the mediums they’re on all day long,” he said. “Then make corrections and adjust as you go.”

Alexander added, “Campaigns can feel overwhelming, but with the way media is now and with TikTok, you don’t want to be too polished. You want to fit into the media channel.”

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