For Steve Loehr, providing healthier offers at Kwik Trip stores wasn’t so much a cause as an evolution within its foundational foodservice program, something customers would ultimately embrace after experiencing the chain’s unique brand of freshness.

That’s why Loehr triggered Kwik Trip’s involvement with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA). As its goal, PHA brings together public, private and nonprofit leaders to broker commitments to ending childhood obesity. Retailers must meet stringent requirements to become members. PR fluff it is not.  

“One advantage of being a private company is that we can do some things that might take longer to bring to fruition and [make] profitable, because we think it’s the right thing to do,” Loehr says, pointing out that fresh salads, for instance, took a while to gain traction. “But after having them out there and using sampling, all of a sudden our guests are buying a coffee and doughnut for breakfast and a salad for lunch.”

Since joining the partnership in 2014, La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip, already known for making fresh bananas core to its brand, followed PHA criteria and introduced four categories of fresh fruits and four categories of fresh vegetables across its stores. It expanded its whole-grain offerings to six products and became the first c-store chain to offer a PHA-approved combo meal.

In its first full year of partnership, Kwik Trip grew its bulk produce sales 5.5%, according to PHA.

Almost in lockstep, NACS developed a strong rapport with PHA, working to create several joint projects. Then, like dominos, other industry players responded, with a total of eight c-store chains and five wholesale distributors becoming aligned with PHA efforts.

While Loehr believes food in general to be crucial to the channel’s future, healthier food is a potent opportunity. “I’m inspired by what grocers and delis offer,” he says. “People need variety, so I see us branching out, having more combo meals available with water, juice or 1% milk. It just continues to evolve.”

53%—U.S. consumers who say they’d visit c-stores more often if there were healthier options, according to NACS