Industry View: Make 'Grazing' Your Friend

Steve Montgomery, President

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The grazing trend is the c-store’s friend. Numerous articles over the past few years have explained to us why consumers are eating smaller, more frequent meals. It’s simple: We have become time-starved consumers. We want it, and we want it now. And convenience stores are well positioned to deliver on that.

Part of the grazing trend is the movement toward snacks as a quick meal alternative—hence the term “snackification,” or eating small meals rather than “three squares a day.” The good news is that c-stores are America’s snack headquarters. We are convenient, and we offer quick service and a wide variety of non-foodservice snacks. NACS last year reported in its Fact Book that snacks (candy, sweet, salty and alternative) generated about 14% of sales and 21% of the gross margin for non-foodservice sales.

That is all great news, but our customer tastes keep changing. For your stores to maintain or grow sales of snacks, be aware of and position yourself to take advantage of their evolving palates. The buzzwords in the snack manufacturers’ world include salty-sweet, fiery flavors, health halos, gluten-free, organic, natural, non-GMO, grains, semi-liquid treats, packaging delight, pouch formats, LTO, bites and shareable.

Continuing Innovation

Here are just a few examples of manufacturers with products that reflect the above:

▶ Frito-Lay is working on packing that contains multiple compartments. One has chips and another holds flavors the consumer can sprinkle on their chips.

▶ On Oberto’s website, there’s a dropdown list of the eight ingredients that are in the company’s All Natural Beef Jerky.

▶ Lovely Candy Co. has developed gluten-free licorice. It also offers non- GMO candies.

▶ Mars’ Twix Bites joins a list of multiple items that have gone small.

Other considerations include how snacking occasions differ between those when consumers are snacking alone vs. how they snack when with others. Who knew snacking was so complicated?

If you think some of the terms on the list above are really not that important, you are mistaken. I attended a breakfast hosted by Jimmy Matorin of smartketing before the recent NRA Show. In the room were a number of dietitians from various higher-education facilities. They talked a great deal about how those terms are very important to their students/consumers—our current and future customers. It is true that people often say they want to eat “healthy” and then don’t, but there’s no doubt that the terms above and others will influence our snack sales.

Know and Act on Trends

So what’s a retailer to do? First, be aware of the trends. They may or may not have affected you yet, but they will. Possible information sources:

▶ Trade publications such as CSP, through periodicals or daily news stories.

▶ Trade shows held by associations and/or a primary distributor. And don’t overlook the possibility of simply asking your primary distributor about top-selling items you’re not carrying.

▶ Internet research will turn up many, many stories about snack trends.

▶ Local newspapers and/or business publications can be a great source of what is happening in your market.

▶ Your competitors. What are they carrying that you’re not? Also, just because they have it doesn’t mean it’s selling or is right for your customers.

Next, act on the trends. Too many times great information is available or even gathered, but everyone is too busy to do anything with it. If you want to be known as a place to get snacks, then you have to use the information you gathered.

▶ Make sure your snacks section is reset no less that twice a year. Incorporate some flexibility to tweak the set between resets.

▶ Use off-shelf displays to determine if new items merit permanent rack space. Using display fixtures you own gives you the flexibility to use it as needs dictate.

▶ Do your best to strike a balance between a plan-o-gram that helps capture the greatest rebates from manufacturers with purchases from customers. Too often retailers advocate the plan-o-gram to someone who has a vested interest in having certain products occupy the best spots.

Grazing and snackification are our friends if we are prepared to take advantage of them. If not, drug stores and our other competitors will.

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