Snacks & Candy

Love’s Bryen Bloomfield Wins Category Manager of the Year for Center Store

Leader talks big-picture goals, new products, inflation
Bryen Bloomfield, Love's travel stops
Photograph by W. Scott Mitchell

Bryen Bloomfield, center store category manager for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Oklahoma City, appreciates the diversity of the category, the solid relationships forged with an eclectic host of supplier-partners, and a new-product innovation pipeline that’s back in commission. It’s delivering “something new and different every week,” he says.

Bloomfield (pictured above with Abbey Lewis, vice president of content strategy for CSP, and Krister Hampton, senior manager of industry engagement at Altria) was one of CSP's seven Category Manager of the Year award winners

During the pandemic, that pipeline largely shriveled up—so too did the alluring in-store promotional campaigns that drive the offer.

The good news: Both are back in full force. Bloomfield, whose chain operates 644 locations in 42 states, plans to capitalize on the opportunity to bring candy and snack sales back to their rightful prominence. Inflationary pressure served as the most recent speed bump to upend these fortunes. 

  • Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores is No. 16 on CSP’s 2024 Top 202 ranking of U.S. convenience-store chains by store count.

“During the pandemic, new product innovation was dormant, but in 2024 the organization plans to really capitalize on it—we’ll scrutinize it and identify value,” says Bloomfield, a Love’s intern when first joining the organization before moving into adult beverage oversight, then on to center store.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

What are some of your big-picture goals throughout this year?

One smaller but growing segment that needs better cultivation are ‘healthy/energy’ snacks. If you attend industry trade shows, this niche segment is ubiquitous. Our chain had been way behind, so we approached supplier-partners and worked out a plan. This year, customers will see dedicated ‘healthy/energy’ merchandising [hot spots] at Love’s travel centers. We’re pivoting in this direction.

Looking at both local and professional-driver clientele, what nuanced merchandising tweaks are you looking at to optimally serve both?

It was interesting that during COVID-19 Love’s over-indexed on bigger pack sizes, moving away from smaller ones. Professional drivers pay more [per occasion], and these pack sizes fit into their buying tendencies. We looked ourselves in the mirror to see what we could do better. We embarked on a plan to implement more competitive pricing and promotions to serve that local ‘casual’ customer better.

What new products have impressed you recently?

Reese’s Caramel Big Cup [1.4 ounces] and Nerds Gummy Clusters [sweet and gummy, tangy and crunchy] boosted our confection departments—outperformed some mainline SKUs. Our team had an early read on [the potential of] Clusters. These arrivals were well-timed, as candy baskets had fallen due to price increase notifications. This forced us to be more creative in building excitement around promotions to stimulate basket-filling.

What is the biggest category challenge you’re looking to rectify?

Inflation—it’s a word I’m sick of saying and hearing. We’ve endured so many cost increase notifications and are frankly numb to it. The question surrounding the current economic and inflationary environment is … how do we address it?

The meat snack/jerky category had a tough year with dollars and units—any thoughts on why?

The inherent value of the segment was lost on consumers. The trend in meat snacks has been interesting, and ties to inflation. Consumers first traded down from big bags, then to middle-tier packages, traded down to single sticks before simply exiting the category entirely. We’d like to stop that exit.

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