MAPCO’s Beth Barron Wins Category Manager of the Year Award for Behind the Counter

Barron has more than 20 years of experience in convenience
Beth Barron of MAPCO
Photograph by W. Scott Mitchell

Beth Barron, category manager of tobacco at MAPCO, has more than 21 years of experience managing all categories within the convenience-store landscape. As the tobacco category navigates a myriad of challenges, including the proposed menthol-cigarette ban, she sees this category as a “complex puzzle” with parts that need to be understood to achieve category success. Despite its complexity, she remains excited about the innovation unfolding in new products and what lies ahead in 2024. 

Barron (pictured above with Damian Wyatt, MAPCO's director of merchandise sales and category management) was one of CSP's seven Category Manager of the Year award winners

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

What’s new and exciting in your category?

The innovation occurring in alternative forms of tobacco delivery and products as the industry works to innovate within stringent [Food and Drug Administration] guidelines is fascinating. It will be interesting to see if the tobacco consumer continues to evolve with the changes in products or if there is a “line in the sand” that they will not cross. I follow what is happening in menthol-banned states very closely and challenge the industry leaders to really define what a “smoke-free” future means to them in regard to product development.

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying/merchandising products in your section?

With the new relaxation of category space requirements in cigarettes and moist tobacco from Altria, the opportunity to look at planograms and have freedom to create the next “look” of the backbar has excited me as a retailer. How can you continue to have enough space for the tobacco category drivers but create additional spacing for innovation? It reminds me of my days of packaged beverage and alcohol management and working on cooler planograms—how do you make each product space create the perfect balance of sales and profitability

What do you love about your category?

Tobacco category management is like working a complex puzzle. You have to mentally compartmentalize the category (puzzle pieces) to fully understand the regulations, contracts, consumer data, innovation and sales drivers by area, and then put the pieces back together to see the whole picture, resulting in category success for the company.

What is the top regulation concerning you going into 2024 and why?

Of course, like most category managers, the FDA regulations are the most concerning. I try to stay informed on all the activity in the legal system, paying closest attention to commentary from the FDA regarding stays of enforcement. Delays in timing on FDA announcements have been interesting as well. Significant impact to the industry by FDA [bans] will create changes to convenience retailing as we know it.

What trends are you watching?

I am currently watching adaptation of selling flavored vape throughout the industry, who is selling it and how, and the innovation of deriving a tobacco experience through alternative sources.

What are your goals for 2024?

I want to continue to focus on our stores as individual locations, building our tobacco “portfolio” specifically to each site and the customer demand, while growing revenue and units.

What are the biggest challenges?

Pricing changes! Early 2023 felt like price changes were coming monthly between actual cost increases and buydown changes, creating chaos to the consumer and their purchasing habits. The end of the year has seen more consistent offerings on multipack discounts, loyalty discounts and cost strategies and we really saw the customer relax and return to buying habits that enabled unit and sales growth.

What segment is performing the best in tobacco right now and why do you think this is?

Without a doubt, the modern oral category. As tobacco use became more socially unacceptable, oral alternative products allow the user to have anonymity and flavor offers to enhance the enjoyment of tobacco use.

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