The Pacesetters

Trends Behind the Fastest-Moving New C-store Products

By
Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

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When rubber-band bracelets began garnering buzz among c-store retailers, Diane McCarty, a “pretty low-risk person,” was uncertain of the promised riches. But she dove in anyway.

“I thought, ‘Well, I guess these are hot, and what do I know about being an 8-year-old girl?’

“They were flying off the shelves for everyone else—everyone but Texans, apparently,” says McCarty, who, as CEO of Douglass Distributing in Sherman, Texas, acts as buyer, vendor negotiator and more for Douglass’ 16 company-operated c-stores.

Where are those bands today? “I’ve still got them,” McCarty says with dismay.

Staying abreast of the next big thing is a task that requires patience, especially if you’re coming off a year when a particular category—bottled water, energy drinks, e-cigs—went gangbusters. Boxes of a dud product collecting dust in your back room may make you think twice about jumping on the next new-product bandwagon and have you singing the praises of keeping to your core. And while the core is crucial, new-product innovation is important for generating consumer traffic, buzz and, yes, sales.

“Even in these tough times, is innovation driving growth?” says Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends for Chicago-based research firm IRI. “In our analysis we’ve found that yes, it absolutely is.”

Look at new-product sales trends from a macro viewpoint—not individual products but rather the categories or trends they fill—and you will indeed find sustained growth that outpaces even total industry growth.

So how do you avoid the bombs and find the gems? In reality, the next big thing is rare, especially as the segmentation of consumers has manufacturers targeting niches vs. larger populations. Don’t wait and watch for the next equivalent of energy drinks or e-cigs; instead, look to smaller innovations within growth categories that fulfill top consumer needs.

To help identify where innovation is happening based on true sales figures, Convenience Store Products worked with IRI to dive into the trends reflected in its annual New Products Pacesetters report. What we found: While health, indulgence and convenience are table stakes in the new-products gamble, strong, sustained growth is coming from a few key categories: coffee and tea, light meals and snacks, and breakfast.

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