Spotlight on the C-Store Shopper

Retailers discuss ways of understanding, engaging current and potential consumers.

By
Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

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These options could come in the form of bread brought in from a local bakery or just a few artisanal toppings for a sandwich program. Even retailers not in the foodservice game have an opportunity to draw in the fresh-minded consumer without a drastic operational change.
 
“I know from 15 years of research that dairy is the first category moms adopt as a local or organic option,” said Barry. “It’s kind of a halo for you. The traditional c-store experience doesn’t have to be entirely shelved; it can coexist with a ‘fresh’ concept, especially for females who just want another option.”
 

Priorities of the Beer Consumer

Millennials were also a hot topic in a session on the beer consumer, presented by MillerCoors’ John Knapp and Scott Sabin. While premium beers still account for the majority of c-store dollar sales, millennials are driving hot new segments within the category, Knapp said.
 
“Growth is happening in flavors and higher-alcohol products,” said Knapp, MillerCoors’ director of category management. “These products are really appealing to millennials and are expected to see continued growth.”
 
Beer’s continued success in the channel—and the category’s appeal to the high-spending millennial—is good news for suppliers such as MillerCoors, but even better news for c-store retailers.
 
“When we talk about the convenience shopper, it’s really about the fight for trips,” said Knapp. “To compete, c-stores are creating ‘destinations’ to generate more traffic. Beer accounts for 13% of c-store sales; it certainly has potential to be one of those destinations.”
 
To better understand how to make beer a true destination, Sabin—the company’s marketing insights manager—shared the top “musts” of the c-store beer shopper. Besides the obvious need for quick and convenient service, these are the aspects that most factor into a beer shopper’s decision-making process:
 
  • Cold: “This is the most powerful thing in shoppers’ minds,” Sabin said. “They are truly looking for that cold experience—beer that is ice-cold from when they touch it to when they consume it.” MilllerCoors’ research shows that 70% of c-store consumers intend to drink their beer within two hours of purchase, driving cold to the No. 1 position in importance. On the other side, only 2% intend to drink it the next day or later. Sabin sees the cold “must” as a big opportunity for retailers, whether through coolers or beer caves: “C-stores, more than any other channel, have the opportunity to own this cold experience.”
  • Brand: “Most shopper types are looking for those core (premium) brands,” said Sabin. “A little variety gives the shopper an opportunity for trial. But at the end of the day, they’re probably going with a core brand.” In other words, while there’s certainly room to bring in a few SKUs of craft or specialty products, don’t ignore the industry standards. 
  • Pack Size: Whether a retailer sticks to six-packs and single-serves or opts to stock 12- or 24-packs of popular brands, it’s crucial to remain consistent in what’s on the shelves. Packaging is something consumers will pick up on, especially if their preferred size is out of stock. “C-store beer shoppers understand both value and pricing,” Sabin said. “They know if that 12-pack is out, two six-packs will cost them more.”
  • Price and Promotions: As value-conscious as c-store beer shoppers are, they understand that they’re paying a premium for the convenience the channel offers—which is why price and promotion are at the bottom of the “must” list. They’re still important, but not nearly as much so as cold, brand and pack size.
“The c-store consumer understands there will be less promotions and discounts in this channel than in grocery,” Sabin said. “But they also like being rewarded and feeling like they got a good deal.”

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