Stop and Look Around

Take these social sightings and turn them into c-store sensations.

By  Kevin Higar, Author, Foodservice Marketing Consultant

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"Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

That, my friends, is Ferris Bueller genius. When I met my wife’s dad for the first time after proposing, he asked about my goals in life. I jokingly responded with that phrase. He countered by threatening to attach his foot to a specific portion of my posterior region. I guess not every iconic phrase transcends all generations.

Regardless of that personal encounter, I’m still convinced those words not only have social relevance for multiple generations, but can also be applied to business settings. One of my primary responsibilities is observing consumer behavior. Once I’ve “stopped and looked around,” I focus on determining how foodservice concepts can develop repeatable best practices and strategies that address consumers’ meal, snack and beverage demands.

So, enlightened by social trends I’m seeing in the marketplace and inspired by the wisdom of Matthew Broderick nearly three decades ago, I offer you the following: eight social sightings and how you can capitalize on them at the c-store level.  

No. 1: Nuts For Knitting

Rumor has it that Julia Roberts taught Cameron Diaz to knit on the set of their romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” The current Guinness World Records holder has knitted more than 200 stitches in 3 minutes. (I can’t tie my shoes that fast.) But knitting isn’t just for the fast or famous. Head to your local coffee shop and you just might see a local knitting group composed of teens, older millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. It appears a growing number of people are rediscovering the joy of sitting around with fingers flying and conversations moving just as fast. According to the Craft Yarn Council (who knew?), 38 million people currently enjoy this activity. Personally, I tried to letter in that sport during high school but pulled a pinkie muscle by not warming up properly.

Capitalizing at the C-Store Level: People have anxiety. They’re often looking for experiences or products offering simple, straightforward and no-hidden-agenda characteristics. (Does that describe knitting or what!) Inside the four walls of your establishment, this philosophy can be applied to just about every customer/concept touchpoint. When possible, offer foods that include a minimal number of ingredients and processing influences. Local is still hot and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. One of the reasons for this is its strong “fresh” halo. The concept of fresh isn’t complicated. Consumers believe that what they see is what they get. Regarding staff, encourage employees to genuinely interact with guests in a manner exuding the true hospitality spirit of “I’m really glad to see you today!”

No. 2: Giddy For Gatsby

Walk through your favorite mall. My guess is you won’t be able to make it from one end to the other without seeing at least one example of something inspired by “The Great Gatsby” or, more broadly, the Roaring Twenties. While the 2013 movie has faded from the big screen, the appeal of retro is as strong as ever.

Capitalizing at the C-Store Level: Classic is back. Hostess showed us how subliminally we still have a soft spot in our hearts for childhood favorites. It’s time to spotlight many of those classic, comfort foodservice items (prepared or packaged) customers may not know they’ve missed or be yearning. In New York, Momofuku milk bar offers items fitting both these classifications. In a packaged state, the store’s individual sized, grab-and-go bottles of cereal milk taste just like the bottom of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. (Be honest: As a kid you couldn’t wait to finish the cereal, pick up the bowl and drink leftover the sweet substance.) In a prepared form, this cereal milk is also frozen and offered as a soft-serve ice cream. I’ve had both, and I’m not ashamed to admit it happened during the same visit! A final note: Even for those too young to have experienced many of these the first time around, they still have an appreciation for things that can be classified as retro.

No. 3: The History Addiction

Next time you’re sitting around with absolutely nothing to do, check out viewership statistics for The History Channel, or History, as it’s been known since a change to a single hip name in 2008. (It worked for Cher, Madonna and Shamu, so why not?) I really don’t want to spout specifics here, but let’s just say that in a typical reporting period for the channel, you’re probably going to see increases in nearly every key demographic.

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