Across the CRUniverse

A CSP Staff Report from 2014 Convenience Retailing University

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Evolve Beer Sales to Match Consumer Tastes

Bob Gulley is a believer in product innovation—a big believer.

“I take all innovation [into my stores] instantly,” said Gulley, director of beer, wine & spirits for Cary, N.C.-based The Pantry/Kangaroo Express, during the session titled “The Evolution of Beer, Wine & Spirits.” “If [a new product] is coming, like Miller Fortune, I want it in my store on Day One.”

Why? Because innovation is what’s driving beer sales these days, he said: “If you’re not in innovation, you’re not taking advantage of the opportunity in the beer segment.”

It helps if the manufacturer has a healthy marketing plan to go along with the new-product rollout, he said. And if part of that marketing includes POP materials for retailers, he wants in.

“I advertise what’s new,” Gulley said. “The customer already knows I’ve got 18-packs of Bud Light.”

And beer consumers are more willing to experiment than ever. “This shift has required suppliers to push their boundaries to adapt and grow,” he said.

One way Gulley is taking advantage of this experimentation is by focusing on single-serve beer, with three shelves of 16-ounce singles in the cold vault and “ice units in every one of our stores.”

The customer may not be ready to spend $9.99 on a six-pack, but he or she can afford $2.99 or less for a single-serve can that serves as a sample taste. So he has pushed manufacturers to develop single-serve packages of craft beers and other high-end brews, and it’s paid off with brands such as Blue Moon, Shock Top and Red Hook, now “selling gangbusters” in Gulley’s stores.

And as premium and sub-premium beers struggle to maintain share, the strategy involves developing a well-rounded product offer.

“I’m not going to walk away from the premium brews,” he said, “but I am going to offset it.” --Steve Holtz

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