Ripe for Innovation

Twenty opportunities to turn your company into an innovation powerhouse

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

“7-Eleven is labeling wines with tasting notes. Five years ago that would have seemed absurd, but with lines blurring, it is much more plausible today,” says Barry of Centric.

This is an opportunity that many retailers and manufacturers have already captured, but the impulse nature of the convenience channel makes it even more of a viable opportunity. And think not just about product-based luxuries, but also the retail experience itself.

Holding Innovations
The foodservice industry has experienced an onslaught of cooking-technology innovations in recent years. Industry experts tell us the next category to get a major overhaul is hot-holding equipment—certainly a plus for c-store foodservice.

E-Cigs 2.0
The boom of the e-cig market has been the top c-store story of the past few years, but the category is really only in its infancy, and industry experts expect a whole new evolution in terms of technology and customer experience.

Soon enough, a number of trends will merge—or duke it out—to become the consumer’s preferred product. While the c-store industry has largely focused on products that mimic the shape and feel of a tobacco cigarette, a thriving culture exists among consumers who prefer personal vaporizers, frequenting vape shops for e-juices, investing in rechargeable kits and developing a culture onto themselves. In fact, the number of manufacturers rolling out new or advanced vaping products in early 2014—from Vapor Corp. to 21st Century Smoke—has been notable.

Other manufacturers seeking to differentiate themselves include Ploom, whose device atomizes actual tobacco, herbs, liquids, waxes—you name it. Vapor Corp. was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year showing off the prototype of a rechargeable vaporizer unit with patent-pending fingerprint lock technology.

“What’s being used today two years from now could be ancient history,” says Lou Maiellano, president of TAZ Marketing & Consulting Group, Sevierville, Tenn. “All you have to do is go back and look at what was used in the past. It’s constantly evolving. There’s going to be real changes.”

Convenience Cuisine
Foods aren’t just convenient for consumers. The foodservice industry has long used products that allow operators to make high-quality products with fewer resources, and Oberkfell of IFMA has seen a lot of innovation around partially prepared baked goods, sauces and other items that reduce prep time and require less space and talent as scratch cooking.

Food as Pharmacy
A quick perusal of recent c-store product rolloutsreveals a huge societal trend towards functionalfoods. Food or beverages with a health benefit, beit low-fat or high-protein, is nothing new, but theproliferation of products and consumer expectationcertainly is.

“It’s something we’re hearing particularly frommillennials,” says Demeritt of The Hartman Group.“They talk about these nagging day-to-day quality-of-life issues: ‘Is there a way via food and beveragethat I can help improve my quality of life?’ ”

The proof is in the numbers: On the beverageside, dollar sales for the category of ready-to-drink“wellness and functional” beverages grew 3.9%from 2011 to 2012, making it a $65.3 billion category,according to the Beverage Marketing Corp.,New York. The entire $143.5 billion ready-to-drink beveragesector increased only 2.4%.

The retailer’s opportunity lies in thinking notjust about traditional categories—CSD, bottledwater, iced tea—but also the very specific needstates of consumers beyond satiety or craving. Butalso be careful to not fall down the rabbit hole offunctional foods—balance niche products that fityour consumer base with core SKUs.

The Future of Food Packaging
All three of the food scientists we spoke to for The Innovators Issue discussed the evolution of food packaging and labeling. Roger Clemens, chief scientific officer at ingredient company Horn, and past president of the Institute of Food Technologists, described microchip coding based on consumer’s genetics and what he/she needs nutritionally at that specific point in time.

Pages