ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Shifts in consumer preferences. Product innovation. Increased competition. These are just three challenges currently facing the convenience channel. However, with the right tools in their toolbox, every player in the industry can find success.
Data, according to Scott Ramminger, president and CEO of the American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA), is one of the most important tools needed in every toolbox. Capturing the data and knowing what to do with it were the driving forces behind the 2014 AWMA C-Metrics Convenience Industry Outlook Forum, which took place Tuesday at the DoubleTree Hotel Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont.
"In the convenience industry, there are new challenges and opportunities every day," Ramminger said. "We have to pay attention to the doors that are before us." Recognizing those doors, though, can be a challenge itself, he noted.
The convenience channel is "seeing change like never before," Viv Penninti, president and CEO of InfoRhythm Inc. and C-Metrics, told Outlook Forum attendees.
For 30 years, the convenience channel maintained the status quo -- cigarettes were growing and "everything was hunky dorey," he said. But today, the channel faces "a tremendously changing environment" where understanding the data and metrics is the key to success.
InfoRhythm partners with AWMA to present the annual forum. InfoRhythm's C-Metrics, developed for AWMA, is a database capturing warehouse-delivered products to 28,000 convenience stores.
According to Penninti, warehouse-delivered convenience retail sales year to date were projected to hit $33.5 billion as of May 17. That figure remains flat vs. a year ago, the first time in the past 15 years that c-store sales have been flat.
Several factors are playing a role in that trend, he noted, including a harsher than normal winter and competition from other retail channels, notably dollar and drug.
Looking at the key c-store categories, cigarettes, candy, and health and beauty care are showing softness in year-to-date performance, while other categories such as other tobacco products, foodservice and alternative snacks are experiencing decent growth, reported Penninti.
Even with flat sales and shifts in category drivers, opportunities do exist.
"This channel is really embracing a new era of growth and sophistication," stated Bonnie Herzog, managing director of beverage, tobacco and convenience store research at Wells Fargo Securities LLC. Herzog was the keynote speaker at the Outlook Forum.
C-stores are benefiting from consolidation, favorable demographics, time-sensitive consumers and a shift to higher-margin foodservice. The industry is also poised to take advantage of the population shift to warmer climates, where convenience stores take up a large footprint.
Another industry opportunity is the growth in the U.S. Hispanic population. Hispanic consumers shop at convenience stores more often and their basket rings tend to be larger, according to Herzog.
Bottom line, she said, is that it is crucial -- especially in order to grow same-store sales -- for convenience store retailers to get foodservice right and find ways to optimize margins.
Convenience Store News was a sponsor of the 2014 AWMA C-Metrics Convenience Industry Outlook Forum.