The turning of the calendar not only brings new seasons, but also new opportunities for convenience stores to capture consumer dollars.
With four distinct seasonal peaks -- Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas -- seasonal chocolate can turn in big sales for c-stores. However, the convenience industry is "missing the boat on seasonal candy," said Tim Quinn, vice president of trade development at Mars Chocolate North America LLC.
Speaking at the "Tis the Season for Seasonal Sales" educational session at the 2013 NACS Show, Quinn explained that seasonal chocolate fits the profit center bill for c-stores. "In convenience stores, chocolate sales remain steady all year. There are no peaks or valleys during the seasons," he said, adding that he sees no reason why convenience stores can't be taking advantage of the seasons. "Candy is fun; it is an easy pick-up. It is a fun way to engage consumers to drive incremental sales."
Ideally, c-store operators should place the best-selling brands by the register and have a permanent place within the store to feature seasonal offerings, Quinn said. Suppliers can offer retailers help when it comes to merchandising vehicles and point-of-sale materials.
"A [c-store] trip lasts only seconds. Customers are not going in for a chocolate egg, but if is at the register, they will buy it," he maintained.
He also noted that seasonal candy represents a more than $200-million opportunity for operators simply by duplicating current c-store best practices. Convenience stores only make up 3 percent of all seasonal candy sales, yet there's no reason why that figure can't reach 10 percent.
Seasonal candy offers a real opportunity to grow the convenience business as other categories -- like tobacco -- struggle, echoed John Zikias, chief operating officer at Holmes Oil Co. Inc.
And candy is not the only category that can benefit from seasonal spikes. Seasonal beer also lends itself to big numbers in the convenience channel.
According to Jeff Schouten, director of channel marketing for MillerCoors, there are nine key convenience beer holidays: Super Bowl, March Madness, Spring Break, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Craft beer is popular for the winter holidays, he said, as consumers tend to turn toward craft for special occasions. In addition, seasonal craft beers are driving growth in the craft segment. "There are always line extensions and they are recurring every year," Schouten explained.
Seasonal beers are growing. They are up 49 percent this year compared to two years ago and convenience is driving that growth -- primarily through greater availability, he said. In addition, the convenience channel captures 19 percent of all channel seasonal volume. It represents 25 percent of all seasonal growth -- picking up ground from grocery, he cited.
A winning game plan for c-stores, according to Schouten, is to stock up and keep seasonal beer cold; promote the holiday; feature higher-volume, higher-value products; and look for opportunities for tie-ins with other complementary in-store products.