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JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Merger and acquisition activity and the presidential election marked an eventful year for the convenience store industry in 2012. Now, with the new year upon us, the editors of Convenience Store News offer their top 10 predictions for the industry in 2013.
1) Acquisition activity will hit a fever pitch. 2012 saw significant activity in the buying and selling of convenience stores, and nearly all of the industry's largest chains have publicly stated their intent to make further acquisitions. While the deals in 2013 may not be as large in scope as some seen this year, you can bet that the big players such as 7-Eleven Inc., Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. and Speedway LLC will stay true to their word.
2) Leading c-store retailers keep growing organically. Chains such as Sheetz Inc., Wawa Inc., Kum & Go LLC and RaceTrac Petroleum Corp. built dozens of new stores this year and branched out into new markets. We see no signs of this growth stopping in 2013.
3) The rise of the "convenience restaurant." More convenience stores will evolve into convenience restaurants. Aside from focusing on their foodservice programs, stores that have the space will seek to become more of a gathering place for customers to sit back, relax and enjoy.
4) C-stores move up the retail radar. Once thought to be simple purveyors of Cokes and smokes, today's convenience stores are sophisticated operations. As such, the channel is becoming the target of many competitors -- drugstores, dollar stores, fast-feeders, etc. The cross-channel competition will intensify in 2013, requiring c-stores to go on the defensive.
5) Natural gas gains more believers. Compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas generated a lot of buzz this year, as several c-store operators added natural gas to their fuel offer. We expect the buzz to keep building, with more convenience stores joining in on the trend in 2013.
6) Electronic cigarettes take charge. As retailers and suppliers wait and see how the e-cigarette industry will be regulated, the products will become more prevalent in the convenience channel in 2013. All of the big tobacco companies will also jump into the e-cigarette market.
7) Grocers and c-stores: partners in fuel. Fuel discount partnerships between supermarket chains and convenience store chains will continue to spread across the country as both sides seek to make use of the other's customer base.
8) We'll come to you. Other c-store retailers with advanced foodservice will follow the lead of Casey's General Stores Inc. and try their hand at home delivery of pizza and other fresh foods. This move will be especially profitable for stores in high-density urban locations or rural markets.
9) Smart promotions for smartphones. As more and more consumers upgrade to smartphones, convenience retailers will get creative with mobile devices, boosting mobile-focused promotions and contests, as well as looking into accepting mobile payments.
10) Government gridlock continues. The presidential election may be over, but the government gridlock seen this year will continue as Democrats retain control of the Senate and Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives. This will benefit the industry in areas where it seeks to put off regulation, and hurt in areas where it's seeking relief.