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ORLANDO, Fla. — Players from all corners of the convenience channel gathered at the Hilton Orlando last week to learn more about the products, services and equipment available to retailers and distributors during the Convenience Distribution Association's (CDA) 2017 Convenience Distribution Marketplace event.
Along with educational programming, approximately 150 exhibitors took part in a full-day exhibition on Feb. 15. Here is just a sampling of the companies and what they were showing:
With an established slush brand for more than 20 years, Alligator Ice also offers c-store retailers carbonated beverages — both frozen and non-frozen — and a coffee line, Prairie Fire.
The company's products can be found in roughly 12,000 stores. According to Martin Ducote, national sales manager, the stores are mostly smaller chains and independents, and growth continues to comes as more convenience store retailers embrace foodservice.
"We are making some inroads in places that wouldn't talk to us before as more retailers are understanding the importance of foodservice to the bottom line. Also, their customers want it," he explained. "But to do it right takes a commitment by the retailer."
According to Ducote, Alligator Ice's top flavors are Blue Raspberry and Strawberry — "something blue and something red." The company also offers specialty flavors like Pina Colada and Margarita, as well as a natural sugar line, and a fruit juice line for schools. In addition, Alligator Ice will provide custom flavors and custom graphics to customers as more retailers enter the private-label space.
"From the management side of the company, we are relatively lean so we can react quickly to our customers' needs," he said.
Global Tobacco LLC
Last year could prove a turning point for the tobacco category, with the Food and Drug Administration taking the first step to regulating all tobacco products with its final deeming rule. The biggest change for the tobacco industry is coming by way of vape shops, according to Mike Walters of Global Tobacco.
Global Tobacco is a manufacturer of pipe tobacco, cigarettes, filtered cigars, cigarillos and the X2O e-liquid line. The company launched its first e-liquid about two years ago and released its latest offering six to eight months ago.
"Vape shops are not making their own liquid anymore, which opens up opportunities for manufacturers," Walters said. "Vape shops are also beginning to close, which is driving customer traffic to other channels like convenience."
Overall, tobacco is always going to be there; it's the key to a competitive business and still growing every year, he noted.
As for segment growth, Global Tobacco has found cigarillos do well in some markets and cigars in others. Regulations and taxes are different from state to state, which affects customers' buying behaviors.
SKUPOS is a relative newcomer to the convenience channel. The software company provides inventory management tools to both c-store retailers and distributors. As CEO Jake Bolling explained, retailers can log in and manage their inventory, and distributors can log in and see what their customers are doing.
With the software, retailers eliminate 65 percent to 75 percent of the time spent ordering and managing inventory. SKUPOS also helps reduce out-of-stocks and increase revenue, according to Bolling.
"We provide the analytics behind the buying behaviors," he said.
The company launched via a test program about a year ago and began fully rolling out in the fall. SKUPOS software is currently used by a couple hundred convenience stores in California and will soon roll out to another roughly 200 c-stores in the Southeast.
Tillamook Country Smoker
Meat snacks "hiccupped" in 2016, taking a slight hit; however, the popular snacking segment is expected "to bounce back" this year, InfoRhythm Inc. President Kit Dietz noted in a CMetrics presentation during the event.
Tillamook Country Smoker agrees. According to a company representative, meat snacks are still very strong in the convenience channel. The dip mostly came from high retails in bags, he stated.
The most popular flavor in the segment? Original, or as Tillamook calls it, Old Fashioned.
They say dog is man's best friend, so it makes senses to meet their needs as well as their owner's needs. Treat Planet's product lineup includes multiple brands of dog treats found in all retail channels, including convenience.
Approximately a year and half ago, the company launched Chewzees specifically for convenience stores, according to Doug Martin, president.
As Martin explained, consumers spent a total of $3.2 billion on dog treats in 2016 and Chewzees is intended to fill the need of consumers who travel with their dogs. "More and more people are treating their pets like kids," he said. "It's the humanization of pets."
Treat Planet is signed with 15 distributors and its product is available in several thousand c-stores, Martin reported.
The 2017 Convenience Distribution Marketplace began Feb. 13 and wrapped up Feb. 15 at the Hilton Orlando. The annual event is designed uniquely to bring convenience distributors together with their supplier partners in a flexible business and networking environment.
The Convenience Distribution Association, formerly AWMA, is the trade organization working on behalf of convenience products distributors in the United States. Its distributor members represent more than $92 billion in U.S convenience product sales, serving a wide variety of small retail formats. Associate members include leading convenience product manufacturers, brokers, retailers, suppliers and others allied to the industry.