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    Millennials Key to Future for Many Retailers

    A generation charged by technology calls on c-stores to keep up.

    While the significance of the millennial market is undisputed, some convenience store retailers admit they are just beginning to understand the best ways to target this coveted consumer subset.

    Millennials place a high value on grab-and-go convenience, quality and freshness. Moreover, millennials are willing to sample new and unique products more than preceding generations that have established enduring brand loyalties.

    “Millennials are always looking for the next big thing,” noted Matthew Paduano, vice president of category management for Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, based in central New York State. “Their focus is on convenience, ease of use and freshness, and they are willing to pay for this. All natural and chemical free are also a big part of their requirements.”

    John Hamza, vice president of sales and marketing for New England’s Tedeschi Food Shops, added that millennials are in tune with new products and brands, often reaching out with Facebook or email requests to ask that these products be added to Tedeschi’s inventory. This makes being the first to market with new products one of the company’s top priorities.

    “Millennials are more engaged and, for the most part, know what they want from the products they consume,” said Hamza. “They want to know as much as they can about products from a nutritional standpoint as well as their unique characteristics.”

    Focus on foodservice

    Millennials’ desire for product diversity presents a unique opportunity since the nature of c-stores allows them to quickly introduce new products, observed Larry Miller, president of Miller Management Consulting Services, a company in Sanford, Fla. that specializes in convenience retailing.

    “As an industry we can get in and out of something quicker than a big box retailer and that has always been one of our strengths,” Miller explained.

    Most essential to capturing millennial dollars are fresh, prepared products since the millennial lifestyle demands that c-stores position themselves as foodservice destinations.

    “Millennials are a generation on the go,” said Sara Monnette, senior director of consumer insights and innovations for Chicago-based Technomic. C-stores, she adds, continue to challenge the lingering notion that they offer sub-par prepared foods and beverages. “Many [c-stores] are making incredible strides toward fresh, higher quality, on-trend offerings. More people see c-stores as a viable option for meals today.”

    Communicate and innovate to build loyalty

    C-store retailers are using Facebook, Twitter and company apps in addition to traditional communication platforms to connect with millennials. Tedeschi also employs in-store samplings and street teams that bring products to Boston neighborhoods and colleges, Hamza noted.

    “People look at Facebook the way a generation or two ago looked at the morning newspaper,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications for NACS, the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing.

    While capturing millennials’ loyalty is a challenge because they like to experiment with new products, they are also open to trying new shopping destinations. According to Technomic’s research, millennials base decisions about which c-stores to patronize on the convenience of a store’s location (80 percent say this factors into their decision), store cleanliness (80 percent) and prices/value (79 percent). Store atmosphere, a wide variety of food and beverage offerings, and loyalty or rewards programs also each play a role.

    As discerning as they are about the where they shop and what they buy, millennials want to patronize stores and buy brands that make them feel good, too. Consequently, c-stores can engender loyalty by creating and promoting programs that focus on social responsibility. Working with charities, and undertaking “green” initiatives or any project designed to better the community are ideas NACS’ Lenard suggested.

    While myriad factors play into millennials’ purchasing patterns, understanding some basic preferences can help c-stores appeal to this important demographic group.

    “[Millennials] continue to seek out convenient meal solutions, but they are also very conscientious about what they consume and where they spend their money,” Monnette concluded.

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