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    Retailer Honoree

    7-Eleven leads the way.

    Once again, it was 7-Eleven all the way, as the c-store giant dominated the rankings in every measure this year — the company, in fact, improved its scores in each of the five areas in which retailers were ranked by manufacturers. Still, it isn't all roses and sunshine for the company — like every other retail sector, the past year has posed difficulties for the chain.

    Jim Keyes, CEO of the Dallas-based chain has felt the effect of the economy at the 5,800 7-Eleven stores in the United States and Canada. When gas prices rise, his stores across the country sell fewer gallons of milk and cartons of cigarettes, instead selling more quarts of milk and single packs of smokes. Some shoppers eschew large coffees and Slurpees for smaller sizes.

    "We think gasoline is a bigger driver of the near-term economy than unemployment," Keyes said. "When gasoline costs go up 20 cents a gallon, it affects everyone. More and more people are looking at gasoline being a daily necessity. It forces a difference in your buying patterns."

    7-Eleven works with its supplier partners to address those changing shopping habits, and one of its big initiatives this year is launching new products — particularly in its growing foodservice selection. Among the new items are a yeast-raised chocolate frosted Dreammm doughnut, an Italian sausage sandwich with marinara sauce, breakfast Go-Go Taquitos and the first zero-calorie, sugar-free Slurpee, which comes in Diet Pepsi flavor.

    Foodservice may be one way of trying to ward off the ever-encroaching Wawa Inc. While Wawa, with 500 stores, has less than a tenth of 7-Eleven's store count, it consistently does well in the rankings, showing up in all five categories despite being a regional player with stores throughout Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic states. Also, holding steady at second in every category is ConocoPhillips (listed as Tosco in previous years).

    And there are other, more unconventional players entering the field. "Wal-Mart and Safeway have opened c-stores with gas stations now," said Cannondale's Ken Harris, and both have shown up in this year's rankings — Safeway garnering a 3.5-percent share in the beverage/cold vault category, and Wal-Mart netting 10 percent of the snack category 11.8 percent in confections.

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