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C-stores Moving to Forefront of Business Innovation

Convenience retailers are evolving successfully to meet the post-pandemic future.
Don Longo
Editorial Director
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A year ago, the nation’s convenience retailers were facing an uncertain future. Fuel sales had cratered due to the shutdowns enacted nationwide to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Store traffic was down, and foodservice sales were hit particularly hard by pandemic safety restrictions. Yet, I pointed out then that innovation would carry retailers through the crisis.

A year later, business is improving for most c-store retailers, although you cannot say things are back to normal. Despite the availability of vaccines that have proven to be extremely effective against the COVID-19 virus and its variants, infection rates have risen in many regions of the country, and some areas are dealing with a return to difficult-to-enforce mask mandates.

Nevertheless, if innovation got the industry through the nadir of last year’s business conditions, I’m convinced it will do likewise in the coming year. The convenience channel’s ability to innovate was especially visible during the pandemic.

Scott Hartman, president and CEO of Rutter’s, told me that the industry did things faster and better than most any other business during COVID-19. He pointed to the changes in regulations, customer habits and supply chain challenges that faced the industry. “While other industries simply closed, limited hours, cut out inside seating and sales, we adjusted in ways many thought impossible. Not only did we step up and stay open, but we were a huge winner for our customers and investors,” Hartman noted.

The pandemic sped up testing and implementation of technology, too. Check out the 2021 Convenience Store News Technology Study to see how retailers are investing their tech dollars today and what they plan to focus on in the near future.  

From making pandemic-inspired menu changes to utilizing new technology, the nation’s top food-forward convenience retailers also demonstrated remarkable innovation over the past year. Being able to turn on a dime and succeed, during a global pandemic, is the definition of innovation. Check out this year’s CSNews Foodservice Innovators Awards winners and read how they did it.

And although dealt enormous supply chain challenges that continue today, industry suppliers rose to the occasion as well. Brand marketers correctly anticipated that consumers’ thirst for healthier products would only increase during the pandemic. See the innovation exhibited by the 44 products recognized in our 25th annual Best New Products Awards.

As the COVID-19 cloud clears — and operators assess the new normal — the c-store industry stands poised to lead the future of retail, both in-store and on the forecourt. 

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