PHA president and CEO, Nancy E. Roman, announced new partnership commitments in the convenience channel including Kwik Trip's pledge to activate the Fruits & Veggies (FNV) marketing campaign in all of its Wisconsin c-stores and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA)/National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) joint effort to bring Sesame Street's 'eat brighter!' campaign to over 150,000 convenience and corner stores nationwide.
"In observing it [the convenience store channel], the biggest takeaway for me is the breadth of the customer base," Roman told reporters during the PHA 2019 Summit held in Chicago last week.
According to a recent nationwide survey conducted by facility management firm Vixxo, convenience stores are factoring more prominently into consumers' lives: Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Americans visit a convenience store at least once a week and almost a quarter (22%) visit a c-store daily.
"What I have been surprised by is the competition between convenience and retail," Roman added. According to The Food Institute, between 1988 and 2016, convenience stores’ share of grocery sales doubled from 8% to 16%.
"I think what’s really interesting is that convenience stores still have somewhat of an edge because they’ve got the bricks and mortar, they’ve got more points of location, so they’ve got more opportunity to affect big change if they choose to affect it," said Roman.
'It’s really thinking about how can you have more shelf-stable better-for-you options'
While fruits and vegetables are the ideal of healthy eating and PHA has strengthened efforts in this category, produce inventory can be hard to manage from a supply chain standpoint, and there are other forms of healthy eating that can be strengthened within the c-stores.
"Nuts, seeds, legumes, they’re all affordable protein sources and they’re also shelf stable. It’s really thinking about how can you have more shelf-stable better for you options," Roman said.
However, better-for-you shelf stable products have to be marketed and merchandised in an attractive way in motivate consumers to purchase those items, added Roman.
"How do we actually get customers to purchase the food? By making it good enough. It has to be good-for you-food that tastes good and is compelling. It’s a high bar," said Roman.
"If it’s good enough and it’s at the right price point and it’s visible, they [the products] will begin to move."
Roman encouraged c-store retailers to take some risks to evolve their product sets in order to offer all customers -- regardless of socioeconomic background -- healthy, 'craveable' options when they walk into a store.
"The progressive chains that want to move the needle are going to have to try some things that don’t work to get to the things that do work," she said. " There has to be more experimentation. It’s not a ‘build it and they will come’, you really have to put the marketing dollars behind it."
Marketing is your friend
The marketing piece is crucial, added Roman. PHA believes that when used to create positive change, celebrity and character marketing is effective in changing Americans' eating habits.
According to the previously mentioned survey by Vixxo, consumers are on board with seeing their c-stores offer more fresh and healthy options: Nearly one-third of shoppers (32%) would like to see more healthy snack choices and one in three consumers said they would visit a convenience store more frequently if the retailer stocked more fresh fruit and vegetables as well as healthy sandwiches and salads.
PHA's FNV campaign, for example, features famous faces including NBA star Stephen Curry, singer/songwriter Nick Jonas, and actresses Kristen Bell and Jessica Alba in its marketing outreach designed to sell more fruits and vegetables because "research shows that nothing moves product like celebrities," according to FNV.
The eat brighter! program targets a younger audience using nine Sesame Street characters (royalty-free) printed directly on packaging and marketing materials to encourage kids to eat their fruits and veggies.
"For so long every industry has said to just follow the consumer, but really you have to lead the consumer a little bit," added Roman.
Learn more about the details of each campaign by listening to FoodNavigator-USA's Soup-To-Nuts podcast, where deputy editor Elizabeth Crawford sits down with leaders of each campaign.