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Ideas That Work to Grow Better-for-You Sales

Download the pdf of the NACS Magazine August 2016 feature story on this topic.

​The goal is simple: to share easy to implement, low-cost, proven examples of how convenience store operators can successfully increase sales of better-for-you items and deliver healthier options to their customers. This toolkit, created by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, shares convenience store-specific examples that are based on evidence-based practices.

Continued growth in sales of healthier, nutritious foods underscores the need for new strategies that capitalize on changes in consumer demand. NACS has led the effort to create and communicate new opportunities for convenience retailers to both expand their selection of better-for-you offers and grow their businesses.

As part of this process, NACS commissioned the 2015 Hudson Institute report, “Health and Wellness Trends and Strategies for the Convenience Store Sector,” to identify trends and opportunities for the convenience store channel. The opportunities outlined in this report are clear: “By focusing on products and messaging that meet the need for healthier products—on-the-go, breakfast and kid-targeted—convenience stores can drive significant new growth.”

NACS responded to these findings by implementing in-market tests designed to assess the business value of specific better-for-you merchandising and marketing strategies. NACS combined the expertise of its retail members with Cornell Food and Brand Lab behavioral economists and the Project on Nutrition and Wellness to create a series of in-store pilots. Each of the test scenarios pursued focused on growing healthier food and beverage sales with operating simplicity and low-to-no cost of implementation. The first of many outputs from these efforts is this toolkit.

There is one more critical element to emphasize: The convenience store industry shares more ideas than any other retail channel. For this project, retailers allowed NACS to test key insights and share the results with other retailers who can consider how these findings may improve their own operations.

This toolkit provides easy-to-implement instructions (and graphics) that can be applied in a convenience retail environment. Citations are also included for those who want to review the research that supports these suggested retail practices. This toolkit is an ongoing program that demonstrates how to grow sales of healthy, fresh and better-for-you products, and NACS will continue to add new examples and suggestions. Feedback on ideas to test are encouraged as NACS expands the learnings and ideas provided in this toolkit.




​Describe healthier meals and snacks with creative and/or descriptive names. For example, use some Italian spices on a low-fat chicken sandwich and call it a “Tuscan Special.” You can also find ways to appear playful, especially with kids, such as calling baby carrots “X-Ray Vision Carrots.”

Implementation: Names have a significant impact on expectations of taste and affect the likelihood of a purchase. In the restaurant industry, menu development and descriptions are a science. The same concepts can apply at convenience stores that offer prepared items, whether they are entrees or other better-for-you snacks or beverages like smoothies.

Examine how you can use descriptive names with healthier items—you can work with your chef or dietician for guidance—but make sure that these descriptions feel credible. Don’t forget to emphasis the benefits of better-for-you items, whether around how fresh items may taste better or how better-your-you items may make consumers feel better. 




​Offer a ‘grab-and-go’ area at the entrance of the store with a small selection of healthier snacks and better for your items. This immediately sets the tone about your offer throughout the store. Items could include fruit, vegetables, water, yogurt, milk, eggs, 100% juices and whole-grain breads.

Implementation: Convenience is one of the key drivers of food behavior so make the most of it. Merchandising quick, easy to eat, healthy snacks in areas with heavy traffic (front of store), or that are frequent destinations inside the store (drink coolers), will increase purchase of those items.

Product can be displayed in a fresh case, endcap or in baskets or bins, as long as it is clearly visible as customers enter the store. Be sure to display a variety of items (a display of just bananas is not enough) so it is clear that customers have a choice of options.

Bundle together healthy items (e.g. bottled water, fruit and a yogurt or low-calorie sandwich), bag them and provide a quick grab-and-go lunch. A prominent display shows and reminds customers that these items are available inside the store, which helps primes customers to make healthier choices during future visits.




​Provide at least three varieties of pre-cut packaged fruits and vegetables in the cooler or upfront “fresh case.”

Implementation: When given choices, even limited choices, consumers are more likely to purchase an item than if they are given only one option. The same holds true for pre-cut packaged fruits and vegetables. Consumers seeking fresh-cut produce will be more likely to purchase these items when they have a variety of choices, whether in serving size or in the specific produce options.

Merchandise the pre-cut options at or near eye level, both for parents and kids, and use signage to emphasize their availability. Emphasizing the portability of these products is also helpful, as fresh-cut produce in cups are great snack items to place in a car cup holder.

Display these items prominently to take advantage of increased convenience, both in terms of access and ease of eating. Provide at least three options that offer customers a choice, which gives them a sense of control over their decisions and demonstrates that you are commented to offering a selection.




​At the register, offer individual containers of pre-cut fresh fruit or vegetables with utensils packaged with them or visibly next to them, as well as other healthy snack options. For smoothies or other juice drinks, include a straw.

Implementation: Visibility and convenience can help break established habits by making a new choice quick and easy.  Have fresh-cut fruits and vegetables displayed and ready to go by the register to create and impulse purchase. It's also a way to remind customers that these options are available, even if they don’t purchase them the first time...

If you only have room to display one or two fresh-cut fruits and vegetable items up front (but you have more options available in the coolers or elsewhere), you can add a small sign telling customers to “check out all the cut fruit (or other) options in the grab-and-go section.”

Use visibility and convenience to nudge them into making better choices and build awareness for all the options your store provides. This can help you increase sales and help customers think of your store in a new way: as a place to buy tasty, healthy snacks.

Remember that above all convenience stores sell convenience. If customers in the checkout line think they need to get out of line to get a straw, spoon or fork, they may not make that purchase.




​Use in-aisle and endcap displays to promote healthier options, keeping similar categories together.

Implementation: Consumers won’t buy it if they don’t see it. And at convenience stores, time-starved customers will only hunt for something for so long, especially when the average time spent inside the store is less than 4 minutes.

To remind customers of your offer, develop multiple displays of some of the healthier options with the other items in the endcap (baked chips in with the regular chips, no-sugar-added dried fruit with the candy). This tactic increases the visibility of these items and lets customers know they are available.

Also, convenience store customers may look for quick and easy pairings, such as health and protein bars with coffee, fresh-cut fruit and yogurt, etc.




​Use signs and stickers on coolers and displays that provide “Did You Know?” functional benefit facts and/or positive messages about specific healthful foods.

Implementation: Convenience store shoppers seldom come into a store with a specific shopping list. They know they want something to eat and/or drink, but there are ways to communicate the benefits of different choices as they consider their selections.

Signs that promote the functional benefits, without specifically referencing healthfulness, of specific foods should be placed near those products. For example: “Drinking water keeps you hydrated” or “Hydration keeps you focused and alert” are great messages to have near water or other functional beverage displays.

For fresh items, consider communicating how fresh a product is or if it has other specific benefits for customers, such as produce high in Vitamin C during cold and flu season.








​Use floor decals to help customers locate healthier foods (and beverages) within each section of the store.

Implementation: Customers tend to follow suggested traffic patterns, so wayfinding signs help lead them into parts of the store that they might not visit otherwise.

Place sticker arrows and call out signs on the floor to guide customers to specific products. “This way to strong bones!” pointing towards low-fat dairy and “drink more water!” toward the cooler.

For snacks, try fun messages like “Go bananas” to guide them to the fruit offer.




​Provide “Don’t Forget” signs at checkout, fuel pumps or on exit side of doors to remind customers about healthier foods.

Implementation: Put signs near the register that customers can easily read while they are walking toward the register or waiting in line. Also consider how these messages could be part of an employee’s attire, whether hats, shirts or buttons with specific messages. Stores can also implement cues from other channels that can translate to the convenience channel, such as uniforms that look more like those in restaurants to emphasize their prepared offers.

These messages can be purely informational, such as, “Find bananas next to the milk” or “We have fresh produce.” Supplier partners may also be able to provide advertising materials.

The intent is awareness, not necessarily a purchase. After all, unless the item is at the register, few people will leave a line to get other items. Instead, the idea is to communicate that certain products are available. That alone may change customers’ perception of the store and increase the likelihood of a purchase on their next visit. These messages also can be implemented at other locations outside the store, whether window or door clings at the fuel island or on the gas price sign.

About the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
The Food and Brand Lab was created by Professor Brian Wansink, a leader in Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Dr. Wansink, Deputy Director Adam Brumberg, and an interdisciplinary team from psychology, food science, marketing, agricultural economics, human nutrition, education, history, library science, and journalism focus on better understanding consumers and how they relate to foods and packaged foods. Food and Brand Lab research has driven the creation of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement from the USDA as well as the Grocery Retail Scorecard. Research from the lab has been reported in hundreds of magazines, newspapers, books and television news programs.

About NACS
Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, NACS (nacsonline.com) is the international association for convenience and fuel retailing. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 154,000 stores across the country, conducts 160 million transactions a day, sells 80% of the fuel purchased in the country and had total sales of $575 billion in 2015. The NACS reFresh initiative provides valuable insights about the contributions convenience stores are delivering to the communities they serve. Through reFresh, convenience retailers are discovering new ideas that enhance their operations and communication efforts to showcase the industry’s positive business practices. NACS also is developing partnerships with groups that share similar values, such as Cornell University, to foster best practices and make a difference.