Global Fuel Sales Recovery Varies by Region

Insights from PDI and global retail leaders show whether shifts in fuel consumption are sustainable. 

August 17, 2020

By Chris Blasinsky

LONDON—Last week during its “Shop Talk Live” webinar series, the team at Insight Research pulled together industry experts to take the pulse of where the global convenience and fuel retailing industry is today and reflect on the shared experiences so far by looking at global fuel sales across all regions and how consumers are responding to health, hygiene and safety practices.

Sid Gaitonde, senior vice president and general manager, global logistics solutions at PDI, an enterprise software provider for convenience retail and wholesale petroleum, shared that the short-term trend in fuel closely reflects how the economy is doing. Since the Great Recession, NACS and companies like PDI have looked at fuel sales over time as an indicator of consumer confidence and economic recovery.

“I would’ve thought by now that everyone would have been impacted similarly by the pandemic,” Gaitonde said, noting a common trend since April is a decline in fuel sales across all countries, but the rate of recovery has varied. 

For Eastern and Western Europe, PDI data show that Western Europe, the first to lockdown and last to reopen, saw a more severe drop in fuel consumption and a slower recovery compared to Eastern Europe. “As soon as the lockdown was lifted in Eastern Europe, the recovery happened very fast” to reach about the same fuel volume level as January, Gaitonde said, adding, “What I have been most surprised about is how resilient our industry is coming back” and that “every customer of ours has reacted really well” to the pandemic. 

In the United States and Canada, PDI data show that the countries saw a 34% decline in fuel volumes in April from January levels but recovered to about 96% in July as lockdowns lifted. However, because of various lockdowns and reopening phases in each U.S. state, July is 4% lower than January (100%). In Mexico and the Caribbean, where lockdowns have not been as severe as in the U.S., fuel volumes dropped 33% in April compared to January but significantly rebounded to 105% in June and 127% in July.

For Australia and New Zealand, government responses to controlling the pandemic outbreak are reflected in fuel volumes, which saw an initial 30% drop in April from January and an almost instantaneous bounce back in May, June and July. In Southeast Asia, however, those areas saw a dramatic 45% decline in fuel volume due to a lengthy lockdown period.

In other global regions, Gaitonde shared that the Middle East has performed remarkably well with just a 5% drop in fuel volume in April compared to January, which also reflects that the region is a very fuel-dependent economy, using refined fuel for residential cooling, for example. Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa saw one of the more drastic declines in fuel volume in April—65% compared to January—and has been slow to recover.

“Globally, if you combine all the data and look at the big picture, our industry has done really well” compared to other industries like restaurants and general retail, said Gaitonde. Today, he said, the industry is sitting slightly below where it was in January. Although it’s not where the industry would like to be during peak summer months, with more vacationers and weekend warriors hitting the road, “I’m cautiously optimistic that [fuel consumption] is going to recover by the end of the year,” he said.

Clean Forecourt Challenge

Next, Munford teed up a discussion about the frontline workers throughout the crisis who are serving customers and their communities. The Global Forecourt Experience Challenge, developed by CAF and Insight Research, seeks to elevate the customer experience on the forecourt by inspiring teams to create safer and clearer store environments.

The Challenge runs July through August, and each team is focusing on what matters most to customers right now, like service, cleanliness and safety, how these changes are being sustained and using customer feedback to close the loop on what matters most and how retailers can constantly improve long beyond the pandemic. Here are the teams and their representatives: 

  • Aled Ball of OTR Australia
  • Colin Dornish of Coen Markets (Ohio/United States)
  • Mark Cribbin of Aramark (Maxol) in Ireland
  • Rodrigo Zavala of Puma Americas (Guatemala)
  • Tony Castro of TXBU, Circle K (Texas/United States)
  • Wayne Gonsalves of Engen (South Africa)

“Show, don’t just tell,” noted Mike G. Zahajko, executive vice president of sales at CAF. Tap into the psychological aspect of cleanliness where retailers can show customers how they are keeping forecourts safe and not just communicating the practices through signage. 

Looking at the customer feedback so far, the group shared an example where a customer (anonymously) felt compelled to share with a particular c-store that she had a great shopping experience during one of her first outings since coming out of lockdown, noting that several employees were visibly cleaning and sanitizing the store and high touchpoint areas. Employees and customers were wearing masks, and one employee was managing how many customers could be inside at the same time to ensure distancing. “I felt very comfortable and safe in your store today and will definitely be back. …You have a customer for life in me and my family,” the person said.

“I think that sums up some of the achievements that retailers have been delivering day in and day out,” said Munford.

Chris Blasinsky is the NACS content communications strategist; she can be reached at cblasinsky@convenience.org, and on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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