By Sarah Hamaker
ANKENY, Iowa—Casey’s General Stores remained focused on serving its communities during the coronavirus pandemic while continuing to follow its overall strategic plan. Chris Jones, chief marketing office for Casey’s, recently sat down with NACS Daily to discuss the present and future of the chain.
ND: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted Casey’s focus on the guest experience?
Jones: Our strategic plan, announced in January, has remained our compass through the pandemic. In many areas, it has accelerated because we are an essential business in the communities we serve, especially in the rural areas of our footprint, where we are one of a few or the only business open to provide fuel, groceries, prepared food and essential household items. We have implemented a number of changes to keep our stores and kitchens open, while at the same time, protecting our team members and guests, including more frequent store cleaning, social distancing and closed-seating areas, and requiring regular handwashing and face masks, in accordance with national and local health authorities.
As we move toward recovery, we have fast-tracked many of our plans to reinvent the guest experience and expand online ordering and curbside and delivery services. For example, we announced an expanded partnership with DoorDash to provide delivery services to nearly 600 locations, seven days a week, across our company’s 16-state footprint. With this partnership in place, over half of all our stores now offer a delivery service.
ND: How has Casey’s worked specifically to help its communities and employees during the pandemic?
Jones: I’m proud of the work Casey’s has done throughout the past few months to support all of our team members and guests during the pandemic. Through our “Slice of Thanks” program, created to provide essential workers in Casey’s communities with slices of pizza and other food items as a way to share our gratitude, we’ve donated nearly 15,000 pizza slices in addition to other prepared foods to health-care workers, first responders and others helping their communities across nine states.
In addition, we have launched a partnership with Feeding America to provide a half million dollars over the coming year. This partnership prioritizes children, families and rural communities that have far fewer options for food and resources and includes an immediate cash donation of $150,000 of support directly to 52 food banks within Casey’s 16-state footprint. Casey’s is also supporting volunteer efforts and additional in-kind food donations throughout the year.
At Casey’s, the communities we serve are at the heart of everything we do to be “Here for Good.” That’s why in addition to investing in the towns where we live and work, we took immediate steps to protect the health and well-being of our guests and team members in response to the pandemic, including cleaning, protective supplies and adjusting the way people move throughout our stores. We took these steps because we know Casey’s plays a unique, essential role in the communities we serve, and we care about making life better for them every day.
ND: How has Casey’s pivoted to new food and grocery strategies?
Jones: We are constantly enhancing our merchandising and food strategies to optimize and localize our assortment and align the products we carry with what our guests want. This ongoing flexibility has helped us customize our offerings as guests desire for carry-out and takeaway items accelerated in response to COVID-19. In addition, we have expanded grocery SKUs to accommodate online orderings and plan to expand private labels by early 2021 to improve our grocery options even more.
We’re also pleased to add a new member of our leadership team to bring even more innovation to our approach to food. We recently hired Michelle Wickham as our new head of food. Michelle has more than 30 years of restaurant industry experience across QSR, fast casual and casual dining.
ND: Let’s discuss Casey’s digital transformation due to COVID-19.
Jones: Driving digital transformation is a key priority in our strategic plan, and in serving our guests through the COVID-19 crisis, we were well-positioned to accelerate our digital roadmap. For example, we have expanded our online assortment of food and grocery items, added no-contact delivery and curbside services, and continued to reimagine the guest experience through Casey’s Rewards. In fact, product delivery through DoorDash and at our own stores now reaches more than 1,400 stores, and in the midst of the pandemic, our Casey’s Rewards program has grown to include more than two million members.
ND: Talk about how Casey’s is on track with its Here for Good strategic plan—why focus on talent and technology?
Jones: At Casey’s, we are “Here for Good” in our communities. That means serving them in times of need and making life better for our communities and guests every day. This brand platform was even more meaningful during the crisis.
Because many of our guests are now shopping online more frequently, we prioritized creating a digital environment that matches the convenience and comfort guests feel whenever they step into our stores, advancing our technology roadmap to expand online ordering, delivery and curbside services. We also continue to invest in our talent, introducing new performance management and development opportunities for our team members, while building out a diverse leadership team, with newly added COO, chief information officer and chief merchandising officer roles.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and NACS Daily and NACS Magazine contributor based in Fairfax, Va. Visit her online at www.sarahhamakerfiction.com.