By Nat Keller
ALEXANDRIA, VA.—More than 250 convenience retailers, distributors, wholesalers and industry partners last week attended a webinar hosted by NACS and Anheuser-Busch on the current state of the industry, the impact from COVID-19, its future implications and insights and strategies for future success in the channel.
Lori Buss Stillman, NACS vice president of research, kicked things off with a look at highlights from the 2019 NACS State of the Industry data. While total sales were down slightly, she noted “the industry came out of 2019 with a rock-solid foundation and much to learn from as we progress through this current pandemic.”
She continued, “Foodservice continues to put wind in the sails of top retailers,” noting that winning trips remains a key objective for convenience stores’ future success. In addition, loyalty continues to play a vital role for retailers, as Stillman suggested the total percentage of shoppers in a loyalty program will exceed 50% by the end of 2020.
Looking ahead, Stillman was optimistic about the industry, but she also signaled that innovation and digital solutions like self-checkout and mobile payments will be at the center of modern convenience. Long-term solutions such as scan-and-pay or unmanned retail will manifest sooner than most retailers are planning.
Anheuser-Busch CEO North America Michel Doukeris provided an overview of how the large beer manufacturer has dealt with the ongoing crisis, noting that the company was able to apply learnings from other markets to develop a U.S. strategy. Safety of their people, maintaining business continuity and community support have been driving factors for Anheuser-Busch. The company also has studied the consumer shifts from COVID-19, as Doukeris noted “current changes in behavior will have an impact for the future.”
Brendan Whitworth, chief sales officer at Anheuser-Busch, outlined five phases of retail impact from COVID-19: basic hygiene, panic buy, adaption, transition and next normal. Whitworth highlighted that all of retail experienced significant sales growth– nearly a 36% increase—during the panic buy phase, largely driven by large format and e-commerce retail. Within c-stores, “we saw trips decline, but bigger baskets, and where historically in the beer category singles played a larger role, multipacks saw more growth,” Whitworth explained. In the adaption phase, where we are currently, the beer category has been up just under 15% in c-stores, driven by those multipacks, Whitworth said.
Whitworth shared the impact on the three typical occasions consumers interact with beer: meals, social and relax. “For meals, there was growth with more folks at home, social really had to reinvent itself from bars to virtual occurrences and relax has grown with the increased time at home as well,” Whitworth said. He also noted a demographic shift during the pandemic, saying “while the lower income shopper mix is increasing, they have also been impacted the most financially.”
Doukeris offered a global perspective for U.S. retailers during the global health crisis, suggesting “those that are adapting are winning in the marketplace.” He encouraged retailers to look at strategies around the globe, and he shared case studies of retailers from China, South Korea and Brazil who have successfully adapted their businesses.
Doukeris cautioned that “behaviors adopted now will remain.” This segued into Whitworth providing participants with five keys to win in the U.S., including finding your new fuel and investing in e-commerce. The webinar concluded with a robust Q&A that touched on the changing consumer behavior, other trends like health awareness and finally also alcohol category growth.
Reserve your copy today of the 2019 NACS State of the Industry report, which will be released in June. Pre-orders for both the hard copy (last year in this format) and digital PDF versions are available here.
Nat Keller is director, supplier relations and Hunter Club liaison, for NACS.