Merchandise Categories Pick Up Sales Slack

Tobacco, candy and snacks, along with digital support, are the superstars of c-store categories.

November 13, 2020

By Sarah Hamaker

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—With shoppers taking more precautions and retailers shoring up online and contactless purchase options, knowing what trends are shaping retail strategy can help you connect with shoppers and grow store traffic. “Those trends include pantry loading, with customers coming in less often but leaving with larger baskets,” said Leroy Kelsey, NACS director of research, during the “Strategies of Category Management Superstars” education session Wednesday, part of the NACS Crack the Code Experience.

Those key trends include a shift to online, a push to loyalty, a demand for hygiene transparency, a priority for personal health and immunity, a back-to-basics and value mindset, and a continuance of the “at home” economy. “Sales have been depending on merchandise categories to fill the void left by lower foodservice and self-serve dispensed beverage,” Kelsey said.

Tobacco’s outlook is still strong because “the tobacco consumer is extremely resilient,” said Kraig Knudsen, tobacco category manager for Circle K-Heartland Division. He recommended retailers listen to the consumer, plan for disruption and merchandise for tomorrow’s tobacco products, such as IQOS, vapor, CBD products, marijuana and alternative tobacco delivery products. “We need to be prepared to incorporate new product types … with different package shapes and sizes than traditional cigarettes,” he said.

For candy and snacks, tailoring your offer to address the consumer’s need of the moment is key to sales survival, according to Kelley Gutierrez, category manager for candy and snacks at MAPCO. “People are sensitive about how they spend money, so promotions that utilize savings while shopping work well,” she said. For example, MAPCO has been selling more take-home snacks and share-size candy. “We’re seeing people purchase larger sizes as the stock up shopping trend continues,” Gutierrez said. “Utilizing multiples in your promotional offer to add value will drive units.”

Supporting these category superstars should be your store’s IT. “Technology enables us to digitally connect with the consumer, daily, weekly and monthly, as well as with special occasion offers,” said Kimberly Billings, director of category management for Pilot Travel Centers. “We encourage trial by engaging with the guest at the pump by highlighting products and promotions with key food brands.”

Billings also pointed out that the key to category success is to tie in the digital promotions with signage support at the pump and store, as well as through loyalty apps. “Use technology to help with your product assortment and inventory management, too,” she added.

Catch the encore session today at 12:30 p.m. EST, and view the session on demand starting Saturday. You can still register for your very own NACS Crack the Code Experience (CTCE), giving you access to this session and many more. The NACS Crack the Code Experience runs through December 4, 2020, and features 24/7 access to forward-looking ideas and insights, plus innovative new-to-channel products and strategic connections.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and NACS Daily and NACS Magazine contributor based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at