LAVAL, QUEBEC, CANADA—Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. announced that it has invested more than half of its initial $100 million of its Circle K Venture Fund in startup companies to explore the “future of convenience,” according to a news release.
Since Couche-Tard started the venture fund in 2020, the company has secured equity stakes in several entrepreneurial companies.
“The evolution of our customers' convenience needs has accelerated over the past two years since the start of the pandemic, and these investments and partnerships allow us not only to participate in the growth of these innovative teams, but also to explore ways to add real value for our customers, shareholders and team members," said Claude Tessier, Couche-Tard's chief financial officer. "As we move forward on our strategic goals, the fund supports cutting-edge solutions with the potential of improving the customer journey and the experience of our team members in our stores, to create new ways of delivering our products and presenting our offerings and to change the very nature of convenience."
Couche-Tard recently invested in Food Rocket and Farmstead, both U.S.-based companies, offering delivery of grocery, convenience and pantry items at competitive prices and compelling speed. Couche-Tard is working with both companies on piloting commercial programs, by testing and learning the best approaches to compete in the fast-expanding world of delivery and distribution for its urban and suburban customers.
Couche-Tard also has invested in Pensa Systems, an innovator in the automated use of computer vision and artificial intelligence for retail-in-store data and analytics, and Jackpocket, a third-party app in the U.S. used to order official state lottery tickets.
Meanwhile, Couche-Tard says it’s exploring ways to shape the customer journey beyond its physical stores. It has also worked to enhance the in-store customer experience by leveraging technologies that enable in-store teams to focus more on customer service and workforce efficiency. During the past several months, as labor challenges have increased, particularly in the U.S., the Circle K fund has invested in technology that helps retailers and other groups alleviate staffing issues by tapping into the gig economy.
Brian Hannasch, Couche-Tard president and CEO, shared the global retailer’s vision for the future in the 2020 NACS Crack the Code Experience. In a Q&A with Henry Armour, NACS president and CEO, Hannasch said of the pace of change in the c-store industry, “I’ve seen more changes in our industry in the last two or three years than I saw in the prior 30, and the ability to adapt to change is very important,” he said. “Other channels are playing in the convenience space—home delivery, click and collect and e-commerce. We’ve got to be more customercentric. We must become even better retailers. If we don’t, other channels will take share from us. Change will continue to accelerate. The customer must be first and foremost.”
In January, Couche-Tard brought its AI-based Easy Fuel pay-by-license plate technology to Denmark. The news follows Easy Fuel’s launch in Sweden in April 2021. Last fall, NACS Daily reported that Circle K partnered with Standard AI, a checkout technology company, to install an AI-powered checkout-free system in one of its stores in Tempe, Arizona.
Circle K’s in Poland are offering fuel and other aid by working with the Polish Red Cross. Couche-Tard operates 374 stores in Poland. The company said it is providing fuel for paramedics and humanitarian aid at Poland's border with Ukraine. Its stations along the border have established priority service for rescue services.