This article is an excerpt from the NACS Magazine April cover story by Pat Pape, “The Case for Fresh.” To read the complete article, visit nacsonline.com/magazine. And to learn more about the NACS reFresh Initiative, visit nacsonline.com/refresh.
Customers of Tiger Farms Market in Burleson, Texas, can fuel up, purchase made-to-order smoothies and sandwiches, grab a bottle of vitamins and fill a sack with colorful, fresh produce in a single shopping trip. Since the store opened eight years ago, it has offered patrons a wide range of typical c-store merchandise, plus organic and non-organic produce.
“We try to stay competitive with prices on our organic produce,” said Nena Iniguez, acting manager of the Victron Energy-operated outlet. “Compared to local grocery stores and Walmart, we’re fresher and our prices are cheaper.”
In addition to whole fruits and fresh fruit juices, shoppers can select from assorted containers of cut fruit that were prepared and packaged in the store’s kitchen. Anyone who purchases a sandwich is welcome to a complimentary 8-ounce fruit cup.
“We don’t have much that goes to waste,” Iniguez said of the store’s produce. “It just goes in the juicer.”
A decade ago, Tiger Farms Market would have been an anomaly. At that time, convenience stores were better known for selling packaged sandwiches with a lengthy shelf life than fragile fruits and vegetables. But as American consumers increased their demand for healthier food options, many convenience retailers have added produce.
To support nourishing noshing, NACS and United Fresh Produce Association, which represents the nation’s produce industry, partnered in June 2014 to identify the best ways to boost produce sales in convenience stores.
The 152,794 convenience stores in the United States make up 33.9% of all retail outlets, according the 2015 NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count. But while fresh grocery sales were an estimated $43 billion in 2013, convenience stores captured less than 1% of that business.
According to Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for NACS, selling produce would be great for a retailer’s bottom line and more nutritious offerings would give the convenience industry a refreshed image. An image boost with a focus on freshness could help retailers as they approach zoning commissions and city councils in an effort to get new stores opened or existing stores remodeled.
Getting fresh produce into stores is just one aspect of what’s being called the NACS reFresh initiative, which addresses ongoing industry perceptions by focusing on three distinct elements:
- Creating tools that address NIMBY (not in my backyard) issues by educating the public about the contributions convenience stores make to their communities
- Sharing facts and data that demonstrate the evolution of the industry and corrects an outdated reputation
- Forming partnerships/relationships with credible nutrition- and community-focused groups, such as the United Fresh Produce Association
“reFresh is the ideal name for the program because it addresses our path forward,” Lenard said. “It’s about refreshing our image and refreshing our offer while still providing refreshments of all kinds. The idea is to give retailers who want more options — whether fresh produce or healthy options — the tools to access the landscape and determine if it’s right for them.”
Looking around, Lenard already sees more produce on convenience store shelves than just a few years ago. “Can there be more? Yes. But we’ve gone from not seeing any to almost being surprised if not seeing some sort of produce offer at a convenience store,” he said.
Many convenience store operators agree. A recent survey of NACS members confirms the importance of produce, with 62% of survey respondents saying that produce is important to their 2015 business plan.
Read the full article, here and learn more about NACS reFresh here.