Let me share one interesting statistic that suggests convenience store operations may be returning to business as usual: Gum and mint sales are surging.
For gum and mints sales during the past 52 weeks, sales are still down, year over year. But there is a dividing line when sales started to increase from the week prior, which was the last week in February 2021. Weekly sales of gum for the week ending May 15 were 17.0% higher than the week ending February 27. Mint sales were up an even more robust 21.9% during that time frame, and both categories continue to grow.
I dove into these numbers with the NACS Research Team to answer a TV reporter’s query about whether gum and mint sales were increasing. Why? Because people can’t hide their bad breath behind masks anymore!
She was right, but I think there is more at play than just masks. Although, as an aside, I will admit to making the mistake of trying to blow a bubble while wearing a mask, which immediately became a one-time-use mask. And I’ve had my eyes water after popping a powerful mint and putting on a mask, only to have the mint smell direct right into my eyes. Child: “Why is that man crying at checkout line #2, mommy?” Mother: Just look at him, he’s obviously had a rough life. Please don’t stare, honey.”
Gum and mint sales are also an indicator that coffee sales are coming back. Both help fight “coffee breath,” which is why they are often merchandised together. Hopefully it means the return of other tasty foods in our industry that could use some breath refreshment after consumption. Hello, tuna sandwich with extra onions!
And increased coffee sales mean that more people are coming back to the office. Of course, mint and gum sales alone aren’t the only indicator of the return to the office. Deodorant, teeth whitener and perfume also are in high demand. And alarm clock sales have doubled, apparently.
There’s other clues that things are returning to normal-ish 14 months after the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted or shut down entire segments of our economy.
Restaurant sales are surging and grocery sales are declining, suggesting that people want to get out more after spending most of 2020 in their homes.
Fuel sales are up and now close to the volume of an average June, whether it’s because of more people returning to the office or summer travel. Convenience stores sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the country, so we have travelers covered on the highway or commuting to work.
Masks are coming off, although that isn’t entirely great news when an incredibly misguided—I’m being polite—rule in Oregon placed the burden on retailers to verify that maskless customers are vaccinated. Only a month earlier we were telling reporters that retailers likely wouldn’t put limits on fuel purchases because THAT would be impossible to police, whether the fuel was going into a car or a container of a plastic bag.
And, with fewer people going mask-free now, something else has emerged: the common cold, which took the year off as people minimized exposure via masks and social distancing. I can attest to the fact that the common cold is alive and well in our home right now.
Finally, you can tell that things are feeling normal because people are complaining about some pretty mundane things, as opposed to some of the scary things that were part of our consciousness for the past year-plus. Commutes are taking a little longer and the traffic jams are back. At least the traffic report on your favorite radio station now gets a few more seconds of airtime!
So, let me bring it back to gum and mints. Let’s face it, work life can sometimes stink, and the surge in mint and gum sales is showing that office workers don’t want to be the reason.