C-Stores a Prime Opportunity

Mondelez International unveiled a new growth strategy Sept. 7, which included pursuing opportunities in the c-store channel.

The company debuted a new tagline, “snacking made right,” which it said builds on Mondelez’s promise to give consumers “the right snack, for the right moment, made the right way.” As consumer preferences change, so does the venue where they’re shopping. And the way to make snacking right, apparently, is through the c-store category.

“The food space itself, I would say, is more exciting than ever,” said Mondelez International CEO Dirk Van de Put, reported CNBC (Sept. 7).

Other companies like Green Zebra Grocery are capitalizing on that enthusiasm and hope to redefine how consumers perceive convenience stores. The Oregon-based retailer is a health-focused c-store chain where customers can walk in and easily find specialized vegan sandwiches, free-range chicken sausage, radish kimchi, organic beer and other similar nutritious and interesting offerings.

Green Zebra Grocery is on pace to build two dozen locations on the West Coast by 2023, according to Lisa Sedlar, the company’s founder. Among its plans, the company is working to expand into office buildings and will test an honor-system “micro-Zebra” outlet with shelved and refrigerated food at the WeWork Custom House in Portland.

“We’re not trying to be the food police,” said Sedlar, reported Los Angeles Times (Sept. 7). “But if healthy is your thing, we got it.”

Sedlar is banking on market research, which shows Americans desire healthier provisions, and a trend that shows they will pop in more often to buy them — especially if they’re Millennials.

“People regularly tell us we are their pantry,” said Sedlar, who added she wants to make that pantry a healthier one by using her chain of small shops as a vehicle to improve the health of neighborhoods.

UK-based EG Group clearly knows where opportunity lies as well. The company entered into a definitive agreement with TravelCenters of America on Sept. 4 to buy its Minit Mart c-store business for approximately $330.8 million, which includes 225 standalone convenience stores. This acquisition complemented EG Group’s deal earlier in 2018 to acquire The Kroger Co.’s convenience store portfolio for $2.15 billion. That sale was comprised of 762 convenience stores, including 66 franchise operations, operating in 18 states under the Turkey Hill, Loaf ‘N Jug, Kwik Shop, Tom Thumb and Quik Stop brands.

“We have a firm commitment to growing our presence in the U.S., the world’s largest convenience market,” said Mohsin Issa, founder and co-CEO of EG Group.

With the inclusion of the Minit Mart portfolio, EG Group will own and operate roughly 1,000 sites in the U.S.

Zuber Issa, EG’s founder and co-CEO, said that for the past 17 years, the company has envisioned becoming a leading gas station and convenience store operator around the world.

“This is another exciting international milestone on our growth journey,” Zuber Isa said. “The Minit Mart acquisition will underpin a more sustainable network, allow us to explore further real estate development prospects and, more importantly, provide further growth opportunities in the U.S.”

Additionally, Meijer made its c-store vision into reality with the opening of a new-format c-store and gas station in Grand Rapids, MI. The design includes space for the chain’s first full-service drive-thru Starbucks, as well as an expanded assortment of prepared foods, including sushi, hot selections and locally prepared doughnuts.

Meanwhile, startup Zippin launched a cashierless test store in San Francisco that will grow into a full-sized AI-driven convenience store in the coming months. The prototype store is meant to showcase the technology for potential clients and investors, to ultimately sell the tech to other c-stores, reported Fast Company (Aug. 20).

So while consumers might have once had a certain perception of convenience stores, this is the age of the modern c-store. C-stores are leveraging their inherent convenience and boosting technology as a way to increase brick-and-mortar appeal, and that strategy is clearly gaining the attention of food manufacturers and retailers.