LAS VEGAS—Historically, c-stores have excelled in the dispensed beverage category, so why are they struggling to recapture the market share they had in 2019?

“Things have happened that have made things a little bumpy,” said Chris Rapanick, NACS director of business development. “I’m not going to say the C-O-V-I-D word … but obviously business fell off in 2020. Some places were closed. There were mandates that prevented running dispensed beverages. Consumers were a little wary. So the business was impacted.”

Rapanick, who moderated Monday’s education session, “Gulp! Reinvigorating Dispensed Beverages,” said things in this market segment are in the beginning stages of recovery mainly because of increased prices (partly due to inflation) but still lag in unit sales.

In an effort to boost beverage sales, c-stores are doing a number of inventive things to reinvigorate the market, including introducing mixology, creating loyalty sip and save programs, partnering with brands to create store-specific beverages and using social media to promote this category.

Ryan Ratcliffe, dispensed beverage category manager for Maverik, said consumers seem to be looking for something a little bit different in the beverage category and are willing to wait in long lines to get it. When soda shops began to pop up around him in Utah, he took notice.

“People are paying a premium for this and will line up around the block to get it. That bothers me,” he said. “So, my goal this past year was to find a way to compete with that.”

In response, Maverik has developed its own style of mixology and taken it to social media to create a beverage buzz—and it’s working. “You can create that same soda shop drink here and save yourself some money,” Ratcliffe said.

For Circle K, boosting dispensed beverages involved working with Pepsi to create a drink exclusive to Circle K. The result: Purple Thunder and a 360-degree promotion campaign for in-store and social media, said David Hall, vice president of global foodservice for Circle K.

Additionally, Circle K launched a new sip-and-save program to create value and loyalty. For $5.99 a month, customers can get one drink a day.

“We are looking at anything we can do to drive that traffic and create patterns of participation,” Hall said.

Driving consumers toward dispensed beverages in-store is also critical, said Jose Salinas, director of C&G Channel for Marmon. Adding screens at the dispensaries is a great way to capture their attention.

“There is a 3-19% sales increase when you have that interactive digital screen,” he said.

Also in this issue from NACS Show Daily