Tracking Beverage Trends for the New Year

Handy Mart category manager Samantha Barry on comparing sales reports and following internal data
c-store cold vault

If nonalcohol-beverage category manager Samantha Barry had a crystal ball, she imagines it would tell her that ready-to-drink ­RTD‑ coffee and energy drinks will continue to lead sales growth in the new year.

In her two years of overseeing packaged beverages for Mount Olive, N.C.-based E.J. Pope & Sons (­and six years overall working for the chain of 39 Handy Mart c-stores), Barry finds

a challenge in balancing the multiple data reports available to her with the company’s own internal sales. Often, she finds “our own sales data [is] the most helpful because our region—eastern North Carolina—can have some very differing methods, theories and customers than the rest of our nation.”

Barry offers Convenience Store Products her thoughts on managing the category and top trends for 2017.

Q: What have been the most significant changes to the cold vault in recent years?

A: Energy has continued to increase year over year, and the additions of new energy innovations have had a positive effect on that. RTD coffee has been a smaller player in the unit sales but has [grown nicely] year over year. Customers have become more heavily the millennial generation and are more likely to consume a cold coffee. Bottled water has seen an increase in value brands and premium brands. We added a full shelf of premium waters two years ago, which is a higher retail for us.

Q: How do you keep tabs on those changes?

A: I use a mixture of data to track our sales changes: internal store data, regional sales data/trends, national sales data/trends and supplier-provided data. I weigh our own sales as a snapshot of what we have done and where we may have positive or problem areas, and I use trend data to provide myself with a view of where we might be in the future.

Q: What beverage categories are you the most optimistic about going into 2017, and why?

A: I think RTD coffee and energy will continue to grow. There is innovation there that I believe keeps the current customers engaged, does not alienate the stagnant flavor buyers and allows the growth of new customers with new options that target a different subset of buyers.