The C-Store of the Future: Category Disruptors

sku label

The c-store of the future will look nothing like it does today.

Certainly, disruptive forces such as autonomous and electric vehicles and aggressive e-commerce giants threaten to disrupt the very existence of convenience retail as we know it. But this nimble industry will find a way to remain relevant.

It’s used to disruption—it happens all the time, on store shelves across the country. Innovation on the new-product front has been just as robust as the most aggressive disruptor. Items that weren’t heard of five years ago are responsible for revitalizing categories, earning that incremental sale and changing the dynamic of even the most static planograms.

And though recent sales data from IRI indicates that consumers are content with the core offering, with MVP products placing at the top of the sales charts again in 2017, customers want more.

But despite some predictability, change is here, and new products and new-product formulation has had an effect on the core as well. Traditional brands are acting like—or straight-up buying—niche startups to keep up with rapidly changing customer expectations.

While the list that follows is in no way comprehensive, the future has to start somewhere. So let’s start here.


awake bars

It’s just not as easy to sell sweet treats to the growing number of health-conscious consumers as it used to be. Candy companies are simplifying ingredient lists and changing up serving sizes, while others are cluing into organic formulations. Some are even making confection functional.

1. Awake Bars (pictured)

Available in chocolate bars (milk, caramel and dark) and granola bars (dark chocolate caramel, dark chocolate peanut butter and cinnamon bun), a single Awake bar has the caffeine equivalent of one cup of coffee, according to the company. Awake also offers Bites in milk chocolate, caramel and dark chocolate that are equal to half a cup of coffee.

2. Alert Caffeine Gum

Alert Caffeine Gum from Mars Wrigley Confectionery contains 40 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of half a cup of coffee, the company says. Designed to give the consumer an immediate caffeine boost, Alert Caffeine Gum comes in two flavors: Mint and Fruit. And much like coffee, the gum has a bitter flavor to signal it has caffeine, averting unintentional consumption.

3. Red Vines Made Simple

Red Vines is introducing licorice that is made with just five non-GMO ingredients and maintains the taste and distinct chewiness of the original Red Vines, the company said. Made Simple licorice contains real sugar, wheat flour, citric acid, natural berry flavors and radish extract for color.


frontier bar

Sales of better-for-you snacks are up. But health isn’t the only story behind innovation in this category. Form and function are turning out to be big selling points as well, especially as a vehicle for protein and other nutrients.

4. Frontier Bars (pictured)

Country Archer Jerky’s Frontier Bars, meat-based nutrition bars with 20 grams of protein and a low sugar content, are made from high-quality ingredients with no antibiotics or hormones. The bars are available in three flavors: Cayenne Beef With Pork, Herb Citrus Turkey and Sweet BBQ Pork.

5. Paqui Spicy Queso

Recently acquired by Hershey, Paqui tortilla chips now come in Spicy Queso, providing a smoky kick for fans of queso. The chips get their heat from a combination of simple ingredients, including jalapeno and chipotle peppers. Spicy Queso joins Paqui’s other chip flavors: Cool Salsa Verde, Nacho Cheese Especial, Haunted Ghost Pepper and Wild Wild Ranch.

6. Goodbelly Probiotic Bar

These crunchy bars from GoodBelly contain 1 billion BB-12 probiotics, according to the company. The bars come in two flavors: Honey Almond Butter and Cocoa Peanut Butter. The bars require no refrigeration and are non-GMO and gluten-free.

Packaged beverages

master brew kombucha

It seems recent trends are turning this category fizzy. But while sparkling water continues to rise to the top, especially in lieu of CSDs, other packaged beverages are also gaining more space in the cold vault.

7. Master Brew Kombucha (pictured)

Blueberry Basil and Roots Beer joined KeVita’s Master Brew Kombucha line last year. The nonalcohol kombucha contains live probiotics, active cultures, organic acids and organic caffeine, with 35 calories per 8-ounce serving.

8. Black Medicine Iced Coffee

Black Medicine, creators of one of the first ready-to-drink cold-pressed brewed coffees, replaced its aluminum bottles with cans to meet consumer desire for better portability and convenience. The retail price was expected to drop an estimated 50 cents per unit, from $3.99 to $3.49 on average, due to the packaging change, the company says.

9. Nestle Waters Sparkling Portfolio

This year, Nestle Waters will introduce an entirely new sparkling portfolio for its six regional brands: Poland Spring, Deer Park, Zephyrhills, Ozarka, Ice Mountain and Arrowhead. The release will include new flavors, a new bottle design and packaging, and the introduction of 12-ounce cans to meet more consumption occasions and consumer preferences.

Foodservice equipment

vector series multi cook oven

Today’s crop of foodservice equipment emphasizes low-labor multifunctionality. Operators are finding they can do everything, from brew coffee to heat pizza, with less.

10. Vector Series Multi-Cook Oven (pictured)

The Vector Series Multi-Cook Oven from Alto-Shaam offers up to four ovens in one. Featuring Structured Air Technology for even cooking, the small-footprint oven can simultaneously cook a variety of menu items with no flavor transfer. The Vector Series Multi-Cook Oven can also cook up to two times more food than a traditional convection oven, according to the company.

11. Sally the Salad Robot

Designed to deliver fresh, healthy food to venues where space is limited, Sally the Salad Robot allows users to create custom salads through an easy-to-use touchscreen interface. Similar to a vending machine, it doesn’t require staffing and can prepare salads around the clock. Proprietary technology reduces the risk of foodborne illness, because ingredients are kept sanitary and separate.

12. Schaerer’s Coffee Art C Platform

Schaerer’s Coffee Art C platform can brew freshly ground hot or iced black coffee, one cup at a time. The machine uses pressure brewing, which results in a fuller flavor vs. brewing with paper filters, the company says. The platform can be configured with two or three grinders. It features a touchscreen that lets consumers select their cup size (from 8 to 24 ounces).



Despite mounting regulation and government intervention, the tobacco category continues to innovate. While flavors are keeping the cigar category fresh, it is the vaping category that really has the industry’s attention.

13. iQOS (pictured)

iQOS is a yet-to-be-released device from Philip Morris International that heats a compressed,  tobacco-based stick to generate an aerosol that users inhale to receive nicotine. So far, it has seen strong market penetration overseas, especially in Japan. PMI is working toward approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to not only market the product here but to also claim it as less harmful to users than combustible cigarettes.

14. Vapeleaf

The latest addition to the Logic brand, Vapeleaf brings real tobacco to the vaping experience. It works by passing heated vapor through ground tobacco to capture true flavor in every puff, the company says.

15. My Blu

Blu’s newest addition to its product lineup is My blu. Maintaining the blu brand’s sleek design and easy-to-use features, it is designed with a prefilled pod system and a long-lasting USB charge. Blu is offering an introductory flavor range to the U.S. market, consisting of 12 e-liquids in three nicotine levels (2.4%, 1.2% and 0%).


tyson chicken

Though foodservice isn’t a new category in the c-store space, it’s evolving. Ever-changing customer  preferences in flavors, healthfulness, snacking and more are forcing retailers to stay on top of the most current trends, and many can now boast a diverse offering to show for it.

16. Tyson Red Label Chicken With No Antibiotics Ever (pictured)

This line features popular chicken products and flavor profiles in tiered options that allow operators to better manage food costs and menu quality, according to the company. There are 64 products in the line, including fillets and chicken strips. All of the chicken is transitioning to being raised without antibiotics.

17. Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

Boyd’s Cold Brew coffee concentrate for foodservice customers has a 12-month shelf life. Made with 100% Arabica beans, the coffee blend has a smooth finish with cocoa and caramel notes. It is steeped in cold water in a refrigerated environment for a lower acidity. The cold brew is available in a 13.5-ounce foil pouch.

18. Pretzel Fillers

Pretzel Fillers from J&J Snack Foods are filled or topped with sweet and savory flavors. The soft pretzels come in Sea Salted Caramel, Chipotle Cheddar and Beer Cheese. They are hand-twisted and prebaked for a simple heat-and-serve preparation. The pretzels come in 3.5- and 6.25-ounce sizes.