Getting Fresh

C-stores challenge consumer perceptions about grocery

When customers step inside any of Kwik Trip’s 527 locations, they are met with products that seem somewhat out of place in a convenience store. A cold case of meat, fresh vegetables and fruits are all strategically placed to show shoppers that Kwik Trip is a valid place to stop and buy what they need for dinner.

It’s not easy to persuade customers to buy fresh grocery items in stores better known for selling cigarettes and lottery tickets. So that's why Kwik Trip hits them with it as soon as they walk in.

“Produce has a big presence on our endcaps so it’s really eye-catching. We try to keep the fresh cases near the front so guests can see what to expect when they come through the door,” says Erica Flint, a registered dietitian in Kwik Trip’s food research and development department at the operator’s headquarters in La Crosse, Wis.

Kwik Trip started seriously looking into fresh grocery about three years ago—out of necessity.

“Fuel sales kept rising and tobacco sales kept dropping, and we looked at the future to see what we could sell that was profitable,” Flint says.

Beyond commodity items such as milk, the chain innovated its offering with the addition of fresh meat, including ground beef, chicken, sausage, steaks and whatever’s in demand.

“[It] has allowed us to go from selling odds and ends of grocery to being really able to provide items that allow people to create a whole meal,” Flint says.

Fresh grocery, says Brian Numainville, principal for The Retail Feedback Group, Lake Success, N.Y., “is growing because everyone is trying to crack the same code: How do we meet customers where they are in a place where we are?”

He recommends that stores getting into grocery start with the basics, “carrying a thin number of SKUs across a wide range of product categories, such as one or two kinds of apples instead of five.” But don’t be afraid to ask for input, he says. Ask suppliers what sells best, or ask customers on social media what they want to buy.

The biggest challenge, Numainville says, is overcoming the negative perception of convenience stores and freshness: “Making fresh grocery visible is critical.”