As NACS celebrates the convenience and fuel retailing industry’s remarkable achievements since it was founded 50 years ago, the association is equally looking toward the future, said NACS President and CEO Hank Armour during the NACS Show Opening General Session.
It is expected that more than 22,000 attendees from 50 countries will attend the 2011 NACS Show, which features more than 60 workshops and 1,300 exhibitors in a 380,000-net-square-foot expo.
Armour said that the industry’s metrics – 160 million customers a day and sales nearly 5 percent of the total U.S. economy – are “mind boggling” for an industry that was struggling to gain acceptance when NACS was founded in 1961.
As NACS and the industry celebrate their accomplishments over the past 50 years, Armour said that NACS is also looking to the future, identifying the three areas that will define the industry’s future: fuels, foodservice and grassroots advocacy.
Starting with fuels, Armour said that convenience stores today are the dominant fuel retailers, selling an estimated 80 percent of the gasoline purchased in the United States, but the vehicles, and the energy used to power those vehicles, will change.
“We are America’s gas station and we intend to remain America’s fueling station,” said Armour. “We want to share [our] expertise as new regulations are being developed. We aren’t going to wait until mandates redefine our businesses. We think it should be the other way around. We’re going to do everything in our power to ensure that convenience retailers remain the most important player fueling America.”
Foodservice is the second critical area that will affect the industry’s future, said Armour. Foodservice now accounts for nearly 22 percent of the industry’s in-store profit dollars.
“We’ve gone from an afterthought to a destination for fast, fresh food and immediate refreshment. And this is our future,” said Armour.
But behind this opportunity lurks challenges. As more convenience stores evolve from gas stations that sell food to food stores that sell fuel, they are being viewed differently, especially by the government.
New menu labeling requirements that involve posting of calorie and other nutritional information for each food item sold may make sense in restaurants that sell two dozen items off a menu, but they don’t necessarily make sense in a convenience store selling thousands of other products, he said.
“We’re fighting to make sure that this and other foodservice regulations are relevant to our unique foodservice offer,” said Armour.
The industry is also fighting the negative misinterpretations generated around so-called “food deserts,” which are classified as very rural or very urban areas that don’t have access to grocery stores. In these areas, convenience stores are often among the few businesses serving customer needs.
Health and nutrition are challenges for all retailers, said Armour, because there is a big difference between what customers say they want and what they actually buy. Further, fresh doesn’t always mean healthy, and vice versa.
Armour said that NACS is developing a Healthy Options program to help the industry better communicate the positive nutritional elements of its current offer and to provide a road map for how retailers and suppliers can work together to do better.
“We believe that our stores are well equipped to fulfill customer demand for healthy and fast, fresh food,” said Armour.
The third area Armour discussed was grassroots advocacy power.
“We won on swipe fees because we were right about monopolistic power driving rates to outrageous levels. But being right isn’t always enough. You need to sell your position,” he said. “We won because you, your employees and your customers weighed in… We won because you acted. You made the difference.”
Armour said that NACS intends to harness and develop its grassroots engagement to advance our industry’s interest for many years to come.
“Our goal is to redefine what grassroots means to our industry by enlisting you and your employees in the most powerful grassroots army that our nation has ever seen,” he said, urging attendees to get engaged.
The NACS Show, which runs through Tuesday at the McCormick Place in Chicago, is ranked as one of the 50 largest annual tradeshows in the United States. For the most up-to-date news and information on the event go to www.nacsshow.com.