C-stores look to the plant-based milk trend.
Dairy products, primarily ice cream and varieties of milk, remain dependable—and profitable—c-store offerings. At the same time, so-called “plant-based” milks are growing into a formidable trend.
According to Chicago-based research firm IRI, the convenience store channel for all of calendar 2018 saw sales of refrigerated almond milk top $3.4 million, a year-to-year increase of 6.5%, and ready-to-drink almond milk sales reached $1.5 million, a 206.5% spike.
Coconut milk sales, though still relatively low, rose by 15.4% from the previous year while its ready-to-drink variety notched sales up to more than $152,000, up 58.1%.
Kefir, a fermented milk drink with a sour taste, made using a culture of yeasts and bacteria, saw sales of $179,000, an 88% year-to-year rise.
Indeed, a 2018 study from McGill University looked at the four most commonly consumed types of milk beverages from plant sources—almond, soy, rice and coconut—and found that after cow’s milk, soy milk is the most nutritionally balanced.
David Arens, exchange divisional merchandise manager for AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service), said sales were driven by growth in key better-for-you options through the Exchange’s BE FIT program from brands such as Halo Top, Silk Almond Milk, Danone Oikos yogurt, Naked Juice, Kraft String Cheese, Chobani, Great Day and Yup Milk. In all, ice cream and dairy sales system-wide in AAFES’ 334 Express convenience stores totaled $22.9 million.
According to IRI, private-label ice cream sales for calendar year 2018 in the convenience store channel totaled nearly $36 million, an increase of 21.8% over the previous year. It finished fourth behind only Ben & Jerry’s, Blue Bell and Haagen-Dazs.
Westborough, Mass.-based Cumberland Farms, with 600 stores in eight states, has a popular and growing private-label ice cream line. Last month it introduced a new Birthday Blast ice cream flavor—with pints promotionally priced at $3.99. The new flavor launched as part of a larger ‘Birthday Blast’ private-label treats rollout that also included premium cookie bites, whoopie pie and premium chocolate bars.
Malcolm Stogo, the founder of Ice Cream University, a consulting firm in West Orange, N.J., sees frozen novelties selling quickly from c-store freezers.
“They’re also buying dairy-free, both in pints and in bars. Non-dairy, or dairy-free, is the newest thing in convenience stores, and there are lots of reasons, actually, like lifestyle changes and mostly calories,” Stogo said. “The price points are about the same as regular ice cream.”
Coming to c-stores next likely will be alcohol-infused ice cream. This spring, Haagen-Dazs is introducing five such flavors of ice cream into supermarkets.