Convenience stores —including Kwik Trip — commit to offering healthier options with help from Partnership for a Healthier America.
By Erin Del Conte, Executive Editor
The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA): Building a Healthier Future Summit kicked off Monday April 1, in Chicago, drawing c-store retailers, corporations, nonprofits and those creating solutions to combat childhood obesity.
Convenience Store Decisions is a media partner for the PHA Summit that takes place at the Swissôtel Chicago April 1-2.
During the Summit, attendees will attend workshops and gain “actionable solutions” to assist them in making “the healthy choice the easy choice” for Americans.
More convenience store chains, including Kwik Trip — which was awarded Convenience Store Decisions’ 2018 Convenience Store Chain of the Year award — are partnering with PHA to assist them in bringing healthier food to customers.
KT Commits to Healthy
La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip first began partnering with PHA in 2014, and recently signed on for its third commitment with the organization.
“We wanted to make some changes toward offering healthier items within our stores,” said Erica Flint, food research and development for Kwik Trip, which operates more than 600 c-stores throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. One challenge to adding healthy options is many alternate ideas of what constitutes “healthy” exist today. The company wanted the changes it made to be meaningful for customers.
“We partnered with PHA because we knew they could guide the direction we wanted to go, and give us some important feedback and recommendations, so that when we were putting the time and effort into it, we were actually doing something worthwhile,” Flint said.
PHA offered KT expertise and guidance on how to make a difference.
“They have certain criteria for foods that meet their definition of healthy based on dietary guidelines. So we’re offering clean, whole foods like fresh produce and fresh meat,” she said.
PHA is creating partnerships with multiple different players in the field of health and nutrition — beyond food, Flint noted. “They’re really looking at this as a bigger picture and at a higher level than we’re able to look at it, so that is beneficial to us in terms of making changes more globally. We can work with our piece of the puzzle, but they’re really pulling together all of those other pieces that are overall impacting the larger picture of health,” she said.
Fruit, Veggies & Water
Through KT’s original partnership with PHA in 2014, the chain committed to providing fruits and vegetables at the c-stores. While KT already offered produce at the time, this partnership meant committing to offer a specific number of fruits and vegetables and including a certain number of linear feet devoted to that section.
It also began installing bike racks outside its stores. “I think that’s really important because again it ties back to the larger picture, and that’s not something we would have necessarily thought of on our own because we were focused on food. We do have a lot of people who bike or walk to our stores, and to be able to make that easier for them by putting in a bike rack so they can lock up their bike and come in and do their shopping, that was a great suggestion,” Flint said.
KT has also worked with PHA’s Drink Up campaign to help promote the consumption of water.
To remind customers to drink more water, KT includes door clings, window clings and runs promotions over the summer. “We usually have some kind of visual campaign like that that runs, and it’s usually up for about six weeks. We also run some different graphics on our social media that encourages guests to make the choice to drink water as well,” Flint said.
The chain’s latest PHA commitment loops in PHA’s F&V campaign, which stands for fruits and veggies. The F&V campaign targets youth and looks to counteract junk food advertising with healthier messages.
“They’re taking produce and marketing it in that same vein, so they have celebrity buy-in, and they have different people promoting these fruits and vegetables, and all of the artwork is really fun, exciting and bright. In our stores in Wisconsin — we’re only doing Wisconsin stores for now — we will have some ads up in our stores for that campaign,” Flint said.
The fruits and vegetables are available in Kwik Trip’s fresh case area including pre-cut options that are ready to eat.
“We have a lot of dinner-time solutions in our stores with our fresh meat cases and so on, so we do try to have vegetables that are not just fresh cut, but large-scale items too — so we might sell tubs of lettuce in there, mushrooms, things like that that would complement a meal,” Flint said.
KT also sells potatoes, onions, tomatoes and avocados.
About a year ago, KT began using its loyalty program to help encourage healthy eating among its customer base.
When guests use KT’s loyalty app on their mobile phone, after 15 visits to a KT store, they get to select a free item from a list.
“We were able to tie in some healthy options into that list.” While the ‘free’ offerings change, KT has included options such as a fruit cup, a piece of fresh fruit or bottled water.
Each year, KT also runs an annual donation campaign to benefit KT that includes collecting coin donations from customers at the registers.
As more c-stores commit to providing healthier options, it’s helping to change the perception of the convenience store industry as a whole. While many c-stores are including healthier items today, the perception of “food at a gas station” continues to linger for those not accustomed to seeing such options in their local area.
“I think it’s only helpful to all convenience stores really as this perception continues to change and evolve and people recognize that … the c-store industry … is responding to customer wants and needs … for healthier options … and changing that market,” Flint said.
KT operates c-stores in many rural communities and food deserts where offering healthier options becomes especially valuable in making a difference for the people who live there.
“I think that the payoff of participating in a program like this is really good,” Flint said. “Partnership for a Healthier America provides a lot of support, and it’s really been fun and challenging to push the limits and work with our different vendors in trying to get healthier foods available. It’s been really rewarding.”