Convenience stores are catering to changing customer needs with healthier frozen beverages featuring functional attributes and more natural ingredients, as well as vibrant colors and flavors, and an array of choices to allow for customization.
Convenience stores are incorporating artisan and better-for-you trends into their frozen drink sections and focusing less on traditional soft drink flavors containing high fructose corn syrup, said Jill Failla, foodservice analyst at market research firm Mintel. She noted consumers are also embracing better-for-you versions of their childhood favorites, such as organic or functional slushies, at c-stores.
“A new breed of convenience store with a natural and wellness focus is emerging in urban areas, which some are calling the ‘bougie bodega.’ Many of these independent c-stores are setting the bar for what a better-for-you frozen beverage looks like,” Failla said. She pointed to Portland, Ore.’s Green Zebra, which offers kombucha slushies in flavors such as pineapple ginger and marionberry mint; and 7-Eleven’s test lab in Dallas with organic Slurpees in cucumber, coconut and blood orange.
When it comes to flavors, Mintel finds tropical beverage flavors like coconut, pineapple and passion fruit are trending, as well as health-minded flavors and ingredients such as turmeric, celery and carrot.
Alltown Fresh, which has two locations open and several more slated to open by end of year, is one c-store chain embracing these trends. It focuses on organic, natural, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and locally sourced alternatives at its convenience stores, and its frozen dispensed beverages are no exception.
“As the fresh convenience market, Alltown Fresh offers a wide variety of functional, nutrient-rich smoothies in substitution of traditional sugar-filled slushies,” said Shauna Seidenberg, category marketing manager of dispensed beverage for Alltown. “In addition to crafting all smoothie items with the most natural ingredients and fresh-cut produce available, we also offer an array of personalization options — from almond milk and coconut water to Greek and cashew milk.”
Add-ins are also available, such as spirulina powder, chia seeds and matcha. Alltown customers want choices they can feel good about drinking, and beverages that are as fresh and natural as possible, Seidenberg said. Customers are also demanding more functional beverages, non-GMO and organically sweetened items made with natural flavors and colors.
“Our guests are raising the bar on what they put into their bodies, and we are raising the bar to meet those needs,” Seidenberg said.
Smoothies were the best-selling cold beverage item at Alltown Fresh’s Plymouth, Mass., location this summer, with flavors such as Awake and Refresh trending.
“The Awake smoothie blends coffee with cacao powder, almond butter, banana, honey and yogurt, while the Refresh is made with berries and cucumber for a nutrient-packed, hydrating beverage,” Seidenberg said. “We’ve found that flavors and products that feel functional — whether it be hydrating or energy-boosting — and flavors that feel indulgent, such as chocolate or cacao, are what our guests look for.”
The energizing Awake smoothie is even outselling traditional canned Red Bull, Seidenberg said.
Testing for Success
As Yesway, which operates 150+ locations in nine states, continues to grow its footprint, it’s adding or upgrading the dispensed beverages at its locations.
“We have put frozen dispensed beverages into all stores that we have remodeled and have promoted them not only at the remodeled stores, but also at existing stores (that) were serving them when we acquired them,” said Jeff Keune, senior vice president of food service and innovation at Yesway.
Yesway is testing a combination of frozen carbonated beverage machines and frozen noncarbonated beverage machines to determine which has the broadest appeal for its customer base, as well as which is easiest to operate and has the strongest return on investment. As Yesway continues to test the segment, it is only offering core flavors.
“We offer at least two flavors at each of these stores and have many stores with more than two,” Keune said. “Fruit flavors like cherry are our most popular, but we will be looking to expand our variety and roll more innovation out in 2020.”
Yesway customers are demanding refreshment, flavor and fun, Keune said. “There is a wonderful experience with the texture that (customers) seek, which goes beyond just something cold.”
Frozen beverages are currently rolled under Yesway’s overall cold dispensed beverage promotional strategy, which is focusing on cup increases, Keune said. “We want as many people to engage with our beverages as possible, and we use them as a brand builder. We will promote on price and with our loyalty platform including with card deals and clubs.”
Mixing it Up
Circle K’s proprietary frozen beverage offering, Froster, includes a selection of frozen carbonated beverages in “vibrant fun flavors,” including favorites like Coca-Cola, Blue Raspberry and Cherry, in a variety of sizes starting at 79 cents.
“Our customers demand variety, flavor, convenience and price,” said Alicia Mowder, senior director of global marketing for Circle K Stores.
New products, flavor extensions and category crossover items were major drivers for the category this summer.
“We kicked off the summer with a unique and exciting flavor inspired by Ferrara’s Lemonhead candy. Young customers loved the pucker-inducing goodness and older generations were drawn to the nostalgia of the treat,” Mowder said.
The chain followed that with a twist on a Froster favorite, Mountain Dew, called Mountain Dew White Out.
“The Dew nation counts on Circle K as their go-to for dispensed Mountain Dew flavors, so bringing White Out to Froster was a no-brainer, not to mention the white product is aesthetically pleasing mixed with any other Froster flavor,” Mowder said. “Other flavors like Watermelon Lemonade, Orange Cream and the Circle K Exclusive Mountain Dew Voltage, have been big hits with customers looking to cool off with a Froster this summer.”
“Circle K has always been about endless flavors,” appealing to customers’ love to mix and match, she noted. This summer, Circle K launched #MakeYourMix to promote Froster, as well as Circle K’s other proprietary offering, Polar Pop.
Customers that “mixed it up” with their favorite Circle K products and posted them to Instagram or Facebook, while tagging @CircleKStores and #MakeYourMix, had the chance to win prizes such as Circle K gift cards.
“For added inspiration, Circle K also partnered with top travel and parenting influencers to create a variety of summertime survival kits featuring Polar Pop and Froster,” Mowder said. “We’ve even brought the icy-cool blast of Polar Pop and Froster to our hottest markets in San Antonio and Phoenix for a winter wonderland — a free event featuring real snow, a snow slide, live ice sculpture demonstrations, ice luge drink samples and product giveaways.”