Americans’ love of all things healthy — especially in the age of COVID-19 — includes nearly every product category, including cold and frozen dispensed beverages.
At Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s (AAFES) Express stores, healthier-for-you continues to be a trend for cold beverages, according to Marissa Tinoco, consumables buyer for AAFES, which operates 479 c-stores. “Regional spicy flavors like turmeric and ginger are making their way into beverage lines, as well. For frozen options, coconut flavor is seeing a lot of growth.”
National brands like Hershey’s and Reese’s are trending, and Express shoppers continue to seek opportunities to customize their beverages.
“Syrups and different condiments will help drive customers to the counters when they are able to self-serve again,” Tinoco said.
The fastest-growing frozen dispensed flavors, noted Tinoco, include horchata, coconut, blueberry, watermelon, ‘straw-banana’ and mango. Among cold-dispensed beverages, shoppers love lemon-ginger, papaya, melon, berry and blood orange.
“The Exchange has found success by creating a beverage destination with designated in-store signage such as window decals, floor decals, danglers and wobblers to capture shoppers’ attention,” Tinoco said.
“Frozen carbonated beverages performed well as customers viewed this as a treat and escape during COVID,” said Connie Kelehan, dispensed beverage category manager for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go, which operates more than 400 c-stores in 11 states. “In addition, there is not a replacement for this product in a packaged beverage form.”
Several new flavors from Mtn Dew have proven popular in the fountain section for the chain.
But success with frozen dispensed beverages depends on meeting customer preferences in each market, as operators have discovered.
“I have ice-cold coffee available, but I don’t sell much,” said Dave Simendinger, president of 38-unit Champlain Farms based in South Burlington, Vt. Smoothies and shakes also fizzled out when he tested them at 10 stores during 2020. Clearly, not every trend works for every chain.
As beverage trends evolve, many retailers are focusing on local trends and the demands of their customer demographic to come up with the right beverage mix for their shoppers.
Kelehan is optimistic about the category in 2021, anticipating fewer sanitation concerns and more normal routines once COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror.
Kelehan’s recommendation to other convenience store operators is to bundle frozen and cold dispensed beverages with foodservice offerings, as foodservice is expected to rebound in the wake of the pandemic.
AAFES’ Tinoco agreed, “Combo meals work well to attract customers to try a new beverage with the purchase of their favorite snack or hot item.”
Discounts on dispensed beverages with the purchase of foodservice items, as well as incentives for loyalty members, can also help drive fountain sales in 2021, Kelehan noted.