With two years of pandemic fatigue in the rearview mirror and spring promising warm and sunny days ahead, c-store retailers are preparing for a revival of sales in the cold and frozen dispensed beverage category as customers return for their favorite and new thirst quenchers.
Last year, SunStop Convenience Stores and Markets made a good start at bringing its cold and frozen dispensed beverage category back to its pre-pandemic profitability with a 31% increase in sales over the year before.
This year, with the addition of new products and flavors of already popular brands, the chain, which has 80 locations in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, is expecting to gain even more ground, according to Michelle Weckstein, director of food and beverage brands for SunStop.
“We’re knee-deep in evaluating the category in our stores, surveying the volume of frozen beverages, looking at counter space and electrical capability and bringing in new state-of-the-art equipment,” Weckstein said.
In its markets located in rural areas where there are substantial numbers of Latinx farm workers, SunStop has had great success with Jarritos, a 100% non-carbonated, no-sugar-added, frozen juice drink in flavors such as hibiscus, mango, strawberry and watermelon, since the brand was introduced mid-last year. In markets with schools nearby, SunStop is testing Jolly Rancher frozen dispensed beverages.
“Kids like their beverages on the sweeter side, so we think Jolly Rancher will appeal to them,” she noted.
By June, the stores will also be carrying non-carbonated beverages from a company that will custom-craft flavors such as pineapple-lemonade for them.
“We’ll be able to have flavors no one else has and constantly rotate them to keep our selections fresh,” Weckstein said.
Also, by June, SunStop will be installing in some of its stores frozen noncarbonated machines fueled by propane gas for environmental benefits that freeze 30% faster than traditional machines. The manufacturer designed an eye-catching LED light-up front panel that promotes the stores’ Chillin’ On Ice brand.
For its carbonated fountains, the stores are putting in new 12-head machines and chewy ice. Some are increasing from eight heads to 12.
COVID-triggered sanitation measures remain in place at the SunStop stores.
“We clean our equipment frequently,” Weckstein said. “We want our customers to watch us clean.”
Cold-brew coffee is a hot commodity this spring. Cenex Zip Trip, which has 39 stores across seven states, is testing a new Ronnoco program in some of its locations, reported Jon Fleck, the chain’s category manager. David Cole, category manager for Plaid Pantry, said that his company recently launched a dispensed STōK cold-brew coffee program in about half of its 107 locations in Washington and Oregon.
To promote its fountain drinks, Zip Trip offers a continuous promotion through both its loyalty program and app. Loyalty members receive any size fountain drink up to 44 ounces for 99 cents, while anyone who downloads the app receives a coupon for a free 32-ounce fountain drink.
“We also rotate other offers through both the app and loyalty program to include discounts on additional products like Froffee (frozen coffee),” Fleck explained. “Plus, from time to time, usually for holidays or on occasions such as Mother’s Day, Veterans Day, etc., we offer free fountain drinks.”
Although cold fountain beverage sales at Plaid Pantry are still being negatively affected by COVID, Cole is hopeful that they will rebound in the coming months because “we always see a large spike in fountain sales during the summer.”
Refills are back and, on June 1, Plaid Pantry stores will kick off a ‘100 Days of Summer’ promotion offering a medium (30-ounce) fountain drink for 99 cents June through August.
Plaid Pantry just upgraded its Pricebook and register systems with an eye to bundling cold and frozen dispensed beverages with food or snacks, Cole added.
“We are just stepping into this strategy and are exploring concepts that will register with our customers,” Cole said.
Now the stores offer a 32-ounce fountain drink for 49 cents with the purchase of any prepackaged sandwich. They also tie in fountain discounts with pizza sales.