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ConvU-JeannetteUniversities are places of learning, innovation and growth, so it’s no wonder Jeannette Mandrusiak, who manages Stör, the busy University of Calgary Students’ Union c-store, is always on the hunt for the latest and greatest beverage innovation.

Beverages represent a large part of her overall sales, and the category as a whole is on the upswing in her store. “Overall we’ve seen solid growth in all segments of the beverage category in the last year,” she says.

With more available SKUs than ever, the alternative beverage category is booming. With an eye for display and an understanding of the available products, a c-store’s beverage vault can be one of the most important traffic drivers to bring customers in store.

 Understanding innovation

As the Vice President of Beverage World Inc., Stefan Kergl has witnessed an evolution in the beverage category over the years.

“I’ve been involved in the beverage industry since 1984. I saw the introduction of bottled water in the early 80s, and in my opinion, that was the beginning,” he says. From fruit juices and iced coffee to energy drinks and vitamin waters, the alternative beverage category will continue to evolve, because the ideas are endless, says Kergl.

Today, Beverage World Inc. represents exclusive brands in Canada, including The Pop Shoppe, Vita Coco Coconut Water, NuAquos Functional Protein Water, Alo Aloe Vera juices, and Calypso Lemonades, Limeades & Teamonades.

With all of the available innovation out there, c-store operators need to determine what their customers are after, and who they can turn to to bring these products in.

“There will never be enough room in the cold vaults for all the alternative beverage products available globally. Retailers really need to align themselves with established, financially strong, trusted partners,” says Kergl.

For your health

It’s no secret consumers are becoming more health conscious, says Kergl, adding that being able to offer alternative beverages at the C&G level can help draw customers in store who might otherwise shop in competitive channels, including grocery and big box.

Stocking healthy alternatives in the beverage coolers at Stör has proven to be a successful strategy for Mandrusiak.

“We’ve had great success carrying Alo, which is an aloe beverage. Students find it refreshing without the sweetness of a pop,” says Mandrusiak. “We’ve also seen a lot of students choosing more coconut water and Gatorade, but everyone’s go-to after a big work out is still chocolate milk.”

Although energy drink sales are stable in Mandrusiak’s store, the time of year plays an important role. “Energy drinks seem to be the slowest in terms of growth, as students try to make more healthy beverage choices, but during peak times like midterms and finals, students tend to fall back on them for late nights of studying,” she explains.

For Kergl, the most recent category-to-watch has been protein beverages. “A year ago, mainstream protein beverages had what I call a mini-explosion in Canada. The category is in its infancy in Canada when compared to other categories like carbonated soft drinks or energy drinks,” he says, adding that NuAquos is a strong example in the category.

The growth of coconut water

Walk into any c-store and you’ll notice a growing variety of coconut water options. In fact, the coconut water category in Canada is now approximately a $39 million market*.

Due to this growth, it’s important to understand the coconut water products you’ve got on offer, because your customers know what they’re looking for, says Kergl.

“Consumers are much more educated today about the coconut water category, on topics ranging from brands and health attributes to the characteristics of young green coconuts versus old brown coconuts,” he says. “It’s also important to understand the difference between from-concentrate versus not-from-concentrate coconut waters as well as pasteurized coconut waters versus the more healthy and natural process of flash pasteurizing.”

The alternative beverage category is full of innovation and a seemingly endless array of choices, so the more category research c-store operators can do, the better. Speak with your suppliers, get to know what consumers are looking for, and most of all ensure your cold vault is fully stocked with enticing products.

Quick tips:

Watch for trends that stick. Keep tabs on the categories and brands your customers are looking for, and rotate out slow-moving stock for brands you know will sell. 

Stock your coolers. Alternative beverage sales are certainly seasonal, but keeping a good variety of top sellers fully stocked year-round will help establish your store as a beverage destination.

Get feedback. Speak to your customers about their beverage purchases. Are there brands or flavours you’re not carrying that they’d like to see? Ask for their feedback and adjust your inventory accordingly.

 

*Source: Nielsen, Coconut Water Category, 52-week period ending June 27, 2015