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Exclusive research shows COVID-19 is driving shoppers into c-stores



Among the many change-of-life impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, convenience stores are seeing an increase in shoppers who typically would go to supermarkets for their grocery needs.

According to a new study conducted by Convenience Store News Canada’s parent company, EnsembleIQ, 15% of shoppers said they are more likely to shop at convenience stores for groceries due to the pandemic. Fielded March 13-15, the survey was conducted among 1,001 primary household grocery shoppers in the United States.

Almost half of the respondents (44%) say they are stocking up on cleaning supplies, medications, personal care items and food to keep themselves healthy and prepared for whatever may come next.

Regardless of where shoppers typically shop for groceries, they are now turning to online shopping more often as a result of the pandemic, according to the findings.

Convenience stores also are capturing more shoppers, as are drug and dollar stores. Interestingly, many shoppers are going to specialty/natural stores more often, too.

Besides an increase in grocery shopping at c-stores and other non-supermarket outlets, the research revealed other behavioral changes, including a significant increase in online ordering and use of out-of-store pickup options.

Among shoppers who are visiting other stores aside from their preferred stores, 58% say it is due to product availability, while 34% say the substitute location is more convenient at a time when they do not want to travel further than they have to.

Other highlights from the findings include:

  • 23% of shoppers are making a fill-in shopping trip more often due to the pandemic, especially millennials.
  • 22% of shoppers are making a quick shopping trip for one to five items more often due to the pandemic, especially urban consumers.
  • 19% of shoppers are shopping more often for immediate consumption than they did before the pandemic, especially urban consumers and millennials.
  • 27% of shoppers who typically shop at convenience stores for groceries have a high level of trust that retailers are ensuring safe handling when preparing and delivering orders. In comparison, only 16% to 17% of shoppers who typically shop at grocery stores or supercenters for groceries have a high level of trust.

In addition, 24% say their typical shopping time of day has changed due to the pandemic: 61% of these shoppers are shopping at different times to avoid crowds, while 34% are shopping at different times when they think the store is cleaner and 41% are going when they think more products will be available. In addition, 20% are shopping around modified school schedules, and 11% around modified work schedules.

When it comes to purchasing food, 19% are more likely to buy food online for in-store pickup due to the pandemic. This is especially true among men, urban consumers, and younger consumers.

Research shows 18% are more likely to buy food online for delivery due to the pandemic, and 18% are more likely to buy food online for curbside pickup.

In addition to food, 83% of shoppers feel household supplies and paper goods are important to have on hand right now. This is especially true among women, Gen Xers and urban consumers.

Also, 75% feel OTC (over-the-counter) medication is important to have on hand right now, with the highest percentages coming from women, Gen Xers and rural consumers.

And 82% feel personal care items are important to have on hand right now, especially among Gen Xers, urban and rural consumers.

The study urges retailers and brands to think twice before abandoning all promotional activity in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic because many shoppers are still looking for deals as they stock up for an uncertain future.

Three key takeaways about the state of shopping behavior at this point in time are:

  1. Shoppers are still shopping;
  2. Online shopping is growing; and
  3. Shoppers are ready to stay loyal.

For more on the study’s findings, click here.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 


COVID-19: 5 ways to safeguard workers and customers



Cleanliness is next to godliness, especially in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic. C-stores, gas stations and car washes can do their part to help keep the population healthy with a few simple steps.

1 – Talk to staff about the seriousness of the situation and the need to take special efforts to safeguard both workers and customers. Health authorities indicate the virus can live on surfaces for a few hours and up to several days.

2 – Have cleaning solutions and tools ready. According to Public Health Ontario ( many commonly used cleaners and disinfectants are effective against COVID-19. Use only disinfectants that have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and follow manufacturers’ instructions.

3 – Establish a cleaning routine and follow it. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least twice per day. These include dispenser nozzles, payment buttons, squeegee handles, fuel selector switches and trash receptacles. Pay attention to door handles and light switches to the c-store and wipe all counters and cooler doors with a disinfectant. Bathrooms need to be a constant focus and all surfaces need to be disinfected repeatedly throughout the day. Wipe and clean all vending systems as well.

4 – Staff safety is important. Make sure crews have disposable latex gloves if they are detailing cars and discuss the importance of keeping hands away from faces. Gloves should be discarded into a lined receptacle after each vehicle is cleaned. If reusable gloves are used make sure they are only used for a specific task.

5 – Know your cleaning products.

Cleaners: These break down grease and remove organic material from the surface. Cleaners can be used separately before using disinfectants and can be purchased with cleaner and disinfectant combined in a single product.

Disinfectants: These have chemicals that kill most germs and are typically used after surfaces have been cleaned. These have a Drug Identification Number (DIN).

Disinfectant wipes: These have combined cleaners and disinfectants in one solution. Disinfectant wipes may become dry due to fast-drying properties and should be discarded if they become dry and are not recommended for heavily soiled surfaces.

Bleach solution: 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per five litres of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per litre of water.

RELATED READ: Prevention training video for operators and staff

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INS Market ramps up expansion in Quebec

INS MarketScreen Shot 2020-02-11 at 11.51.54 AM is expanding its convenience concept in Quebec.

Founded in 1994 as International News, the Canadian company has evolved into a convenience retailer, offering tobacco, newspapers, magazines, lottery, beverages, better-for-you snacks and confectionery.

In addition, INS offers books, transit tickets, souvenirs, health and beauty products, greeting cards, telephone cards, postal supplies, office supplies, flowers, mobile devices and accessories. Some stores also features a Western Union, ATM, postal outlet and dry cleaning depot.

With 200 stores in Canada and the United States, the company dubs itself as “the most modern instant gratification store in the market.”

As the company expands, its mantra is simple: “We go where the customers go.” This involves “aggressive expansion” across Quebec. INS stores (kiosks and inline spaces) can be found in high-traffic areas, such as busy urban streets, office buildings, public transit venues and shopping centres, as well as hospitals, colleges and universities.


Convenience stores could benefit from e-cigarette ban, say analysts

A growing move to ban flavoured e-cigarettes due to health concerns particularly in youth could actually benefit convenience stores in the long run, say retail analysts.

“We believe the FDA’s plan to remove mint/menthol e-cig flavours (in addition to all other non- tobacco flavours) would without question encourage a return to combustible cigarettes,” Bonnie Herzog of Wells Fargo Securities wrote in a report after conducting a survey of retailers.

A large majority of retailers surveyed believe the removal of e-cigarettes would migrate smokers to combustible cigarettes that represent a larger portion of convenience store sales.

One-third of retailers surveyed also expect mint and menthol smokers would switch to combustible cigarettes because those consumers tend to want to stick with menthol products.

Almost half of the retailers believe the removal of flavoured e-cigarettes won’t help to reduce youth usage as kids likely move to the black market. Yet some 40% of retailers say they are seeing some deceleration in Juul sales and nearly 20% are seeing more combustible cigarette sales as news reports increase about health issues with vaping.

Some U.S. states are moving to ban or curtail vaping but Herzog said she is “cautiously optimistic” that a complete ban on e-cigarette flavours will be imposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

In Canada, the country’s public health officer said last week at least three reports of potential vaping-related illnesses were being investigated.

Quebec health officials confirmed Friday the province’s first case of severe pulmonary illness linked to vaping. That followed a report from the Middlesex-London Health Unit that a teen from London, Ont., who was using e-cigarettes daily, suffered a severe case of pulmonary illness, the first confirmed case of vaping-related lung disease in Canada.

Herzoz added that 67% of retailers believe the removal of e-cigarette flavours would increase the competitive advantage of IQOS, a heat-not-burn cigarette alternative made by Philip Morris International that has received FDA premarket approval.

Even if e-cigarettes aren’t banned outright, large convenience store chains such as Alimentation Couche-Tard would be helped in the long-term by increased regulations of e-cigarettes because they have the ability to absorb the additional costs, wrote RBC Capital Markets analyst Irene Nattel in a report.

“Given cost of compliance/administrative burden associated with regulated products…we’d expect chains with financial flexibility to gain share over time, not unlike what happened to breweries during the last century,” she wrote.

Tobacco represents about 38% of merchandise store sales at convenience stores and about 40.5% at Couche-Tard, Nattel said. However, electronic devices represent less than 25% of other tobacco products, which account for less than 20% of tobacco sales

Couche-Tard CEO Brian Hannasch said that while these products aren’t currently “material” to its revenues, the Quebec-based retailer hopes they remain available for adults to give smokers “an avenue of lower risk as they pursue nicotine.”

The company only sells closed vaping systems that already contain liquid, instead of ones that allow consumers to use their own liquids.

“We know there’s demand there but if flavours are attracting children we’re OK with it going away,” he told The Canadian Press after its recent annual meeting. “It’s the right thing for society and we just want it to be done on a thoughtful fashion and based on facts.”



Presenting the National Convenience Industry Awards winners

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 1.17.44 PMLeaders from across the convenience spectrum converged in Toronto last week for the first annual Nation Convenience Industry Summit hosted by the Convenience Industry Council of Canada.

It was a fantastic lineup of inspiring ideas, networking and industry celebration. (Find out more in the upcoming November/December issue of Convenience Store News Canada).

On Wednesday evening, attendees gathered at the Beanfield Centre at Exhibition Place for the National Convenience Industry Awards. Congratulations to all the winners!

Excellence Awards winners are:

  • Outstanding Partner of the Year: Coca-Cola Company
  • Outstanding Industry Leader: Marc Goodman
  • Robert and Jacques Beaudry Lifetime Achievement Award: Antonio (Tony) Zarrillo of JTI
  • Peter Gorman Humanitarian Award: ITWAL Limited

Convenience Innovation Award winners are:

  • Beverages: PepsiCo Canada Gatorade Zero Berry
  • Chocolate: Mondelez Canada, Cadbury Dairy Milk Oreo
  • Better for You: KIND Snacks, Kind Changemaker
  • Confectionery & Gum: Mondelez Canada, Trident Vibes Spearmint Rush
  • General Merchandise: SRP Companies, Cable Chompers
  • Snacks: LSI Enterprise, Jack Links Teriyaki Steak Strip Bars

Judge rules out half century prison term for Edmonton c-store killer

A man convicted of killing two Edmonton convenience store clerks will not be eligible for parole for 25 years.

A judge handed down a life sentence Friday to Colton Steinhauer and did not follow a jury’s recommendation that the killer serve 50 years before he can apply for release.

The jury found Steinhauer guilty in May of two counts of first-degree murder.

Two other accused were earlier convicted in the shooting deaths of the Mac’s employees during holdups at two different stores on one night in December 2015.

Court heard that Steinhauer shot Ricky Cenabre at a south-end location.

Steinhauer was also sentenced to eight years for the two robberies, which are to be served at the same time as the life sentence.

A victim impact statement was read by Cenabre’s niece at a sentencing hearing Thursday. She said the three killers don’t deserve compassion.

“Seeing the video, they never had any compassion at all. So why give it to them?” said Mary Puerto.

According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Steinhauer, Laylin Delorme and a 13-year-old boy entered the first Mac’s store with their faces covered. They beat and robbed Karanpal Bhangu before Delorme shot and killed the clerk.

Fifteen minutes later, the trio robbed and assaulted Cenabre at the second store. Steinhauer shot him with the same pistol Delorme had used in the first robbery.

Cenabre and Bhangu, both immigrants, had been working alone on night shifts when they were killed.

Bhangu, 35, had moved from India four months earlier. Cenabre, 41, had come to Canada from the Philippines.

Delorme was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life with no parole eligibility for 25 years. He is appealing the verdict and the Crown is appealing the parole period.

The teen was convicted of two counts of manslaughter and sentenced to three years.


Longo’s unveils “convenience-based” store concept



In its continued effort to cater to office crowds and commuters,
Longo’s opened its doors Monday to a “small-scale, convenience-based grocery store” it’s calling Pronto Eats.

Located in Toronto’s underground PATH system at Hudson’s Bay Centre at Yonge and Bloor just steps away from the subway, the store will offer ready-to-eat and semi-prepared meal options as well as roasted coffee and handcrafted espresso-based beverages.

“For those who work inside or nearby, the PATH is a place where time, quality, and convenience intersect, and this is at the core of what Pronto Eats plans to deliver,” said Longo’s spokesperson Rosanne Longo in a press release announcing the store opening.

Grocery Gateway same-day pickup will be available at the store, and customers can also pick and pay for items through the Ritual food-ordering app. The store will not offer single-use plastic bags, but according to the press release, will offer “multiple reusable solutions.”

At 1,000 sq. ft., Pronto Eats is considerably smaller than a regular Longo’s (35,000 sq. ft.) and also smaller than its urban concept store, The Market by Longo’s, which is typically between 5,500 and 7,000 sq. ft. and sells staples such as fresh produce and meat. (There is a street-level The Market by Longo’s within the same city block as Pronto Eats.)

It has been a busy summer for Longo’s, which opened a 40,000-sq.-ft. store at Toronto’s Yonge Sheppard Centre Aug. 1.

The Toronto-area chain plans to open two more stores this fall–one in the city’s Liberty Village and one in East Gwillimbury, just north of Newmarket.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 


Ontario should heed lessons of other provinces for new beer system: experts

shutterstock_773619718As the Ontario government prepares to move ahead with its plans to overhaul the province’s 92-year-old beer distribution system, experts say it should heed lessons from retail sales systems in other provinces.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have made it clear that their goal is to give Ontarians more choice and convenience when it comes to alcohol sales, but details are scant as to how they hope to achieve this.

The PCs have the option of adopting the systems used in Quebec, Alberta or British Columbia, or they can develop something unique.

“The lack of detail suggests that they just have this principle of liberalizing but they haven’t got a vision of what kind of system they want,” says Dan Malleck, a beer expert and associate professor applied health sciences at Brock University.

The B.C. model uses provincially owned and private liquor stores but doesn’t allow purchases in supermarkets. Alberta’s system is entirely private with no limit on the number of stores. Quebec allows sales in grocery stores, convenience stores and big box outlets like Costco in addition to government-run liquor outlets.

Most provinces restrict beer sales to provincially owned stores but Newfoundlanders can pick up a cold one from corner stores and gas stations, while New Brunswickers will be able to buy beer in select grocery stores starting in October.

Ontario retail groups are pushing the province to adopt a system similar to Quebec where distribution is widespread and retailers can set their own prices after negotiating directly with breweries. That allows them to pass along any savings to consumers instead of being constrained by a universal selling price set by producers.

“Our preferred model is essentially the Quebec model,” says Karl Littler, the council’s senior vice-president, public affairs.

That would not be as financially beneficial for the owners of The Beer Store, he acknowledges, but they would still prosper.

“It doesn’t seem like they’ve had any difficulty selling in the province of Quebec or in the province of Alberta or indeed in any province,” he said in an interview.

The Beer Store, which is owned by the foreign brewing giants that control Labatt, Molson and Sleeman, accounts for almost 70% of beer sales volume in Ontario, which generated $3.3 billion in sales in 2017-18, according to a recent report by consultant Ken Hughes which recommended changes Ontario should adopt.

Littler said the Beer Store is looking to defend a system that gives its owners substantially greater margins in Ontario than they enjoy in Quebec because of the way that they control both wholesale and retail prices.

Expanding the number of points of sale is sure to increase distribution costs as it has in Quebec where beer is delivered to about 8,000 locations instead of Ontario which has the fewest per capita retail locations in the country, says Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.

“Right now the extra savings go to the beer companies, not to the consumers,” he said in an interview.

Bryans said minimum prices need to be set to protect craft brewers from predatory prices by the global brewers, but he has no problem with beer prices being a little more expensive in convenience stores than at grocers or The Beer Store.

Craft beer sales represent less than 2% of sales at The Beer Store but more than 10% at government-run LCBO locations and more than 15% at grocers.

Allowing sales of beer, especially craft selections, in family-run independent corner stores can help to save a sector that’s been losing five stores a week in the province for the last decade, said Bryans.

“I actually think the craft beer business will bring more millennials into the sector as well and really help shore up the future business model in every community.”

He thinks Ontario will select an open and competitive market like Quebec’s, but with a bias towards craft beer because it is more developed in Ontario than Quebec where the dominance of the big breweries has long controlled shelf space.

The future of Ontario’s beer distribution system remains a mystery because the law that rips up a 10-year agreement with the Beer Store signed in 2015 by the previous Liberal government has yet to be proclaimed more than a month after receiving Royal Assent.

Industry observers believe the provincial government is using the threat of rescinding the legal rights of The Beer Store to compensation as a hammer to force a deal with the retailer.

The Beer Store declined to comment but said after the law was introduced that it would “fight this legislation vigorously through the courts.”

A spokeswoman for Ontario’s new finance minister, Rod Phillips, said the government plans to stick with its campaign promise despite a cabinet shuffle and threat of legal action, but declined to provide any details about the how the system will change or answer questions about the timing of implementing a new law.

“We will continue to work towards getting the best deal possible for Ontario consumers and businesses, and at this time cannot speculate on the outcome of this process,” said Emily Hogeveen in an email.

Canada’s retail council expects the Beer Store will remain a viable competitor even though it estimates that grocery and convenience stores might get about half of the current Beer Store retail business following the changes.

“I think the story that they’re just going to somehow wither on the vine is a little strange,” he said. “Obviously it would be significant or they wouldn’t be spitting bullets like they are currently about the prospect of change.”

Ontario to issue 50 new cannabis store licences: What could this mean for c-stores?

cannabisOntario is set to get 50 more cannabis stores starting in October, and applicants will have to first show they have their finances and retail space ready to go.

The announcement June 26th comes as some of the first 25 of the province’s legal pot shops that were supposed to open April 1 are still not up and running.

Those initial retailers were chosen through a lottery to open Ontario’s first brick-and-mortar cannabis stores—when the drug became legal recreationally last October it was only available online through the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store—and that lottery system has faced criticism for not including a merit component.

In other Canadian jurisdictions allowing for the private sale of cannabis, successful retailers often include convenience stores. For instance, of the 24 retailers selected to qualify for cannabis sales in Newfoundland and Labrador, one is a convenience store in Labrador City. Last summer, a Co-op gas-bar in Calgary was given the green light.

Convenience operators in Ontario are watching the situation. One of the questions is whether the government will allow cannabis stores-within-a-store or insist they be entirely separate.

Either way, convenience-store operators like Alimentation Couche-Tard, which has a large number of Ontario locations, are well positioned.

“We have the ability to sell this product while meeting all government requirements (and) we can train our staff on verifying the identity of all consumers, regardless of their age,” Couche-Tard founder and executive chairman Alain Bouchard foreshadowed at the company’s 2017 annual meeting.

In February 2019, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. entered into a multi-year trademark license agreement with Canopy Growth Corporation, one of the winners of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s Expression of Interest Application Lottery, who was preparing to operate a “Tweed” branded retail store in London, Ont. The store opened in May in a shopping plaza that is also home to Walmart, LCBO, Beer Store, Movie Theatre, Farm Boy and others.

In a release, the new partners stated: “Through this partnership, Alimentation Couche-Tard is aiming to lean on Canopy Growth’s cannabis expertise and leverage its experience with other age-restricted products to focus on the safe, responsible and lawful sale of cannabis, consistent with the legislation enacted by the federal and provincial governments. As two Canadian-made and globally-positioned companies, the London location will serve as an important entry to market that could lead to future international opportunities.”

“Alimentation Couche-Tard is excited about taking a leadership role in the development of cannabis retailing excellence in this major Canadian market. We believe the Ontario Cannabis Store and private retailers will co-exist under a tightly regulated framework with common goals to protect public health and safety,” said Couche-Tard president and CEO Brian Hannasch.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will hold a lottery on Aug. 20 for the next 42 retail store authorizations. Another eight stores will be located on First Nations reserves through a separate process.

For this lottery, applicants will have to show evidence that if they are selected, they have already secured retail space that could be used as a store and that they have enough capital to open it, the AGCO said.

One licenced cannabis producer said the latest initiative will position the industry for significant sales growth in Canada’s largest province.

“After the first 25 stores began to open in Ontario, the industry saw overall sales of cannabis basically double,” Dr. Avtar Dhillon, executive chairman and president of Emerald Health Therapeutics said in a statement.

“Adult-use consumers are showing a preference for going into a physical location where they can interact with educated, savvy budtenders and we anticipate that the further expansion of physical stores in Ontario and Canada will strongly serve the growth of legal cannabis sales.”

The Ontario government decided on an initial round of just 25 stores, citing national supply issues, but that appears to be easing.

“Our government is continuing to take a responsible approach to opening cannabis stores across Ontario, allowing private sector businesses to build a safe and convenient retail system to combat the illegal market,” Finance Minister Rod Phillips said in a statement.

“With marginal improvements in national supply, we are proceeding to issue up to 50 new cannabis store licences.”

Attorney General Doug Downey said in a statement that a phased approach is still necessary.

“While the federal supply issues persist, we cannot in good conscience issue an unlimited number of licences to businesses,” he wrote.

Omar Khan, a vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies who advises several clients in the cannabis industry, said the announcement is a positive step, but called for further action.

“If the government wants to eliminate the illicit market they will need to ensure that consumers are able to access legal product offerings conveniently and in a timely manner,” he said in a statement.

“This means moving aggressively towards an open licensing system as soon as the national supply situation permits, and working with the private sector to significantly improve the current online customer retail experience.”

The 42 new stores selected through the lottery will be distributed regionally, with 13 in the city of Toronto, six going to the Greater Toronto Area, 11 in the west region, seven going to the east region, and in the north, one each in Kenora, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Timmins.

Stores will be allowed to open in any municipality regardless of population if the community did not opt out of having cannabis stores.

The process for First Nation stores will start in July on a first-come, first-served basis.

With files from Canadian Press. 


AM Shelving: Gas-bar & c-store display solutions


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