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Ontario declares State of Emergency

C-stores and gas stations to remain open as essential services

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In a bid to combat rising COVID-19 numbers, Ontario issuing a stay-at-home order and issuing enhanced enforcement measures to reduce mobility. For c-stores, which are considered an essential service, here’s what you need to know:

  • As part of the efforts, effective Thursday, January 14, 2021at 12:01 a.m., everyone is to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services, for exercise or for essential work.
  • All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close no later than 8 p.m.
  • The restricted hours of operation do not apply to stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants for takeout or delivery.

“The latest modelling data shows that Ontario is in a crisis and, with the current trends, our hospital ICUs will be overwhelmed in a few short weeks with unthinkable consequences,” said Premier Ford. “That’s why we are taking urgent and decisive action, which includes declaring a provincial emergency and imposing a stay-at-home-order. We need people to only go out only for essential trips to pick up groceries or go to medical appointments. By doing the right thing and staying home, you can stay safe and save lives.”

Individuals are required to wear a mask or face covering in the indoor areas of businesses or organizations that are open. In addition, wearing a mask or face covering is now recommended outdoors when you can’t physically distance more than two metres.

Under the declaration of a provincial emergency, the province will provide authority to all enforcement and provincial offences officers (Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors) to issue tickets to individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order, or those not wearing a mask or face covering indoors, as well as retail operators and companies who do not enforce. Those who decide not to abide by orders will be subject to set fines and/or prosecution.

In addition, enforcement personnel will have the authority to temporarily close a premise that is in contravention of an order.

“Extraordinary action is needed to protect the health and safety of Ontarians as we deal with this growing crisis,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “Our government is providing police and bylaw officers with the tools, and the authority, they need to enforce these critical restrictions and protect public health.”

READ: Quebec’s curfew impacts c-stores


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Ure’s Country Kitchen: Rural charm with important ‘links’ to its community

U2Harrow is a typical, small Ontario town, with just 3,000 residents. It’s less than a 10-minute drive to the north shore of Lake Erie in the southwest part of the province. In summer, birdwatchers, cottagers and fishermen flock to the area. In the midst of it all is Ure’s Country Kitchen—a convenience store/restaurant/ice cream parlour/gas station with a newly opened mini-golf course. Its owners, husband and wife Laurie and Randy Ure, have operated the business for more than 32 years. Despite “being in the middle of nowhere,” as they say, they have had consistent sales of over one million dollars annually. 

It hasn’t been easy, but the couple has done well because of their ability to pivot frequently. “We are always reinventing ourselves,” says Laurie, who mainly takes care of the restaurant and bookkeeping duties. “We’re independents so we can make changes without having to ask permission.” 

 U1

That has become essential in remaining a viable business in an increasingly competitive environment. “We are always looking for new ways to diversify our revenue stream,” explains Randy, “because the margins on things like tobacco, gas and lottery tickets have gotten smaller and smaller.”

Ure’s Mini Golf debuted in June 2020. Designed and built by Harris Miniature Golf, the course features trick shots, a waterfall, two streams, four ponds with breaking greens, five fountains and more. It’s open seven days a week from dawn to dusk (weather permitting).

Designed and built by Harris Miniature Golf, the course features trick shots, a waterfall, two streams, four ponds with breaking greens, five fountains and more.

Adding a mini-putt golf course to the mix made sense. They did plenty of research first on design, building, maintenance and labour costs before they moved ahead, opening in June 2020. They expect it to pay for itself in just a few years. In the meantime, it is already paying off in unexpected ways. Ice cream sales have almost tripled; gas, snack and restaurant sales have leapt, too. 

The novelty of the new mini-golf offering deserves some credit, but so does COVID in a strange way. Sales (as of November 2020) are up from what they were a year ago. Despite big-box competitors nearby, customers have been shunning those in favour of Ure’s Kitchen. “They don’t wait to be stuck in long line-ups, especially now,” says Laurie. “Our clientele know they can come here and get their gas, chips and pop, or withdraw money from our ATM, without the hassle. We even pump their gas and bring the debit machine to them. They don’t have to get out of their cars.” 

U5The restaurant, newly remodelled and expanded with more seating space and a patio, has done well, too. Though it represents just 8% of total sales, its profit margins are impressive—about 350%. For comparison, gas sales offer a 7% profit margin. The eatery has built a reputation for its breakfast menu, featuring high-quality ingredients and homemade staples like homemade eggs Benedict, home fries, omelettes and blueberry pancakes—all made from scratch. 

In the c-store space, groceries haven’t been great sellers. They stock a few pantry basics, but they’ve trimmed down their selection in recent years. Instead, Randy and Laurie offer an impressive selection of soda pop (more than 200), including retro favourites like Faygo and Tahiti Treat. Its 16-ft. candy aisle, placed strategically next to the ice cream freezer, delights kids and grownups with U.S. imports, including Baby Ruth chocolate bars, that customers won’t find easily anywhere else.

“This place is hopping on the weekends,” says Randy. “It’s a destination where neighbours can meet and hang out. We like being a destination for them and visitors to our community.” 

 

U 4FOODSERVICE SNAPSHOT

  • Ure’s Country Kitchen opened in 1988.
  • The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Items are available for eat-in or take-out.
  • The three-page menu features breakfast classics, specialty sandwiches and an array of items hot off the grill.
  • The newly remodelled restaurant was expanded to accommodate more seating and a patio. Though it represents just 8% of total sales, the restaurant’s profit margins are about 350%.

 

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Meal planning

5 ways c-stores are adapting foodservice in response to the pandemic 

FS2It is an area of growth that has sizzled for c-stores: foodservice, from freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked croissants to prepared soups, sandwiches, ready-to-eat meals and more. Foodservice in Canadian retail (c-stores, supermarkets and department stores) reached an estimated $2.9 billion in 2019, according to Restaurants Canada in a report that noted it is also the fastest-growing sector of foodservice. 

However, the pandemic has hit the foodservice industry hard, as more Canadians stay home and make their meals. But foodservice consultants say c-stores that have pivoted in response to the pandemic should maintain their strength in the category and could even build on it.  

“Foodservice was one of the hottest and most top-of-mind categories for the c-store industry before the pandemic,” says Diane Chiasson, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc. “Those who changed, adapted and thought out of the box will continue to do well.” From the adoption of new technology to changing their menus and food preparation, we look at how c-stores are reimagining their foodservice footprint.  

1. From self-service to full-service

 

C-stores across Canada shuttered self-service coffee bars and fountain drink stations in the wake of the pandemic and government restrictions. Some have waited for restrictions to be lifted, while others have moved their offerings behind the counter and have cashiers providing customers with their morning cup of java. It may not be self-serve, but this shift has been embraced by customers and has given them peace of mind, says Neil Turkington, national foodservice category manager at Parkland Corporation. Despite the impacts from COVID-19, we’re delivering strong same-store sales growth across our Canada convenience retail business and have successfully adapted our self-serve food business.”  

While some c-stores have hit pause on the roller grill for now, others are moving roller grills behind the counter, so customers can still enjoy a hot dog for lunch or dinner, says Jenny Companion, VP of Eastern Canadian operations for hospitality consulting agency The Fifteen Group. The company worked with a major Canadian gas/c-store chain and recommended their self-serve foodservice move to full-service.  “It has worked well in high-volume locations where they can afford to add another body, having someone make the food and serve it.”  

Full-service, however, comes with other increased costs. For instance, c-stores have to provide everyone a cup for their coffee, rather than allowing customers to use their own refillable mug. And condiments, such as ketchup and mustard, move to single-serve packets, which is more expensive to purchase than in tubs. But this strategy keeps hungry customers coming in—and potentially making other purchases with their lunch, such as beverages or confectionary. 

 2. Mobile delivery acceleration

 

The pandemic has accelerated consumer adoption of digital innovation by as much as years ahead of where we would otherwise be, say experts. That is certainly the case in the foodservice industry. With pandemic restrictions and fears of contracting COVID-19, more and more consumers have turned to apps for easy foodservice pickup and home delivery. 

7-Eleven Canada, for instance, has a partnership with Uber Eats in major urban centres, allowing customers to order pizza, chicken wings, corn dogs, Slurpees, breakfast sandwiches and more to their home. It has also created combos with bottled pop and confectionaries to help drive sales. Circle K, meanwhile, has a partnership with DoorDash to deliver items like a steak-and-cheese taquito, sausages, donairs, paninis and chicken wraps. 

Parkland’s QSR partner in B.C., Triple O’s, works with Skip the Dishes and Turkington says it is yielding encouraging results: “We are concurrently piloting convenience store delivery, and are pleased with the early uptake and stickiness, demonstrating consumer confidence in our offer.”  

By getting into delivery, c-stores also have an opportunity to bring customers food when restaurants and grocery stores are closed—late evening and early morning, satiating customers whenever they have a case of the munchies. “I’ve seen mobile ordering do well after hours, because gas stations are 24 hours and an essential service,” says Companion. “This is a time period when c-stores really have the delivery market all to themselves.” 

3. Quality control 

 

Before COVID, customers associated food that was made in-store with freshness. “Previously, many of our c-stores made fresh sandwiches and packaged them on-site,  which has its advantages,” says Turkington. “However, the pandemic has shifted consumer sentiment and now many sites make their sandwiches at commissary kitchens. Our sandwiches feature clear labelling indicating they’ve been made by quality, vetted suppliers.”  

For independent operators and others that have built a reputation for preparing fresh foods or unique menu items on site, there’s a strong focus on clearly communicating new food handling and cleaning protocols in order to provide customers with added peace of mind about quality and safety. 

4. Menu additions and subtractions

 

Jeff Dover, president of fsSTRATEGY, a consulting firm for the hospitality industry with a focus on foodservice, says there is an opportunity for c-stores to add healthier—and more diverse—fare than typical c-store menu staples, like hot dogs and chicken tenders.  “When the pandemic started, comfort food sales went through the roof, but people are now at the point where they want variety.” 

Couche-Tard, for instance, is pushing ahead with its Fresh Food Fast program and is adding new options to its ready-to-eat menu, including sweet and sour chicken, spaghetti beef balls and tortellini with rosé sauce, which compliment comfort staples like mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie and lasagna. 

5. Reduced customer touchpoints

 

Customers are naturally uneasy about having to handle doorknobs, countertops and other shared surfaces. That has resulted in some changes in foodservice storage and display. 

Self-service bakery display cases have been altered so that doors don’t have to be opened to access croissants, muffins and other goodies. Baked goods and other food items also now come individually wrapped to keep them free from contamination and to avoid customers having to use shared tongs to grab them. 

For Parkland, as Turkington notes, “we have always been focused on safety—for customers, retailers and staff—however, the pandemic required us to take additional precautions. We have reduced the number of touchpoints and increased sanitization in the forecourt and c-store including with individually wrapped baked goods and non-touch displays.”   

Originally published in the November/December issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 


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Vending machine pizza and robotic coffee: Pandemic accelerates automation

Screen-Shot-2019-12-13-at-9.02.24-AM-300x209When the founders of PizzaForno began rolling out automated, around-the-clock pizza ovens in Canada, they spent months perfecting recipes.

“We anticipated the No. 1 challenge we were going to have was convincing consumers that they could get a great quality, artisanal pizza out of a machine,” says president and co-founder Les Tomlin.

While it started out slow, he says interest has grown exponentially during the pandemic. The company’s pizza oven in the Ontario tourist town of Tobermory was the most successful pizza machine in the world by sales volume in August, Tomlin says. The company also operates outside of several convenience stores.

As Canadians become accustomed to social-distancing rules, automated food and drink kiosks are gaining appeal.

And with the pandemic accelerating the automation of the restaurant industry, everything from gourmet cappuccino and artisanal pizza to fresh salads and buttercream frosted cake can now be bought from a vending machine.

The vending machine stigma of bad coffee and stale food may linger, but experts say the robotic kiosks and automats of today are challenging the notion that increasing convenience means sacrificing quality.

The new automated restaurants are serving fresh, made-to-order food and beverages that some say rival the quality of conventional food service.

“It’s not just some microwave pizza from a vending machine,” says Dana McCauley, director of new venture creation in the University of Guelph’s Research Innovation Office.

“It’s a freshly prepared pizza.”

Tomlin claims PizzaForno has carved out a whole new segment in the pizza category. “The low-touch economy is here to stay,” he says.

The company now has 22 units in operation and another 85 on order, and is receiving dozens of licensee inquiries a week.

It’s part of a rapid growth in the automation of restaurants and cafes as consumers seek out options that involve little to no human contact.

“Access to food that hasn’t been touched by anybody is very appealing in this day and age,” McCauley says.

The demand is spurring investments in automation and robotics.

“Financially it didn’t make a lot of sense before because the demand just wasn’t there,” says Saibal Ray, a professor in the Bensadoun School of Retail Management at McGill University.

“But the pandemic has changed that. The financial investments in automation are happening much faster than we anticipated.”

For example, the Dark Horse Coffee Automat opened in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood in August, offering contactless, autonomous espresso drinks.

“It’s the same quality coffee you’d get from a barista at a cafe,” says Brad Ford, general manager of RC Coffee, the tech firm behind the robotic barista.

“The only thing missing is the human element and doing the latte art on top, which we may eventually be able to do with a robotic arm.”

While the automat is an old concept that traces its origins to late 18th century Berlin, today’s automated restaurant infuses technology into nearly every step with customers often ordering and paying from a smartphone.

“The app brought back the automat,” says restaurateur Mohamad Fakih, the president and CEO of Paramount Fine Foods. The company operates multiple restaurants including Box’d, a fully automated restaurant that opened in June using a digital cubby technology.

“We knew the automat was the answer for the bottleneck in our industry. We just had to digitize it.”

The restaurant’s kitchen _ staffed with human chefs _ prepares the food and places orders in a sanitized box, which customers pick up on the other side, eliminating the need for a server or cashier.

Automation has raised concerns about robots replacing jobs, as machines take over duties once performed by humans.

But Fakih says the Box’d restaurant is able to process more orders, moving front-of-house staff into the kitchen.

“We need more chefs in the kitchen and more people delivering the food,” he says. “We’ve also created a new position called a concierge to greet people when they arrive and help them take an order if they’re not digitally savvy.”

Industry experts say automation could help some restaurants recover from crippling pandemic shutdowns.

More than 10,000 restaurants have closed since the start of the pandemic, a staggering number that increases every day, says Todd Barclay, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada.

“It’s been catastrophic,” he says. “Those who are still open say they’re barely keeping their nose above water.”

Barclay says technology will play a role in the restaurants of the future, with increasing automation continuing after the pandemic, especially in more casual dining settings.

But he says there’s also a massive pent up demand for the human connection and social interaction eateries can offer.

“Many people tell me they can’t wait to sit down with their friends and family and enjoy the hustle and bustle and noise of a typical restaurant because we’re social creatures,” Barclay says.

Still, McCauley says automated restaurants will likely thrive in high-volume settings, like food courts, as well as places that don’t justify opening a full cafe or restaurant, like a ferry terminal.

It will also help restaurants with the cost of doing business.

Jarrett Vaughan, professor in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, says labour is often 30 to 40 per cent of a restaurant’s overhead.

He says automation could help reduce those costs and potentially be more reliable.

“It can be hard to find a labour force in some areas, especially in city centres where it’s more expensive to live,” Vaughan says.


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CICC’s Anne Kothawala reflects on 2020: The year convenience returned to its roots

Screen Shot 2020-12-14 at 11.10.33 AMBetween the pandemic and evolving regulations on key categories, it’s been an extraordinary year of changes and challenges for the convenience industry. CSNC editor Michelle Warren talks with Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada, about how the convenience industry has adapted and evolved in 2020, plus the priorities moving forward. 

 

How did the industry fare during the early days of COVID-19?

 AK: The pandemic has shown us is that c-stores are an incredibly resilient industry. We responded quickly to the challenge. At the CICC, the first thing we did was to lobby governments to ensure that every single province and territory acknowledged convenience stores to be an essential service. We also established a COVID-19 working group: It was a huge investment of time, but it was amazing to see the degree to which competitive issues were set aside to share information on dealing with the pandemic. Some of our members were able to share not only best practises from a Canadian context, but also from the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world. 

 

What was top of mind for your members?

 AK: First and foremost, our members were thinking about how do they protect our staff and our customers? That was mission-critical from the first day. How do we access PPE? How do we work quickly to install Plexiglas shields? Then, we turned to complying with the patchwork of mask regulations at the municipal level: Were they mandatory, or were they not? Having customers coming from one municipality where masks were optional and shop in a different municipality where masks were required was creating massive confusion. 

 

What were the early lessons?

 AK: Everyone quickly realized that the product mix needed to change. With more people working from home and big line-ups at grocery stores, people were going to their convenience store, ironically, for the things that they used to go to their convenience store for, like bread and milk and eggs. Kudos to our vendor partners, who quickly adapted and supplied our stores with the products that customers wanted. Whether they were independents or chains, the convenience industry really filled that role of being core to the community. 

 

Looking ahead, what are some of the focus areas?

AK: At the CICC, we continue to advocate for fewer restrictions on the products that we are permitted to sell, as well as minimizing the regulatory burden on our industry. There’s no question that everybody’s expenses have gone up—you have to retool your store, provide masks to your staff, install Plexiglas. So what are we going to do to make up for it in terms of revenues? In the case of Ontario for instance, let’s make sure that the government follows through on their commitments for beer and wine in convenience stores. Despite the fact that government is obviously focused on COVID-19 related issues, they have nonetheless, to their credit, recognised that this is now more important than ever. I have no doubt the government will follow through; it’s just a question of timing. Chances are that it will be timed before a long weekend, perhaps Canada Day next year!

 

How are your members grappling with evolving vaping regulations? 

AK: Vaping has obviously been a problem for our industry. The only silver lining is that the federal government will at some point introduce regulations with respect to both nicotine strength and flavours. This keeps getting delayed, but the latest that we’re hearing is that draft regulations can be expected early next year.

We hope that the federal government will realise some of the mistakes the provinces have made. Unfortunately, the vaping issue is no longer about harm reduction or offering choice to adult smokers who want to switch. Instead, it has become about solving the youth vaping problem. People thought because kids go to convenience stores and convenience stores sell vape products, therefore we should not let convenience stores sell vape products. Never mind that we sell all sorts of age-restricted products and have the strongest track record on age verification. We want to continue to be able to offer choice to our customers. If we have adult smoking customers who come into our stores to purchase cigarettes and they want to try vaping as an alternative, they should be able to do that in the place where they buy the cigarettes—it only makes sense.

 

Speaking of cigarettes, contraband tobacco continues to eat into profits at the c-store level: Any updates there?

AK: Through our committee and other members, we started getting calls from people in government who were noticing that the convenience channel was bringing in a lot more tobacco tax revenue during the lockdown. We looked at which stores were generating more tobacco tax, and found they were close to reserves. When the reserves closed, our tobacco sales started to increase significantly, but as soon as they reopened our tobacco sales started to decrease. We know the importance of having third party verified research, so we’ve engaged Ernst & Young to do a comprehensive study on contraband tobacco across the country. We need much stronger public policy to address this issue because it can create a win-win: When demand increases in the legal sales channel, we’re remitting more taxes to government and the higher cost deters smoking. Convenience stores are not interested in Canadians taking up smoking, they’re just frustrated by trying to sell tobacco and collect the taxes when they’re faced with illegal, non-tax-collecting competition.

 

With people using less cash and instead opting to tap and pay—how is that impacting the industry?

AK: What the pandemic has done is really shone a light on a number of issues that were there before and that we’ve advocated on in the past. A good percentage of transactions were always being done by credit card and now that’s even higher. In the 2019 election, the federal government committed that they would remove the interchange fee from the tax component of purchases, but then the pandemic hit. We are continuing to hold their feet to the fire on that issue because it’s quite significant—that we have to pay an interchange fee on the taxes that we collect and remit for government seems a bit ridiculous.

 

The proposed ban on single-use plastics is hugely significant for the convenience industry—how big a focus is this for your members?

AK: The plastics issue is similar to the mask issue in the sense that, for a lot of CICC members, particularly those that operate nationally, the blizzard of provincial and municipal regulations on single-use plastics is difficult to figure out and expensive to comply with. The federal government is consulting on this and we’re going to be fighting for greater consistency and to ensure that any new regulatory regime isn’t overly burdensome for retailers and customers. It’s all encompassing. We’re going to be monitoring this issue very closely, participating in the consultations and potentially working with other, like-minded trade associations. 

 

We’ve definitely learned this year that c-stores have to be open to change—what are the opportunities here?

AK: It’s being more nimble and also returning to their roots as a community hub. That hub is going to become increasingly important as people spend more time at home and in their neighbourhoods. How do we make convenience stores a go-to destination? With most people working from home, should the local convenience stores stock some office supplies? Should they create offers timed to the morning or afternoon coffee break that customers normally would take with colleagues? How do you insert yourself in people’s new day-to-day lives and where are those opportunities?  It’s getting ahead of that and trying to predict where the customer is going: What are the things that they’re going to be looking to us for? Understanding these things will really help the convenience industry get through this and potentially even grow business.

Originally published in the November/December issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 


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7-Eleven Canada gives back

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Across Canada, 7-Eleven Canada is offering more than 1.3 million face masks and 77,000 bottles of hand sanitizer in the five provinces where it does business: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

7-Eleven Canada has donated masks and sanitizers to schools in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In a statement, the company said it’s part of efforts to keep “students, teachers, and other front-line staff safe and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

500,000 masks and 28,000 bottles of hand sanitizer were shipped to Alberta Education last month.

“7-Eleven Canada is proud to support Alberta students, educators, front-line staff and school boards with additional face masks and hand sanitizer to keep them safe,” Norman Hower, VP and general manager, 7-Eleven Canada, said in a release. “As a leading convenience industry employer, we welcome the opportunity to do our part and contribute to the communities we serve.”

In addition, 7-Eleven Canada has donated 125,000 masks and 7,000 bottles of hand sanitizer each to the Governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan for use in schools and other high-priority areas.

7-Eleven stores are a destination for young people, which makes the school-focused outreach a good fit for the brand.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 7-Eleven Canada says it has taken steps to enhance store safety for its customers and staff: “To create a safer shopping experience, enhanced health and safety measures have been implemented at all 634 corporate-run locations from B.C. through to Ontario, that are compliant with and exceed all provincial health and safety standards.”

In addition, 7-Eleven Canada has also donated approximately 350,000 meals since January to Food Banks Canada and continues to work toward its goal of 500,000 meals.


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Safety first

Wash operators demonstrate skill sets to clean and sanitize during the pandemic 

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We spend a lot of time in our cars. With COVID-19 so prevalent, motorists, as well as professionals such as first responders, taxi drivers, and police, need assurances their vehicles are places of safety in these uncertain times. Canada’s car wash community has stepped up to the challenge.

 

Valet Car Wash, the largest independent branded car wash chain in Ontario, is a leader in best practice with nine locations from Guelph to Mississauga. According to Valet owner Mike Black, they have a new service called Viro-Clean. This service is designed to kill 99.9% of all viruses and bacteria in a vehicle. This includes COVID-19.

 

“We started this service because we felt there was a need for people who might be concerned about the spread of the virus in their vehicle. This concern might come from where they work or perhaps from someone that had been in their vehicle. Because the service itself is rather new, it’s something that needs to be sold to customers and the benefits explained. I think in a lot of cases it just provides peace of mind knowing that their vehicle has been completely sanitized and disinfected. This is especially important if they have young children or elderly parents in the vehicle,” says Black. He points to a customer who called because of concerns after an airport pick-up in his car. “He wanted the service done just as a precaution and peace of mind. It’s an easy and quick service that doesn’t require very much labour and profit margins are very strong.”

 

At Valet teams use a disinfecting fog that mists into the car. This dry mist reaches into all the nooks and crannies to kill off harmful microbes. “Our new fogger machine penetrates all areas of the vehicle. This includes unreachable spaces that normally don’t get cleaned. The service provides total coverage and safety. The process is very effective. It disinfects every surface and every object it touches, including the entire ventilation system of the vehicle.

 

“The product we use has been certified in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centre for Disease Control for being effective in killing 99.9% of all viruses and bacteria. It is safe and will not harm any surfaces of the vehicle or bring discomfort to the passengers. It’s even safe for those who suffer from allergies. The only after-effect maybe a light peroxide odour that leaves the vehicle clean and fresh smelling.”

 

As an appreciation for the hard and dangerous work done by healthcare workers during this pandemic, Valet is offering its Viro-Clean service is free to any health care personnel with proper ID.  The service normally sells for $24.99 and takes about 15 minutes to complete. “We plug a fogging machine into the vehicle’s 12-volt system and leave it running with the AC on recirculation for 15 minutes. It’s quick, easy, and safe and provides total peace of mind.”

 

Jumbo Car Wash in Red Deer, Alta. is another operator that has jumped into action to meet this need for sanitizing. “We maintain a full safety protocol for our staff and have upgraded our in-wash disinfectant,” says Jumbo Car Wash co-owner and GM Terrill Cromie. He mentions that they were able to go to their chemical supplier for the product once the pandemic made itself known. “We saw that we required a cleaning product with more power to kill off a complete range of viruses. Guardian Chemicals came through for us.”

 

Winnipeg’s (Headingley), Blue Ocean Auto and Boat Detailing has been keeping cars virus-free for years. They noticed customers were concerned about things like rodent and deer feces that can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a severe respiratory disease that came to light in the early 1990s.

 

Crews at Blue Ocean wear protective clothing as well as respirators, and air ionizer machines are brought into action to kill the virus. The units eliminate odours as well as nasty pathogens such as COVID-19. The devices use high voltage to ionize (electrically charge) air molecules and work by creating a static charge around the airborne contaminants that are floating inside a vehicle. Once charged with static, these particles stick to the nearest surface. Then the area is cleaned with an alcohol wipe or disinfectant spray.

 

In Vancouver, Amir Hashemi operates Majestic AutoSpa and Detailing. At his location in New Westminster, steam gets cars virus-free. He suggests that his experience tells him steam cleaning is an optimum method for both antiviral and general detailing. He offers a full COVID cleaning as an add-on to his menu of services. “If we know a car has exposure to COVID-19, we also add-on ozone as an increased level of assurance,” he says, mentioning that crews first sanitize the vehicle before heading into their standard detailing service. “This makes sure the staff is safe. We clean every surface with an alcohol wipe and then steam. After the steaming, no one touches any surface on the car, and that includes the keys.”

 

Hashemi uses a Dupray steamer that he saw in use at hospitals. This steamer has a spray temperature of 175ºC., a temperature high enough to kill most viruses. Hashimi mentions that he spent several thousand dollars on the portable unit. “The cost was high, but our success with our customers made the price worth it.”

Originally published in the November/December issue of OCTANE.


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Walmart Canada to give 85,000 workers cash ‘appreciation’ bonus as COVID-19 surges

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Walmart Canada announced new cash bonuses for its workers on Friday, saying the “appreciation bonus payment” recognizes their ongoing dedication during the pandemic.

The move follows similar announcements made by other companies in recent weeks and could put pressure on more retailers to offer so-called hero pay to essential workers as the second wave of COVID-19 worsens.

Walmart said more than 85,000 employees will receive the additional payment on Dec. 11, with full-time staff expected to receive $250 while part-time staff would receive $150.

Horacio Barbeito, president and CEO of Walmart Canada, said the store’s associates have stepped up “in true Walmart spirit” to serve customers during extraordinary times.

“Every day, I hear stories about our associates going above and beyond and I am proud and grateful,” he said in a statement.

“It continues to be a privilege and a tremendous responsibility to be providing an essential service for our communities.”

In March, the company had provided workers with an appreciation bonus of $200 for full-time workers and $100 for part-timers. It also paid a “thank you premium” of $2 an hour on top of regular hourly rates for workers in April and May.

The announcement by Walmart Canada that it would pay a December bonus comes a day after Walmart in the U.S. said it would be giving its 1.5 million workers a special bonus.

Pressure has been mounting on essential retailers on both sides of the border to reinstate hero pay or extend bonuses to employees working during the busy holiday season.

UFCW Canada, one of the country’s largest private-sector unions, has called on grocery stores to reinstate the $2-an-hour wage bump for its front-line workers, saying the hero pay acknowledges their courageous efforts.

Sobeys said last week it was bringing back pay premiums for workers in locations where lockdowns are in effect.

Parent company Empire Company Limited said it had reinstated so-called hero pay in Manitoba, Toronto and the Peel Region in Ontario as rising cases of the virus in those areas have prompted the shutdown of non-essential businesses.

Each week, eligible employees will receive between $10 and $100 extra, depending on how many hours they work and how long the government lockdowns last.


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What’s brewing with RTD coffee?

Not even a pandemic can cool off the hot ready-to-drink coffee market. Sales are percolating well, with big-name players coming onto the scene and providing c-stores with innovative options for customers. Though RTD coffee business may seem small, it’s a robust one with expected growth of 20%. In 2014, it represented just 2.5% of the total coffee market, but that figure doubled to 5% by 2019, according to the Coffee Association of Canada.

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To a large degree, its Gen Z (those born between 1995 and 2007) leading demand with 46% drinking RTD coffee, as per September 2020 data from Mintel. Millennials are sticking with ground coffee, while their younger counterparts haven’t yet made that switch. 

In fact, COVID-19 also has played a part in the rising popularity of RTD coffee. Java enthusiasts are looking for ways to have café-calibre, coffee-sipping experiences at home, now that lingering over a cuppa prepared by a barista is less viable. 

“Pre-COVID sales were being fuelled by taste and time,” says David Schneiderman, CEO and co-founder of Two Bears Coffee. “Our lives had become busy without time to slow down. Now, RTD coffee gives customers something delicious with a great hit of caffeine without the line-ups at the local café.”

With wellness top mind for many Canadians, the door is open for c-stores to do well by stocking healthier versions of RTD coffees. Two Bears is the first Canadian company offering plant-based, ethically-sourced lattes and brew coffee made with oat milk. Its approach to retailer support is a multi-tiered system, which includes in-store promos, cross promotions with larger, more well-known brands and a digital campaign.

“Convenience stores have been selling RTD coffees for years with great success,” explains Schneiderman. “But they are losing out on the consumer who doesn’t want to drink something with as much as 48 grams of sugar and artificial ingredients.”

Station Cold Brew Coffee Co. will also be building on its roster, which includes top-sellers New Orleans-Style and Vanilla Nitro Cold Brews, with the new launch of its own plant-based, oat milk-based lattes. Mitchell Stern, company co-founder and VP, sales and marketing, says it is looking to expand into convenience stores and will support sales through in-store promotions, giveaways and price breaks. “We are constantly exploring new opportunities in this [c-store] space and, as the leading cold brew coffee brand in Canada, we want to own the space,” he explains. “Our biggest challenge as an independently owned, private company is competing with major companies with deep pockets who own the fridges.”

Clearly, competition is brewing in the RTD coffee space. Coca Cola with Coffee (made with Brazilian coffee) is set to roll out in Canada and the U.S. early in 2021. The beverage giant refers to the new offerings (available in 12-oz cans of Dark Roast, Caramel and Vanilla flavours) as “hybrids” in a new category it calls “refreshment coffee.” Joining the fray is Monster Energy, best known for its high-octane energy drinks. It already has Java Monster, which has performed well, but will bring on board Espresso Monster featuring a triple shot of coffee, plus natural stimulants like taurine and ginseng. It will come in two flavours, Espresso & Milk, and Vanilla Espresso, formulated to appeal to a market keen on embracing the cold brew coffee RTD trend.

Screen Shot 2020-11-30 at 2.40.38 PMThough the battle between brands will be steamy, there’s room in a category that has not reached its peak. “Canada is playing catch-up with the growth and popularity of our neighbours to the south,” explains Alfonso Tupaz, founder of Hatch, a Toronto-based company that produces private label RTC coffee available in the c-store space. “We would say that we’re four years behind, but it’s now reaching the level of where we think RTD coffee should be, compared to the U.S.”

The majority of Hatch’s beverage unit sales come from their private label business. According to Tupaz, 2020 has been its busiest year yet with cold brew. “Our clients fare well in the retail space.”

There’s still an unquenched demand above coffee enthusiasts. “Coffee is a daily routine for many people in Canada,” he points out. “By natural extension, we’re seeing coffee enter more point-of-sale areas, including convenience stores. RTD coffee, in particular, is a convenient pack format, and fits nicely with the convenience store model.”

 

Originally published in the November/December issue of Convenience Store News Canada.


Seasonal Confectionery Purchase Decisions Report: National Confectionery Association

Pandemic reshapes shopping for seasonal candy

Seasonal Confectionery Purchase Decisions Report: National Confectionery Association

Seasonal Confectionery Purchase Decisions Report: National Confectioners Association

The current global pandemic uprooted consumers’ shopping habits and patterns, but amid all the changes, confectionery’s role remained the same: consumers see confectionery treating as integral to a happy, balanced lifestyle during regular, holiday and COVID-19 times.

According to Seasonal Confectionery Purchase Decisions: 2020, published the the U.S.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA), 84% of consumers see seasonal confectionery as a fun part of special celebrations and 78% say sharing and gifting seasonal confectionery is a great tradition. Additionally, 82% of consumers agree that it is okay to enjoy seasonal confectionery during holidays and special occasions.

“Seasonal and holiday celebrations have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, reshaping shoppers’ engagement with seasonal confectionery,” NCA President and CEO John Downs told CSNC’s U.S. sister publication, Convenience Store News. “The insights unveiled in this report will help the confectionery industry address new holiday celebrations and traditions through merchandising and marketing that reflects these unusual times.”

Key highlights from the report include:

  • Supermarkets are the most commonly shopped channel for seasonal confectionery, followed by supercentres. However, amid the pandemic, e-commerce leaped years ahead in engagement, with online candy sales up 100.3% during the 26 weeks ending Sept. 6. Online ordering with the local grocery store for delivery or pickup overtook online retailers as the biggest online channel for confectionery.
  • Shoppers say the seasonal aisle is fun and inspiring (77%) and they like browsing for new items when buying seasonal confectionery (76%).
  • Shoppers like to celebrate the seasons in style: 87% prefer seasonal confectionery featuring packaging, shapes, colours, flavours or characters that reflect the season.
  • The pandemic has resulted in financial pressure for many and more are prioritizing promotions and price in their decisions. Seasonal confectionery already enjoyed very high promotional efficiencies pre-pandemic.
  • Purchases are influenced by shoppers’ own preferences (59 %), price (43%) and sales promotions (40%).
  • Parents see confectionery as integral to seasonal celebrations and 90%  discuss the importance of balance and treating with their children. At the same time, nine in 10 parents monitor their kids’ candy consumption, with limiting consumption to a few pieces a day until it runs out being the most popular system as it relates to the seasonal haul.

An executive summary of the report is available here.