When you walk into a convenience store, a display of healthy snacks and beverages isn’t often the first thing you’ll see. But Station Market and Station Express, located on the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) campus, aren’t really like other convenience stores.
Jocelyn Colaiezzi, operations manager for the SAIT Students’ Association, has put these two campus c-stores on the health map, focusing on snacks and beverages students and staff won’t find anywhere else on campus.
While the top seller is hot dogs, Colaiezzi says there are plenty of healthy options for customers to choose from.
“I wanted to make it the number one stop for healthy items. We carry a local raw company, and we also have gluten-free products and a lot of vegan options. We have a smoothie bar and do what we call Turtle Power, with almond milk and kale,” she says, adding that both stores also stock typical c-store fare like chocolate bars, chips, pop, and other snack food.
Flaunt it if you’ve got it
While many staff members also shop the Station Market and Station Express, Colaiezzi has to make decisions with a large student clientele in mind, and be sure to clearly communicate her offer.
“We keep student-friendly pricing as much as possible. We know it’s tough, because our costs are high on these items,” says Colaiezzi. “So I started really small, bringing them in and then promoting through marketing like ‘the number one healthy stop on campus’ or ‘get all your healthy snack foods here.’”
Colaiezzi says she’s teamed up with companies in the past to offer free samples, including roasted chickpeas, which were a big hit with all customers. She also uses social media and posters throughout campus to advertise her offer. Once customers arrive at her doors, she makes sure they know right away they can go healthy.
“Right at the front of the store, we have this display that looks kind of like farmers’ baskets. And we always pack those full of chickpea snacks and all those healthy things. So first thing when people come in, they see fresh fruit and they see baskets of these healthy items,” explains Colaiezzi.
Another case for protein
Colaiezzi has the freedom to bring in alternative snack and beverage SKUs, but it isn’t just the smaller independents who are succeeding with the sport nutrition category.
Ali Assaad manages five Shell locations in the Ottawa area, and he says it’s becoming more and more common for customers to choose a protein SKU, namely a Power Bar or bottle of Muscle MLK, when they want a healthy snack on the go.
“We’ve had Muscle MLK for over a year now. Its sales are picking up now; they have more flavours available,” says Assaad. “It’s mostly young people who are buying them, aged 45 and under.”
While the overall isotonic and sport nutrition category declined 2% in 2014, Michael Nederhoff, Canadian general manager for CytoSport, says that sales of sport nutrition drinks, including protein, are on the rise in Canadian c-stores.
“Sport nutrition beverages grew 24% to $7.4MM in sales, and sales of Muscle MLK grew 56%1. Many players are entering the category and driving consumer awareness. The growth in this category can be paralleled to enhanced water, energy drinks, and isotonics from years gone by,” says Nederhoff, adding that the number one usage occasion is at breakfast.
Appeal to new customers
Assaad merchandises these SKUs as a grab-and-go option, in a fridge with milk and sandwiches. He says signage can help let new customers know protein drinks are an option.
“A couple weeks ago, we had a special promotion on them, so we had a display in one of our stores with signage and all of the flavours. It was between the cash and the door, so we attracted some new customers to these products,” says Assaad.
According to Nederhoff, retailers should follow in Assaad’s footsteps and give protein drinks a shot.
“Active lifestyles, sport participation, and demand for convenience is on the rise in Canada, providing retailers with a great opportunity. If you aren’t in this category, you should get in it now! Give it some visibility, and expand with new offerings to capitalize on this growing segment.”
3 ways to win with healthy snacks:
1. Attract attention. Use display materials and promotions to communicate your healthy offer to customers.
2. Educate your staff. Encourage your employees to sample and learn more about alternative snacks and beverages, so they can pass the information on to customers.
3. Take a chance. Try out innovation in growing categories like sport nutrition, and don’t be afraid to give your shoppers a wider selection of healthy snacks to choose from.
 AC Nielsen, C&G, Latest 52 Weeks, P/E Dec. 15, 2014.