The Latest Industry News Around COVID-19

March 19, 2020 11:06 AM

C-stores Cease Self-Serve Food & Beverages Due to Coronavirus

Multiple convenience store retailers are suspending their self-serve food and beverage offerings. Kwik Trip/Kwik Star, Kum & Go and 7-Eleven no longer offer self-service for areas such as the roller grill, bakery case, hot prepared food, coffee bar and beverage fountain.

Certain products are shifting to an employee-served model or being sold prepackaged.

Read more here.

CDA Calls on Trump to Include Convenience Channel Among Critical Businesses

The Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) is urging the Trump Administration to include convenience stores and their wholesale distributor partners on lists of critical businesses in the event of a federal shutdown. The association also provided information to state associations to contact their governors and state emergency management personnel with that same message.

"Convenience stores are critical in this time of need as they provide essential services and products in communities. This includes critical fuel availability for healthcare and medical professionals, first responders, delivery workers and everyone else who needs to travel the roads. Without convenience stores selling fuel, for example, supply chains and deliveries will be disrupted," the CDA stated.

"When disasters or emergencies occur, convenience stores, most of which offer 24-hour operations, remain in operation as long as they can without putting their own employees' safety and wellbeing in harm's way. This means making sure fuel, food and other necessities are available for emergency workers and customers in need," the association added, noting c-stores sell roughly 80 percent of all fuel sold in the United States.

According to the CDA, 93 percent of Americans live within 10 minutes of a convenience store — including 86 percent of those in rural communities.

"People are able to quickly acquire critical items in their own neighborhood, thus limiting their need to travel to other locations or larger stores," the association pointed out.

C-stores provide essential items and services to consumers, including:

  • Quick and easy access to cash from nearly one-third of all U.S. ATMs;
  • Over-the-counter medicine (more than $2.5 billion in annual sales);
  • Milk ($1.4 billion);
  • Bottled water (47 percent of all individual bottles — excluding packs);
  • Electronic Benefits Transfer: 111,816 c-stores are authorized to redeem SNAP benefits, which comprise 45 percent of all SNAP-eligible stores.

"In countless rural and urban communities designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as 'food deserts,' convenience stores are the community grocery store, drug store and community hub, serving those who would otherwise be left behind," CDA stated. "The small format and quick transaction time means most stores are a manageable size to clean regularly (the average convenience store is 2,951 net square feet) and consumers are in and out of the store in under four minutes on average."

Truckstops & Travel Plazas Remain Open to Serve the Need of Truckers Transporting Goods

In the midst of the uncertainty of COVID-19 coronavirus, truckstops and travel plazas are staying open to serve the needs of truckers transporting goods.

Travel centers and truckstops across the United States continue to provide food, fuel and other essential amenities needed by professional drivers, including showers, said NATSO, the association representing the travel plaza and truckstop industry.

"Truck drivers are depending on truckstops and travel centers as they deliver food and life-saving supplies. Our members are committed to doing their part during the nation's response to this emergency," said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. "As the nation confronts the coronavirus outbreak, the country's travel centers and truckstops are committed to remaining open and serving America's drivers. Fuel retailers are 'essential' businesses that must remain open even if other 'nonessential' businesses are forced to close."

Read more here.

Acosta Offers Additional Services to Brand Partners

Acosta Sales & Marketing is stepping up to help its brand partners weather the international crisis to ensure minimal disruption to business by offering additional services at no charge for as long as the coronavirus continues to be a widespread threat.

With many consumer-packaged goods manufacturers cancelling business travel and large gatherings and meetings out of concern for their employees' safety, the disruption can be costly for manufacturers who cannot travel to perform essential headquarter and selling services, such as selling new products, resetting planograms and conducting category reviews, Acosta stated.

With highly qualified associates aligned to retailer headquarters and stores in all markets across North America, Acosta is prepared to conduct these important services at no cost on manufacturers’ behalf without traveling — even if the services are not part of the company’s existing work with the brand.

In addition to the no-cost offerings above, Acosta is reaching out to its retail partners to offer supplementary incremental support in an effort to contain further outbreaks, such as cleaning and sanitizing hard surfaces, to ensure the health and safety of their employees and shoppers.

QSRs, Coffee Shops Shift to Takeout Service Only

Multiple foodservice and beverage operators across the United States are adjusting their service by limiting patrons to takeout, drive-thru and delivery orders in order to encourage social distancing.

Starbucks, Dunkin' and McDonald's USA are closing dine-in operations and shifting to a to-go model only. Customers can walk in to order food for takeout or place advance orders for pickup via mobile app, as well as use the drive-thru or a delivery service where available.

Read more here.

Pennsylvania to Close State-Owned Wine & Liquor Stores

Approximately 600 state-owned wine and liquor service centers will shut down at 9 p.m. on March 17, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced. Online sales ceased the prior day.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf previously ordered state-owned stores in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties to close due to "confirmed evidence of risk."

Liquor Control Board Chairman Tim Holden stated that fighting the public health crisis must take priority.

Read more here.

Dollar General Dedicates First Hour of Operations to Senior Customers

Dollar General Corp. is putting seniors into focus as it amends its hours of operation. In addition to closing one hour earlier to allow employees to clean and restock store shelves, as well as for their health and wellbeing, the discount retailer is encouraging the first hour of operation to be dedicated solely for the shopping needs of senior customers, who are one of the groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The retailer wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need and want at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods, Dollar General stated. Other customers are encouraged to plan their shopping trips outside of this window of time.

"In keeping with our mission and our ongoing commitment to serve our communities, we are dedicating the first hour of each day to seniors. We appreciate our customers' understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices," said Todd Vasos, Dollar General's CEO. "During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities. We are proud to live our mission and provide customers with everyday low prices on the household essentials that are used and replenished most often."

Normal operating hours by individual store locations are available here.

Kwik Trip Offering Free Delivery to Help Customers Practice Social Distancing 

La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. is waiving the delivery fee on any order of more than $8 purchased through its delivery partnership with EatStreet. The change came on March 16 as U.S. consumers began to limit their interactions, with COVID-19 cases continuing to spread.

"These are largely unprecedented times, and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get the items they need without having to take on additional costs," said David Jackson, Kwik Trip's digital marketing and loyalty manager.

Read more here.

Pump Prices Plummet Across the Nation

During this uncertain time of COVID-19, gas prices are declining despite increasing demand and decreasing U.S. stock levels.

For the most recent week, gas price averages in 35 states decreased by double-digits, pushing the national average to $2.25, the cheapest price point of the year.

"The national gas price average is 13 cents cheaper on the week and nearly 20 cents less than the beginning of the month. These are significant decreases in just seven and 16 days," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. "AAA expects gas prices to continue trending cheaper, with the high likelihood of the national average hitting $2 per gallon before the end of March."

The top 10 largest weekly decreases nationwide were: Ohio (27 cents), Kentucky (21 cents), Michigan (21 cents), Wisconsin (21 cents), Indiana (19 cents), Illinois (19 cents), Oklahoma (15 cents), Iowa (15 cents), Maine (15 cents) and Minnesota (15 cents).  

Read more here

Amazon Creates 100,000 New Positions, Temporarily Increases Wages

As employees face an uncertain few weeks, with retail stores either closing or cutting back their hours and some restaurants closing their dining rooms and moving to takeout and delivery options only, Amazon is looking to boost its payroll.

The ecommerce retailer is opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions across the United States in its fulfillment centers and delivery network. The company is taking this step "to meet the surge in demand from people relying on Amazon's service during this stressful time, particularly those most vulnerable to being out in public," the company announced on its blog.

"We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis. We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back," the company said.

In addition to the 100,000 new positions, Amazon is increasing its hourly wage by $2 per hour from its current rate of $15 or more, depending on the region, through April in the U.S. The company is taking similar wage increases in the United Kingdom and many European Union countries.

Read more here. 

C-stores Remain Committed to Meeting Customer Needs Amid Coronavirus 

As lawmakers across the country take steps to flatten the curve of COVID-19, convenience store retailers are assuring they are in this together. 7-Eleven Inc., Sheetz, Crosby's and Stewart's Shops are among the retailers addressing latest concerns.

In messages to its customers and associates, the convenience store chains stressed their enhanced cleaning measures, and precautions they are taking to ensure they can continue to meet customers' needs. For example, Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz established an advisory board of senior leaders and experts in the field of sanitation and food safety, and Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven is temporarily discontinuing the use of personal cups for hot and cold dispensed beverages. 

Read more here.

Core-Mark Cancels All Trade Shows & Events Through April 30

Convenience distributor Core-Mark International is cancelling all in-person trade shows scheduled for March 13 through April 30. In lieu of a physical presence, the company will transition to a "virtual show" format, which will enable customers to capitalize on the benefits of the activity without introducing themselves to unnecessary health risks, according to the company.

"While it is unfortunate that we must cancel some activities, we are taking these steps to ensure the health and safety of our customers, vendors and all employees involved," said Scott McPherson, Core-Mark president and CEO. "We will continue to closely monitor this situation across our entire geographic footprint, and will work with the appropriate local, state and federal agencies and other entities as the situation evolves."

For a complete listing of the trade shows affected, click here.

U.S. Restaurant Transactions Rose Last Week

The 24/7 news cycle around the coronavirus didn’t deter Americans from patronizing restaurants last week. U.S. restaurant customer transactions for the week ending March 8 were up 4 percent compared to the same period a year ago, according to market researcher The NPD Group. 

Looking at the various segments of the industry, quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains experienced their highest gain in a four-week period, growing transactions by 4 percent in the week ending March 8. However, midscale/family dining chain transactions declined by 3 percent, and casual dining restaurant chains saw transactions drop by 5 percent during the same timeframe.  

“In these uncertain times, we are monitoring trends to detect possible disruption in the market but, thus far, the QSR sector has been resilient,” noted David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “In good and bad times, consumers are always looking for convenience and value and they get that at QSR restaurants.”

C-store Retailers Taking Precautions to Protect Customers

Many convenience store retailers are taking exceptional precautions and educating both workers and customers about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has nearly paralyzed the nation.

Among the actions being taken, retailers are stepping up their cleaning, personal hygiene and sanitizing procedures; providing checklists to help store associates follow proper safety procedures to prevent the spread of the virus; and sending physical and digital notices to their customers about efforts to protect their health and well-being.

Read more here.

Gas Prices Decline Driven by Lower Crude Oil Demand

With convenience stores selling roughly 80 percent of the gasoline purchased in the United States, one byproduct of the coronavirus is being reflected in prices at the pump. According to AAA, a recent decrease in crude oil prices has been driven by the growing impact of the virus.

"The market continues to worry that the impact of the virus will lead to a reduction in global economic growth and global travel, with crude demand expected to decrease," AAA said. "Until it appears that the international public health threat from the virus decreases and China's industrial sector recovers from the impact of the virus on production, crude prices are likely to continue facing downward pressure."

Read more here.


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