Get In on the National Day Craze

C-stores are tying food and drink deals to microcelebrations—and it’s working.

Get In on the National Day Craze

July 2023   minute read

By: Terri Allan

As the calendar flips to July, Spinx stores gear up for one of their busiest traffic days of the year. National Fried Chicken Day is July 6, and the annual celebration serves as a springboard for the South Carolina-based convenience retailer to promote its fried chicken offerings for the remainder of the month. “Spinx is known for its fried chicken—it’s fresh, homemade and delicious,” remarked Hayley Thrift, director of marketing and advertising. “Celebrating National Fried Chicken Day makes sense for us.”

An increasing number of c-stores have gotten behind special days that salute products such as coffee, doughnuts, pizza, hot dogs and even ice cream for breakfast. The promotions are effective in driving guest visits and create novel interactions with customers. “National ‘holidays’ provide marketing and merchandising teams with easy tools to capitalize on,” explained Thrift, noting that Spinx starts planning its National Fried Chicken Day programming six months in advance. “They’re fun holidays and consumers want to participate. So why not join in?” 

At Pilot Flying J—which promotes occasions like National Cold Brew Coffee Day (April 20) and National Hot Dog Day (the third Wednesday in July)—the promotions allow the retailer to stand out from the competition. “We’re always looking for ways to support and interact with our guests, whether through national day deals, food innovation or seasonal LTOs,” said Jamie King, senior director, food and beverage, Pilot Flying J.

Thierry Lyles, head of digital marketing for Family Express, added that with the national days already built into today’s consumer culture, they are a readily available sales tactic. “Often, retailers get hung up on executing a promotion, but it doesn’t have to be complicated,” he said. “C-stores should take advantage of these days.”

Strategic Tie-Ins

Spinx’s celebration of National Fried Chicken Day in July follows its support of National Grilled Cheese Day in April. With the recent addition of grilled cheese sandwiches to its menu, the chain offered Spinx Xtras loyalty members a $1.49 deal on its Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwich. Other food-related holidays promoted by Spinx include National Peanut Butter Day (January 24) and National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (the first Saturday in February).

Indiana’s Family Express, meanwhile, has promoted national day deals with vendor support for years, according to Lyles. Since the chain launched its made-to-order food program in 2017, the promotions—which include National Pizza Day (February 9), National Chicken Wing Day (July 29) and National Breadstick Day (the last Friday in October)—have taken on a greater prominence. “Our strategy is to make sure they pair well with our in-store sales strategy, including foodservice,” he explained. “With so many national holidays—at least one for every day of the year—you can’t promote them all. We try to stay focused on about six every year.” 

Love’s Travel Stops celebrated National Coffee Day (September 29) last fall by offering customers any sized coffee or hot beverage for the reduced price of $1. Moreover, proceeds from coffee purchases made through the Love’s Connect app went to the chain’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals campaign. According to Bryan Street, manager of deli at Love’s, the $1 coffee promo resulted in more than 40,000 redemptions. For National Hot Dog Day, meanwhile, app users were entitled to one free hot dog or roller grill item via a partnership with Schwab Meat Co. “We saw more than 13,000 redemptions,” Street reported, a 14% increase from the previous year. Other holidays promoted by the Oklahoma City-based chain include National Cold Brew Coffee Day and National Mac and Cheese Day (July 14).

Pilot Flying J stores also promoted National Coffee Day (app users could get a free cup of coffee), National Cold Brew Coffee Day, and National Hot Dog Day (customers could purchase one hot dog and receive another for free). The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile also made stops at Pilot Flying J travel centers on National Hot Dog Day, courtesy of Kraft Foods. “Pilot Flying J saw a positive response to these promotions and the overall in-store experience from guests,” King remarked.

National days allow for communication that breaks through the general loyalty message and bring new news to talk about.

Rewarding Loyalists

National day offers tied to loyalty and app platforms are setting the course today. The fast-casual restaurant chain Blaze Pizza, for example, has been running a successful Pi Day (March 14, in honor of the mathematical constant π, which rounds up to 3.14) promotion for rewards members for a decade, but a recent emphasis on encouraging customers to download the app to access the deal has seen particularly impressive returns. During this year’s promo, the app reportedly registered 500,000 downloads, bringing the chain’s loyalty membership to 3.5 million. 

Family Express experienced its own successful National Pizza Day promo this year, thanks to its rewards program, powered by Paytronix Loyalty. Under the program, loyalty members could purchase two extra-large pizzas for $12. But since only 30 of the chain’s 81 units offer the pies, the campaign was targeted to just members in close proximity to participating stores via push notifications and emails. The targeted approach worked, Family Express and Paytronix said, with nearly 10 times the number of typical orders. 

Spinx’s National Fried Chicken Day promo helps launch the chain’s annual CluckaPalloza contest, which runs throughout July. Under the program, customers who scan their loyalty cards and purchase chicken during the month are entered into a contest to receive free chicken for a year. According to Thrift, the implementation of Spinx’s mobile app a few years ago brought attention to the contest to a “whole new level,” and made it easier for the chain to promote. For National Ice Cream Day (the third Sunday in July), meanwhile, Spinx loyalty members receive a coupon on the app for a free cone.

“National days allow for communication that breaks through the general loyalty message and bring new news to talk about,” remarked Jeff Hoover, director of strategy and data insights at Paytronix. “Tying this to loyalty can also help drive acquisition of new members who want to take advantage of the offer.” That’s been the case at Spinx with the CluckaPalloza program, Thrift said. “We see a lot of new registrations in loyalty, particularly in-store signups,” she explained. “Customers feel that they might as well sign up because with just one purchase they could win free chicken for a year.”

Building Baskets

Higher basket rings are another benefit of national day programming, Thrift and King said. According to the Pilot Flying J executive, promos like the chain’s coffee and hot dog deals led “many guests to engage in other high-quality offerings available in our store, on top of the national holiday deal being offered.” Similarly, this year’s Family Express National Pizza Day promo spurred additional purchases, with the average ticket price rising to $18.

Pilot’s recent offers were supported via social media channels, emails and its app, King reported, along with media pitching. Family Express’s National Pizza Day offer relied entirely on digital messaging, including push notifications, emails, social media and digital billboards. “We found it to be the perfect messaging formula,” said Lyles. Added Paytronix’s Hoover, “Digital marketing allows for one-to-one targeting that can enable differentiated offers based on a guest’s purchase behavior. It’s also much more cost-effective and flexible to extend the offer if it’s going well. Very little planning or time is needed to execute versus promos that require in-store signage or other media planning.”

C-stores are clearly smitten with the opportunities national days offer. Love’s is celebrating National Mac and Cheese Day this month, followed by National Taco Day (October 4). After this month’s National Ice Cream Day, Family Express is looking ahead to National Sausage Pizza Day (October 11) and National Breadstick Day (October 27). For nearly every product offered by c-stores today, there’s a day for that!

A Burrito Bonus

The celebration of product holidays isn’t benefitting just convenience stores. Other purveyors are getting in on the action as well. 

In April, Family Express c-stores promoted National Burrito Day by offering a BOGO deal on its heat-to-eat burritos via its app. The program was designed to be a bit of an internal test. “We wanted to track how our app users responded to the offer,” explained Thierry Lyles, head of digital marketing at the Indiana-based chain. “We wanted to know who redeemed the offer and who didn’t take advantage of it.”

Many customers were attracted to the two-for-one deal, he said, but in an effort to win over those who weren’t, the company followed up with a free burrito, available via the app. “Overall, we were very happy with the results,” Lyles said of the program.

In fact, Family Express did such a good job promoting National Burrito Day that a local burrito shop reaped some of the benefits. According to Lyles, the restaurant reported to the c-store that due to Family Express’s promotion, the burrito shop received numerous phone calls from consumers asking about deals. “We were even able to help other local businesses capitalize on National Burrito Day,” he remarked.

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