Core-Mark, now North America’s largest and most comprehensive convenience distributor, will be among the most intriguing offerings of the 2022 NACS Show lineup—and the coming year in convenience.
That’s because this newly-formed wholesale powerhouse is poised to deliver game-changing store solutions that run the gamut from fresh and healthy grab-and-go items to hot-and-ready prepared foodservice programs and technology tools that keep retailers efficient and connected to their shoppers.
If that sounds like a lot...you’re right.
That’s the beauty of the opportunities the company provides for its retail partners. Knowledge runs deep in the ranks of this distribution leader, and that breadth of expertise pairs perfectly with a dedication to customer service that’s hard to beat. The team at Core-Mark understands the convenience business because they have evolved within it.
Perhaps the most significant outcome of the partnership has been the influx of expertise in foodservice, thanks to the advantages of parent company Performance Food Group, one of the nation’s largest broadline food distributors, with more than 150 locations in the U.S. and parts of Canada. Serving foodservice purveyors at multiple levels across the restaurant industry, PFG offers unmatched capabilities and invaluable insights to the convenience channel, at levels not readily found with other distributors.
Operating as one, the synergies and alignments of these leading companies have created a robust experience for their convenience retailer partners.
We talked with some key leaders from the Core-Mark team about where they see the industry moving, particularly in the arenas of foodservice and technology, and how the company plans to assist customers as they navigate that journey.
Foodservice is only going to grow in the convenience retailing industry, according to Sharon Kuncl, senior director of foodservice merchandising at Core-Mark.
Our retailers will now be able to capitalize on the best-of-the-best from what we’d been offering."
“Given the way consumers now eat, our retailers have a significant opportunity in front of them,” she said. “People now view convenience stores as a real option for food, and the potential revenue is a point of growth.”
Kuncl said that although the company is a leader in foodservice, with both independent and chain stores operating food programs— there still are many c-stores offering minimal foodservice or none at all.
“There truly is a huge gap there,” said Kuncl. “There’s a lot of white space to continue to be filled.”
And the team at Core-Mark is ready to fill that void with quality solutions that drive store revenue. When the companies came together, they took a hard look at what each one brought to the foodservice table, choosing the best programs and the most beneficial offerings for their operators.
“Our retailers will now be able to capitalize on the best-of-the-best from what we’d been offering,” said Kuncl. “They have more advantages with us than ever before.”
Enter easily implemented programs that are turnkey solutions for convenience retailers— Contigo® Taqueria, Perfectly Southern® Fresh Fried Chicken, The Red Seal Pizzeria®, Deli 55® and Tru-Q BBQ™—complete franchise-styled programs without the fees. A team of corporate chefs creates high-quality, flavorful options designed with convenience operators and customers in mind.
Do you want to be in the fried chicken business? Core-Mark provides a program that has all of the recipes, signature ingredients, supplies and items needed to be able to run the program, as well as digital menu boards, point-of-sale marketing, access to equipment and smallwares, training and education.
The same holds true for all these branded programs, designed to position a c-store retailer as a valuable source of food on the run, competitive with fast-food restaurants and takeout options, across all dayparts.
“There are a lot of bells and whistles with these programs that were really set up so the retailer could step into the foodservice business quickly and easily,” she said.
In addition, the company recently rebranded its exclusive fresh food offer—Fresh Take™ Crave Away™—which continues to realize considerable growth in the market. Expansive programs for beverages and fresh sandwiches, as well as a wide and varied array of other grab-and-go items, round out the food offerings.
Private labeling is another forward-thinking idea within the convenience industry, honed for customers by Core-Mark.
Cost-efficient and customizable, the menu of private-label products allows a retailer to stand out among the competition.
“[Core-Mark] has a wide assortment of private-label items that are different and unique from national-branded items,” said Kuncl. “Perhaps we create a breading for chicken tenders that has a different flavor profile than anything else out there. Or maybe the pack size we offer is much more conducive to a convenience store.”
It’s variations like those which are key to staying competitive among consumers. And not simply with other convenience retailers.
“No longer is a c-store only competing with the other c-store down the street,” Kuncl said. “QSRs, fast-food restaurants and even full-service restaurants are now vying for the convenience customer and vice versa.”
If knowledge truly is power, then valuable data is one advantage c-stores can use to stay ahead of the competition. Core-Mark provides its retailers with real-time data on what is happening within different segments of the restaurant industry.
“A lot of what happens in the restaurant business as a whole translates into what’s happening in the convenience store and what food the consumer is expecting,” she said. “We want to share those data and insight pieces so our customers are more knowledgeable about what’s happening around them, which will allow them to make better business decisions.”
People now view convenience stores as a real option for food, and the potential revenue is a point of growth."
Providing strategic sales and trend data is an important piece in the entire set of solutions the Core-Mark team offers its store partners. Another piece is technology—innovations that serve store owners and consumers alike.
Looking to the future, Sandra D’Asaro, vice president of sales development, analytics and technology at Core-Mark, sees consumers frequenting c-stores for extended periods of time. Perhaps it’s because they’re waiting for their electric vehicle to charge, or because the c-store has a robust food offering, and they’re coupling a fill-up with a dining experience.
“Consumers might need to be at these convenience stores for a longer stretch of time, and through that, they’re expecting a more fulfilling experience,” she said. “They’re looking for something that’s modernized, feels comfortable and is inviting to be in. We really see that we can play a significant role in creating that space.”
From a consumer’s perspective, “convenience” is a way to get their products, goods and services easy and on their terms, according to D’Asaro.
“Consumers want what they want, when they want it, and they want to pay for it their own way,” she said. “They want to interact with retailers on their own terms.”
Core-Mark meets those consumer preferences with a variety of solutions. For example, a partnership with Skip, a contactless mobile checkout solution provider, offers retailers a frictionless mobile payment option, with self-checkout kiosks for their stores.
“It’s about creating a modern experience,” said D’Asaro, who also predicts frictionless checkout is going to soon hit an inflection point, and such payment options for customers will be a necessity if store owners are going to compete in the marketplace.
“The world of digital is exploding, and it’s imperative that the convenience channel has the tools and capabilities to deliver that same experience as has been established by other retail formats,” she said. “We want to be at the forefront of that, and for our operators to know that when they’re ready, we’re ready.”
If consumers are going to be spending more time inside c-stores as D’Asaro predicts, those stores will need to be continuously stocked with the right products. Core-Mark’s capabilities in order solutions and order replenishment have become a huge value for retailers.
“In today’s supply chain environment, the level of out-of-stocks is unprecedented. When c-stores sell through products and aren’t able to replenish, top-sellers can be forgotten,” she said.
Partnerships with Blue Yonder and leveraging Microsoft’s PowerBI help Core-Mark engage with customers to optimize product assortment, build leading-edge planograms and deliver real-time, customized dashboards to monitor the health of their business. Once top-selling products are again available, tools like these ensure they aren’t lost and planograms are brought back to life.
“Those types of things might sound small,” said D’Asaro, “but for many of our operators, these are the things that simply drive their business.”
Core-Mark can allow retailers to go beyond simply identifying top sellers in their stores. Through the company’s Retailer Analytics Dashboard, operators can actually see what products are trending, even if they aren’t currently stocking them.
“We offer real time, up-to-date information about the state of their business, compare them to the benchmarks of the market around them, and then provide actionable insights to make more informed decisions,” said D’Asaro.
The world of digital is exploding, and it’s imperative that the convenience channel has the tools and capabilities to deliver that same experience as has been established by other retail formats."
“They can leverage best practices or home in on areas where they might be underperforming compared to the market, or even compared to other stores within their chain,” she added.
Overall, the company remains committed to a customer-focused approach, which keeps its store partners at the forefront of its decision process. Be it strategic merchandising, foodservice implementation, innovative technology or valuable market research, the point of view is always that of the c-store owner.
“From a capability standpoint, we’ve really got two powerhouses that have come together, and we both have the same philosophy— putting customer interest first,” said D’Asaro. “This can be a point of differentiation from our competition, but further, we offer the tools and solutions to help our retailers differentiate themselves from their competition. Everything we do is with their needs in mind.”