Mohammad Hammad is glad he trusted his gut. The owner of Chicago’s South Loop Market chain of convenience stores, Hammad took a chance on an emerging beverage category and its unique packaging model a few years ago, and he’s pleased he did. “Variety packs for hard seltzers are working as they were designed to,” the retailer said. “They’re giving consumers the opportunity to taste a range of flavors. Then, when they find the flavor they like, they’ll come back and buy a pack of that.” Variety packs of hard seltzers—as well as craft beers—are selling so well at the nine-store chain, they’re outperforming their respective categories, Hammad noted.
Similarly, Chris Long, director of category management, age verified at Kum & Go, said, “We’ve leaned in aggressively on variety packs,” particularly for hard seltzers and ready-to-drink cocktails. The multistate chain offers between 15 and 30 different variety packs, depending on the size of the store, and for some brands, “we prefer to take on the variety pack over a single-flavor pack,” Long reported. He attributed the strong response from consumers to variety packs—typically 12-packs of three or four different flavors or styles—to hard seltzers like White Claw and Truly. “Seltzers have brought back variety packs,” said the Kum & Go executive, noting that the mixed packs were first popularized by craft breweries such as Boston Beer a few decades ago.
Indeed, according to Ryan LaMontagne, senior director, category development at Anheuser-Busch, “hard seltzer variety packs have propelled growth over the last year,” accounting for 62% of the dollar share and 76% of the dollar growth in c-stores. “Variety packs offer a way for 21+ shoppers to explore taste profiles by trying more than one flavor, while also having the ability to share with others,” he said. C-store operators agreed that much of the success of hard seltzers can be attributed to the mixed packs. “The subtle taste difference of hard seltzers lends themselves to variety packs,” said James Kerrigan, the owner of Jake’s One Market, with two locations in Vermont. “Consumers can easily sample through the different flavors.”
At Skinny’s convenience store in St. Helens, Oregon, owner Lane Attrash reported that variety packs for hard seltzers and ranch waters are selling well, while mixed craft beer packs have slowed. The store stocks about two dozen variety packs, all merchandised in the cold vault. Shoppers of craft beer variety packs tend to be quite knowledgeable about the offerings and styles, while hard seltzer shoppers are “more experimental,” Attrash remarked.
I’ve noticed customers come in for non-variety packs, see the mixed packs and purchase both.
In addition to trial, variety packs provide consumers with an easy shopping solution. “It’s one thing if a consumer wants to take his time and peruse the aisles a bit, but if he’s running into the store to grab a few items and some beer for a cookout, it’s much easier to say, ‘Oh, I’ll just grab this mix pack,’” noted Tim Kast, brand manager at Harpoon Brewery. With c-stores’ reputation as in-and-out outlets, variety packs can be ideal for the channel. “It’s great to have a pack that offers a variety of options,” Kast said.
Mixed packs also provide benefits to retailers. Hammad has observed that the packs are often impulse buys. “I’ve noticed customers come in for non-variety packs, see the mixed packs and purchase both,” the Chicago retailer said. At Kum & Go, variety packs provide “SKU efficiency,” Long said. “You can offer one SKU in place of three or four,” he explained. Eric Clark, director of off-premise chain accounts, New Belgium Brewing, marketer of the fast-growing Voodoo Ranger Hoppy pack, added that with a price point of about $20 or more a 12-pack, mixed packs help drive “craft beer credibility for retailers and boost a store’s average transaction dollars.”
Like other products in the cold vault, variety packs can present challenges, too. Space is the biggest concern. “Limited space in c-stores is always a battle, so retailers have to be more precise with their decisions since there are 50% less SKUs on average in a c-store than there are in grocery or mass,” remarked Kevin Kraft, channel director at FIFCO USA, which markets variety packs for Labatt Blue Light and Labatt Blue Light seltzer. “Larger package sizes mean fewer units on shelves, which means more time and effort being spent on making sure your shelves are reloaded and stocked,” added Kast.
If you have an opening on the floor for a small 10-case variety pack stack, it could be a great way to get additional eyes on the product and take advantage of impulse shoppers.
To optimize space, Clark recommends that c-stores merchandise craft beer variety packs in the well of the cold vault, along with other 12-packs. “The well provides a better pack-out than the shelves, and it’s where the consumer expects to find the package,” he noted. At Kum & Go, malt-based variety packs are placed in the cooler, while wine and spirits-based options—like Crown Royal whisky canned cocktail variety packs—are merchandised on warm shelves.
Harpoon’s Kast sees opportunity to merchandise variety packs throughout the store. “If you have the space for endcap or satellite displays, make use of it,” he advised. “The cooler is always crowded, and moving shelves around to make room for 12-packs comes with pluses and minuses. If you have an opening on the floor for a small 10-case variety pack stack, it could be a great way to get additional eyes on the product and take advantage of impulse shoppers.”
Anheuser-Busch’s LaMontagne recommends that retailers consider sales performance and contribution when stocking variety packs. “Variety packs play a key role in the assortment and should be prioritized on shelf based on sales mix, velocity and refreshing the SKU mix based on current performance and on-trend and differentiated innovation,” he remarked. “When 21+ shoppers are looking at the shelf, they’re not viewing variety in the same way that they would view a single flavor pack. So, it’s important to ensure easy navigation with clear brand blocking for ease of shopping.”
With merchandising and category management tactics in place, retailers see continued opportunity for mixed packs. “Variety packs are here to stay,” said Hammad. “People like to try different things, and that’s not going to change.”