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The Associated Press has a story about the continuing evolution of convenience stores, where, more and more, “kombucha slushies take the place of corn-syrupy treats infused with red dye, tortilla chips are made of cassava flour instead of corn and there are vegan ice cream bars and a dizzying selection of organic produce and craft beer on tap.”

The story goes on: “Analysts say millennials, who are willing to pay a premium for higher-quality ingredients and want to support companies in line with their values, are a driving force behind the trend for stores that are popping up around the country from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

“A 2018 report from EuroMonitor says convenience stores are changing their image to appeal to a more health-conscious generation, stocking up on gluten-free, grass-fed and organic products. While ‘portability and grab-and-go convenience remain critical, millennial dietary habits stand to revolutionize a channel that has been anything but health-conscious in the past,’ the report says.”

“I don’t believe it’s a passing fad,” David Portalatin, food industry adviser for trend group NPD, tells the AP. “People bring the same demand for convenience but with a whole new set of food values to go along with it.”

For the moment, at least, this shift is a small one, at least in terms of numbers: there are 154,000 convenience stores in the U.S., and just 200 that would fit into this convenient-and-health subset.

But the number is expected to grow.
KC's View:
A couple of things here…

First, it is interesting that this story was posted by the AP shortly after the Los Angeles Times did an excellent piece about Lisa Sedlar and her three-store c-store company, Green Zebra, based in Portland, Oregon.

Now, I have a rooting interest in Green Zebra because a) I know and like Lisa Sedlar enormously, and b) I’m a customer - I am a frequent user of her store on the Portland State University campus, which is just a couple of blocks from the apartment I use when I teach at PSU during the summer.

(Best tuna melt. Ever. Made with Mama Lil’s peppers. Makes me hungry just writing the words.)

The Times gets the appeal exactly right: “If you crave a pack of Camels, a lottery ticket or a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English 800, you can blow off Green Zebra. But if you require a custom-built vegan sandwich, free-range chicken sausage, radish kimchi, organic beer or a half-gallon growler of CBD-infused sparkling lemon water, welcome home.”

And Lisa explains, “We’re not trying to be the food police. But if healthy is your thing, we got it.” She also tells the AP, “We think of our stores as a human recharging station as opposed to the traditional convenience store, which tears down your health.”

Lisa is close to opening her fourth Green Zebra store in Portland, and has plans to open stores up and down the west coast … which would put her at the forefront of the broader trend described by the AP.

Here’s the thing. I think you can look at this subset and see reflections of even broader shifts that are affecting the c-store industry, and, by extension, everybody in the food retail space. As more and more companies decide to emphasize convenience - often through such services as delivery and/or pickup - convenience stores are having to expand their definition, which leads them to investing in similar services or in healthier foods that will redefine their appeal.

It is fascinating, and is reshaping the competitive landscape.

By the way, it may be worth mentioning here that I am speaking and moderating a panel at the NACS Show and Expo in Las Vegas, scheduled for October 7-10. My session, on Monday morning, October 8, will focus on delivery but will have as both context and subtext these competitive shifts … and one of our panelists will be Lisa Sedlar.