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So You Want to Run a Healthy Store?

Over the last two posts I have been exploring the idea of convenience stores offering healthier alternatives to their customers.  The basic thought process is that 1) there is a growing trend in health conscious consumers due to either lifestyle decisions or the obesity crisis and 2) having healthy alternatives in our stores helps our fellow man and our bottom line.  In my last post I suggested that you don’t have to do much to attract customers and benefit from the healthy eating trend – you just need to offer a few SKU’s that are considered healthier than other items in the typical c-store.  An important tip from the last post – you can increase sales and gross profit by offering smaller portioned items.

However, even with the best intentions, selling healthier products in convenience stores has obstacles.  Supply issues, pre-conceived images, cost, space limitations, and customer demands all contribute to making this a difficult category for the average c-store to promote successfully.

Supply issues need to be overcome first – if you can’t get it you can’t sell it.  Finding a supplier that will deliver fresh product, on a regular basis, in the small amounts typical for a c-store is still very difficult in most markets in this country.  We just don’t have the fresh delivery system as other countries do.  No being able to find a distributor is not the end of the world – we’ve seen two solutions for this issue.  If you have a multiple stores chain (or can work with other local retailers) you can have items delivered to a central location and then self distribute them to your stores.  Alternatively, you can make a regular run to your local supermarket or produce store to buy the items for resale in your store.  The only caveat with the reselling strategy is that you need to take local laws into consideration if you plan to repackage items.

Once you have sourced the products the second issue that needs to be overcome is the preconceived notion that c-stores only sell junk food.  Three suggestions here: window signage to promote your message, placement of the product in high visibility and high traffic areas, and keep your store clean.  In the customer’s mind a clean store equals confidence in the health and quality of the food.

You will find that healthier options will cost more.  I’ve mentioned before that people who are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle are willing to pay a little more to be able to do so (witness Whole Foods’ success) so don’t be afraid to get a good profit margin on these products.  If you want to get into the fresh food aspect (fruit and salads) be prepared for a high amount of waste and spoilage as you start the program but don’t let this deter you from keeping your products well stocked.  Customers aren’t going to initially believe that you are serious about the business.  Having a consistently well stocked offer is the best way to market your program and convince your customer that what they are getting is fresh.  Be aggressive!

Space limitations don’t have to be an issue.  A small spinner rack or peg board of bags of nuts and trail mix or four foot of shelving for protein and health bars are all you really need to do to get into the business.  If you want to go with fresh offerings I recommend a stand alone narrow reach in cooler to promote and display your salads and fruits.

Finally, once you get into the healthier snack business be ready for customer requests for items that are important to them and their life styles.  With so many diet and nutrition programs on the market people are always looking for something specific that meets their needs.  You can’t be all things to everyone (unless you have the space) so you will need to listen to the requests and decide which ones are the best for your business.  Are you getting multiple requests for the same thing?  Is the requesting customer a good regular customer and/or a person in the community who can influence others?  Can you carry the requested product without incurring a lot of costs or hurting your business?  If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then you should seriously consider carrying the requested product.

At the end of the day, providing healthier products for your customers can improve their health and the health of your business.