Refreshing Dispensed Beverages for Spring

By Howard Riell || 4/1/2024 || Originally published on

From promotions and limited-time offers to trendy flavors and healthier options, c-stores are revamping their cold and frozen dispensed lineup to best appeal to customers this spring.

As spring arrives, c-store retailers are updating their cold and frozen dispensed beverage flavors to meet evolving customer demands in preparation for the surge in beverage traffic that warmer weather traditionally brings.

Today, more consumers are favoring healthier dispensed drinks, preferably in a variety of exciting flavors.

Convenience store customers are showing marked preferences for cold and frozen dispensed beverages featuring energy infusions, innovative coffee flavors, nitro brews and a variety of teas.

This remains a profitable section, with margins generally at 50% or more, topping foodservice and packaged beverages, according to retailers.

Indeed, the category is fairing very well overall, according to Ryan Fasel, director of marketing for Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express Corp., which operates more than 80 stores in Indiana. “We’ve seen nice unit growth year over year for the last few years. Traditionally, it’s been aggressive low retails that drive volume, but that has changed over the last couple of years with inflation.”

Loyalty has become the key driver for the category in c-stores, Fasel explained, noting that extra points, fuel rewards, club cards, special pricing for loyalty members and subscriptions are important for driving volume today.

At Family Express, sugar-free options are trending as customers prioritize cutting calories or finding “healthier” alternatives to traditional dispensed beverages.

“Flavors such as Pepsi Zero, Mountain Dew Zero, etc. are becoming more popular,” he said.

Family Express is introducing new options for spring at its stores, including flavored teas in non-carbonated cold dispensed, while other flavors rotate seasonally.

“Mountain (Dew) has an assortment of flavors that rotate in and out seasonally. The ‘Bomb Pop’ flavor is very popular from several manufacturers during the summer in carbonated dispensed, especially frozen,” said Fasel.

No Sugar
Sugar-free is also in demand at Elmhurst, Ill.-based Power Energy Corp., operating 1,359 sites in nine states, 96 of which are corporately owned under the Power Mart, Power Market and Powmaro’s banners.

“We completely got away from all sugar-based frozen carbonated beverages, and we have completely gone to our coffee vendor frozen flavors,” said Sam Odeh, president of Power Energy Corp. “As for our own frozen carbonated beverage machines and other frozen machines, they were a complete loss. It’s not for us.”

Power Energy removed the machines back in 2018. All of its stores’ dispensing machines today are provided by either its coffee vendor or PepsiCo, both of which supply all of the signage. “The bottom line is that they fix them and replace if they are constantly stopping or not working properly.”

Stores offer blue, red and yellow fruit juices and coffee, mocha and vanilla flavors on its brews. Cup sizes are 24 ounces priced at $1.99 and 32 ounces priced at $2.99. For the upcoming spring season, the chain is rolling out a pineapple-flavored dispensed beverage.

Leveraging LTOs
“The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) is seeing trends focused on limited-time offerings with well-known national brands like Jolly Rancher, Sour Patch Kids and Hershey,” said Allison Jones, snack avenue and foodservice buyer for AAFES, which operates nearly 600 Express convenience stores and 10 distribution centers for military personnel and their families on bases located around the globe. “The Exchange is also offering more frozen coffee and nitro coffee.”

Looking ahead to this spring, she added, the Exchange is launching new flavors in bubbler dispensers made with real sugar and juice, including additions such as vitamin C and zinc, along with caffeine in certain flavors.

“Limited-time candy-branded flavored varieties for frozen non-carbonated machines are also planned,” Jones said.

In 2023, the Exchange saw the most growth within fountain beverages and the frozen non-carbonated beverages. Iced coffee is also gaining sales and attracting shoppers.

“The Exchange drives sales at its Express stores with limited-time offerings and by giving shoppers the ability to mix and match flavors,” Jones explained. “Low promotional prices also drive shoppers to Expresses, especially with warmer weather months ahead.”

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