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Why Convenience Stores Dominated the Conversation at a Healthy Living Conference

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“Is tonight’s session just about convenience stores?”

This was overheard at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Summit on May 11th, and it makes sense. Nearly every speaker at the evening’s general session mentioned something about convenience stores. From the representative of Apeel Sciences, who discussed a technology to lengthen the life of produce, to my speech and the partnership agreements announced by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and Cumberland Farms, it was a constant topic of conversation.

I spoke about how convenient choices can be healthy choices.

And for good reason. The industry is evolving, and many of today’s gas stations have changed dramatically over the past five years. Some stores have become destinations in-and-of themselves with a range of products and amenities beyond just gas and indulgent snacks. And as mentioned recently in the Wall Street Journal, big changes are still ahead.

One of the most significant evolutions has taken place in foodservice. Consumers are justified in wondering if they’re shopping at gas stations that sell food or restaurants that sell gas. According to CSP’s 2016 Outlook Survey, 65% of respondents say they plan to begin offering food that’s made on-site and 55% say they’re planning a made-to-order food program. NACS has identified foodservice as a key focus for growth contributing 21.7% of in-store sales in 2016 and 35.2% of gross profit dollars.

Which brings us to the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA).

There are serious public health concerns relating to lifestyle-induced illnesses and the convenience store industry has found a unique way to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem—all without sacrificing business. Instead of framing the question as “healthy versus unhealthy,” why not offer something for everyone? And with research indicating a growing demand for healthful products, it’s a smart move.

That’s why leading brands have formed partnerships with PHA, and NACS is the first retail trade association to come aboard. PHA partners with the private sector to foster commitments that effect change and make financial sense.

Former President Bill Clinton spoke at the PHA Summit’s opening general session.

This is what Bill Clinton talked about at the Summit when he mentioned the power of diverse partnerships—people coming together from divergent backgrounds and focusing on a shared goal. Working together is just an effective way to get things done.

This is an interesting time in the convenience store industry. Who would’ve guessed that convenience stores would become a destination for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks—or that they’d become a partner in supporting healthy lifestyles?

And yet that’s exactly what’s happening.

You can learn more about this issue by reading my speech and listening to a recap of the event on the NACS Convenience Matters Podcast.

Analyst, Convenience Store and Retail Trends

Frank Beard is a passionate advocate for convenience stores who brings a wide range of experience to the GasBuddy team. His "30 Days of Gas Station Food" experiment has raised awareness of the fact that most — if not all — convenience stores have healthful options available. He's spoken at events like the 2016 NACS Show and the Partnership for a Healthier America's 2017 Summit, and he's a contributor to NACS Magazine and NACS Daily. Having visited more than 1,000 convenience stores in 24 states, Frank helps communicate the fact that convenience stores truly are the perfect pit stop.