By Julie Crawshaw, Contributing Editor
A study conducted by the Wharton School of Researchfound that nearly 70% of all purchase decisions are made atthe point of sale, where packaging is the primary spokespersonfor the product. Using this knowledge to full advantage in your c-store’s foodservice segment calls for developing packaging thatis memorable, presents the product well and makes customerswant to buy it right now.
Branded packaging also provides a means for customers to distinguish one store’s products fromanother’s and of creating and maintaining an imagethat encourages confidence in consistent product quality.Conventional marketing wisdom holds that, once established,a branded packaging design that stands out and is well receivedby customers should remain the same for years. However, MikeThornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs for Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip, said this doesn’t necessarily apply tothe convenience store world.
QuikTrip, which operates 476 stores in nine states,frequently changes packaging designs for the extensivevariety of branded food and drink items it sells.
“Customers like to see something new and fresh,” Thornbrugh said. “The company name is always the focal point,but the designs and colors around it frequently change for all ofour branded packaging, including shakes, fountain and coffee bardrinks, sandwiches and other foods.”
Even though some QuikTrip customers consider the designscollectible, especially those created for events such as Oklahoma’scentennial and the annual Wichita River Festival, Thornbrughdoesn’t think that branded packaging necessarily boosts sales. “Toour customers, the most important things about our drink containers are that the cup lids fit properly and that the cups fit theircup holders,” he said.
At base, Thornbrugh observes, promoting your brand is reallyabout walking your talk by making your company’s mission statement a reality. “That’s why we guarantee every cup of coffee andfountain drink we sell,” he said. “If customers don’t like it, we’llgive them their money back or let them try something else. Thecup is just an extension of that.”
To Change or not to Change
Branded beverage cups provide the smartest, strongest, leastexpensive and most effective way to boost sales of the most profitable item c-stores sell, according to Rich Wittels, president ofPrinted Cup, a provider of branded foodservice packaging.
“Nothing is more effective or competitive than using brandedcups; they provide the biggest advertising bang for the buck,”Wittels said, adding that this is especially important for small c-stores that lack financial resources to advertise against larger chains.
Studies show that branded cups do indeed promote future beverage sales, and using a proprietary label makes promoting frequent buyer programs easier and results in more bounce back business. Non-imprinted cups don’t encourage future beverage sales, and using fountain drink cups provided by the majormanufacturers of non-alcoholic beverages does nothing to promote your store’s brand. For pennies on the dollar, branded cupsand food packaging provide a chance to identify your store as onethat serves quality products in a personal way.
Wittels views branded cups as walking billboards, pointing outthat most coffee and fountain drink customers live or work withina short distance from the store where they buy their drinks.
“Most cups that leave your store will be seen by 10 to 15 people,” Wittels said, “and most people who see your branded cupare likely to live or work nearby. The cost is small, the medium iseffective and the message is direct—what more could you ask?”
From Packaging To Private Label
Valero Energy Corp. which operates more than 5,000 storesin 42 states, hasn’t done any scientific studies of its own on howthe branded food and drink packaging it has used for more than10 years affects customer loyalty. But Vice President of RetailMarketing Hal Adams said that positive customer response toits proprietary food and drink products definitely influenced thecompany’s upcoming move into offering private label productsas well.
“Our strategy calls for proprietary product developmentwhen we can offer the consumer a value, either by distinct flavor, package size or type, or retail price,” Adams said. “We lookfor high-volume SKUs that can be merchandised along with thenational brand SKUs to offer the consumer variety and provide uswith a higher penny profit per unit.”
Though the only design change to its cups came a few yearsago when the company rolled out its Java Amore coffees, DavidFrankenfield, director of facility revenue for Loves Travel Stops &Country Stores, considers branded packaging as a great marketing tool, one he uses to great advantage to promote the aggressiverefill program Love’s includes in its gasoline loyalty rewards fortruck drivers. When a Love’s truck customer buys 50 gallons ormore of diesel fuel they get a free coffee or fountain drink in a special cup issued when they joined the refill program.
Like Valero, Love’s, a 180-store chain based in OklahomaCity, offers several products manufactured under their own private label, including engine oil, jerky, Styrofoam coolers and ice.Expanding from simple branded food and drink packaging intoprivate label products allows Love’s to offer its customers highquality items at real value-offer prices.
“The same very strict government standards that apply tonational engine oil brands apply to the oil we sell in cans with ourlogo,” Frankenfield said. “The quality of our brand is every bit ashigh but the product is less expensive because we’re not payinghigh advertising bills like the big guys.”
Love’s jerky is a unique made-by-hand variety that can onlybe found in certain areas of the country that brings in millionsof dollars every year. “It’s a great quality product and we offerit as a value,” Frankenfield said. “Anything we brand represents us and our customers look for it over the years.”
Making Your Brand Memorable
Printed cup president rich Wittels points out that to really be a great marketing tool, designs for branded food and drink packaging should be great as well. “There’s no point in just having “Joe’s Convenience Store” printed on a cup,” he said. “Things have to fit conceptually—your design should reflect the image you want your store to express and be integrated from top to bottom.”
Typically, smaller c-stores don’t have ready-to-use artwork. So how should a small store go about getting a great branded design? Wittels advises beginning the process by assessing your company. How do your customers perceive you? How do you perceive yourself? What would you like your logo to portray? Strength, Fun, Excitement? Do you have a mission statement or a motto?
Once these questions have been answered, it’s time to relay those concepts to a designer to help the artist get a “feel” for what you want. The artist will then draft an initial design, conferring and making whatever changes are indicated until the storeowner is fully satisfied with the design.
Wittels advises getting the best, clearest and most vivid logo possible. “Your design should reflect the image you want your store to portray and help build customer loyalty,” he says. “Red, yellow and black are the most popular colors for convenience stores.”