The US convenience store and gas station channel is undergoing a makeover as shown by the products exhibited at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Chicago October 17-20, 2017. A range of manufacturers showcased the channel’s extension from a grab-and-go destination for drinks and snacks to a convenient place for a range of healthy items. Mintel’s Jenny Zegler, Global Food & Drink Analyst, joined the more than 20,000 attendees from at least 50 countries who attended the show. Here, she identifies key trends emerging in the convenience store channel. 1. Meat snacks go mainstream The NACS Show 2017 was overflowing with a wide variety of meat snacks providing further evidence of the ongoing trend in the US. In particular, several meat snack brands elevated the traditional convenience store snack of beef jerky with options such as grass-fed beef sticks from Mighty Organic, flame-grilled pork jerky from Golden Nest, Australian-inspired biltong cured snacks from Stryve and Jack Link’s variety of products for different texture preferences. Meat snacks also got a snack makeover as Power Bar showed off a Jerky & Nut savory snack bar and Tyson’s Hillshire brand extended its Small Plates line of meat and cheese in adult flavors such as Smoky Bourbon Beef with Asiago Cheese and Apple Chardonnay Pork with Gouda Cheese. 2. The proliferation of protein snacks The meat snacks boom aligns with consumers’ quest for more protein and the NACS Show featured a wide range of protein snacks from baked tofu sticks from Go Umami to portable flavored cheese crumbles from Cheese Fusions. Even sweet snacks got the protein touch as shown by Powerful Oatmeal with 21g of protein, Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookie with 16g of protein and ThinkThin’s new Protein Cakes that contain 12g of protein. Convenience store consumers also can turn to a new generation of protein drinks in a range of options including protein-enhanced water from Protein2O to Nestlé Nesquick’s Protein Plus flavored milk for “adults young at heart” to Soylent’s new ready-to-drink beverage line that targets the breakfast occasion with flavors such as Café Coffiest and Café Chai. 3. Variety of products address the energy shortage Beverages are the most popular item purchased in convenience stores, according to Mintel’s Convenience Store Foodservices US 2017 report. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages were more prevalent than traditional carbonated energy drinks at the NACS Show. Several booths featured packaged and on tap cold brew coffee including Nitro Cold Brew taps which aim to bring the foodservice experience into the convenience channel, as highlighted in Mintel’s 2017 Foodservice Trend ‘The Experience Dichotomy.’ Consumers who want another caffeinated beverage option can look to still flavored Hydrive Energy Water from Dr Pepper Snapple Group or Bubbl’r, a line of flavored antioxidant sparkling water that is made with natural caffeine. Energy also can be more portable as shown by Forto Coffee’s 2oz Coffee Energy Shots that packaged in tiny replicas of takeaway coffee cups, Go Cubes’ gummy cold-brew coffee cubes and Alert caffeine gum with 40mg of caffeine per piece from Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company. 4. Mash-ups answer convenience store cravings While the NACS Show featured a variety of better-for-you options, the channel still has a strong connection with consumers who are looking for filling foods and craveable snacks. Mintel research finds that 56% of US adults who have purchased food from a convenience store would like more hot snacks at convenience stores. Addressing that need, PepsiCo featured its Mac n’ Cheetos and Doritos Loaded breaded snacks and Golden West debuted its licensed Jack Link’s brand 6oz bowls filled with meat and a side in flavors such as Philly Cheesesteak, Chicken Fajita and Meat Lovers Pasta. Hot snacks also are available for the breakfast occasion as shown by Kellogg’s breakfast sandwich that relies on its Eggo waffles as the bun. 5. Bottled water branches out In addition to energy, the convenience store channel sells approximately half of the single-serving bottled water sold in the US, according to a NACS, and brands featured a new variety of functional and flavored bottled water options at the show. Dr Pepper Snapple Group offers BodyArmor SuperWater and Bai Antioxidant Water. Sparkling flavored water also was on display as Nestlé Waters introduced new packaging for its regional flavored sparkling spring waters, AriZona showcased bottled flavored sparkling water and Goya has a line of Hispanic-inspired sparkling water flavors in upscale 1-liter blue bottles that retail for $0.99. Sparkling water also took new directions as Coca-Cola expanded its Dasani sparkling flavored water to fountains and Polar featured its child-friendly 8oz cans of flavored seltzers in fun flavors, such as Unicorn Kisses, Mermaid Songs, Dragon Whispers and Yeti Mischief. Jenny Zegler is the dedicated trends analyst on Mintel’s Food & Drink platform, blending Mintel Trends expertise with food and drink specific topics, such as health and wellness, formulation, sustainability and premiumization. In addition to contributing analysis to Mintel Food & Drink, Jenny has been part of the team that creates Mintel’s annual cross-category trends since 2014. 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