A plethora of holiday-themed beverages, foods and merchandise are driving foot traffic into c-stores during the holiday season and winter months. One retailer even offers festive snapshots in its photo booth along with photos with its mascot.
Specialty beverages are big sellers during the holiday season, operators said. Nearly every c-store is offering winter and holiday flavors. QuickChek, for instance, sports Kris Kringle hot and iced coffees, a blend of chocolate and coconut flavors.
7-Eleven debuted its holiday LTOs on Nov. 1. They include its peppermint bark coffee; winter wonderland coca, which has a candy cane flavor; and caramel macchiato. The company also added gingerbread-flavored syrup to its condiment lineup.
Ballston Spa, New York-based Stewart’s Shops recently brought back its popular and limited-time candy cane shake, made with peppermint stick ice cream — also a seasonal offering — whipped cream and peppermint sugar sprinkles.
Last year, the shake sold out quicker than expected, so the retailer responded by doubling production this year, according to Bill Majewski, director of marketing at Stewart’s. And, while Stewart’s Shops sells its award-winning eggnog year round, it introduced a limited-edition gingerbread eggnog this year.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J recently brought back several seasonal coffees, including bourbon pecan, Cinnabon pumpkin spice cappuccino and caramel cold brew.
Pontiac, Illinois-based Wally’s, which operates two massive travel centers with more on the way, added cinnamon, gingerbread and white cranberry mocha lattes for the season.
Winter is also a great time to feature soups and chilis, so Wally’s ramped up its grab-and-go refrigerated soup program, which features pints of soup in flavors that rotate every two weeks. “They have good traction. People buy them at lunch and also on the way home to heat up for dinner,” said Lute Cain, vice president of store operations for Wally’s.
Wally’s is featuring a few other holiday-themed foods as well, including roasted sweet potatoes with goat cheese, pecans and balsamic glaze.
Holiday-themed items boost sales
While Wally’s emphasizes in-store merchandise year round, it also offers a line of seasonal items such as travel blankets, ornaments with its Wally bear mascot and other exclusive Wally’s gifts.
“The Wally’s retail memorabilia items always perform better than other categories across the board,” said Andy Strom, chief experience officer for Wally’s.
Sales of in-store merchandise in general have “really picked up,” gaining 30% to 40% over the past year, Strom said.
In addition to Wally’s marketing and merchandising efforts, Strom believes more people are driving than before, increasing the opportunities for in-store traffic.
Alongside all this merch, Wally’s recently added a photo booth to one of its stores, and it has quickly proven to be one of the most popular spots in that location. For the holiday season, photo booth users can also add holiday-themed borders, Strom said.
Shoppers at Wally’s also love to take pictures of the Wally bear mascot during regular visits and throughout the holiday season, according to Strom.
In mid-November, 7-Eleven debuted an extensive holiday collection of general merchandise, including holiday-themed clothing items and accessories through its 7Collection online merchandise shop. In addition to ornaments, the shop includes sweaters, gift bags, hats and beverage accessories.
The company chose that particular merchandise lineup to “capture the spirit of the season,” Marissa Jarratt, executive vice president, chief marketing and sustainability officer for the retailer, said in the announcement.
In similar fashion, Kwik Trip unveiled its new holiday merchandise for 2023 earlier this month. The star item of the new line is an ugly sweater based on Kwik Trip’s Glazers, the company’s popular donuts that were introduced in 2003.
Pilot Flying J has added numerous gifts, including toys, tech gadgets, blankets, travel gear, clothing and more, though “our two most popular gift items during the holidays are our beloved [plush] elves, as well as our gift cards,” said Brad Anderson, chief operating officer at Pilot Company.
In an effort to boost customer interaction during the holiday season, it added a “Hauliday Giveaway” this year that allowed drivers to win prizes such as Bluetooth headsets, truck gear and gift cards Dec. 4 through Dec. 16. Entrants comment on the Pilot Flying J Facebook page for a chance to enter and win daily.
Holiday-themed merchandise is also popular at Stewart’s, which introduced its e-commerce shop a little over a year ago. In November, the retailer introduced limited-edition flannel pants, which sold out in just a couple days, according to Lute, but are back in stock this month.
For the last five years, Stewart’s has also sold a signature holiday ornament. This year’s offering — a snow globe design — has been very popular, according to Majewski.