At your convenience

The National Association of Convenience Stores Expo has become a valuable show for grocers.

The annual National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Expo, held in October in Atlanta, is one of the best places to see what is new and hot across several key categories, including beverages, candy, snacks and tobacco. Here is a look at what several companies previewed at the show:

Just like the real thing
Carlos Bengoa, president of 21st Century Smoke, wants to make using an electronic cigarette just like smoking a real one. The Benoit, Wis.-based company has Soft Tip Disposable Cigarettes in two flavors: Regular and Menthol. A “rugged” flavor version of the product will be introduced in the near future.

Bengoa says the soft tip features a real filter that makes holding and using the electronic cigarette “as close to using a real cigarette as possible and makes it easier to introduce people to electronic cigarettes.” The product is available in a 40-count counter display. “We sell more cartridges than anyone else,” he said. “So it shows our strong brand loyalty, which means more sales for the retailer.”

Mars pipeline stays full
Mars Chocolate North America is keeping its development teams quite busy these days. The Hackettstown, N.J.-based company is rolling out asnickers_rkin_nutroad_single number of items to satisfy the increasingly fragmented tastes of consumers. Before next April, Mars is set to introduce such items as M&M’S Mega Milk Chocolate, featuring more chocolate and larger peanuts and Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road, featuring a marshmallow-flavored nougat covered with almonds and encased in dark chocolate. Mars is also continuing to offer more brands in the “bites” format, expanding it to include Twix, 3 Musketeers and Milky Way Simply Caramel Bites.

In Zone is growing
Kids’ beverage maker In Zone Brands will now be doing business under a new name, good2grow. The change replaces the company’s two previous brands, Belly Washer and Tummy Tickler, with the one good2grow brand and a completely new look favoring more natural packaging graphics that include bright pictures of fruit. Importantly, the new good2grow brand will keep the top characters on each bottle that kids have grown to love.

“If you imagine a kids’ seesaw, it was tilted 100% to fun,” said Carl Sweet, the brand’s chief marketing and commercial officer for the Atlanta-based company. “The label looked fun, the names were fun and the character toppers were all fun. So the challenge for us was to even the seesaw up. The topper still draws the child while mom feels great about the nutrition of not only our current products, but a new fruit and vegetable blend that has less calories.”

New pack on the block
The Coca-Cola Co. booth was packed with innovations for convenience and grocery stores. The biggest may be their reinvention of the six-pack.

The new Sixer is designed to save shelf and fridge space. Holding six 12-fluid ounce cans, the package is easy to carry, stores vertically or horizontally and is great for “smaller households, Millenials and empty nesters,” said Doug Middlebrooks, assistant vice president of shopper marketing for convenience/retail. “Our research shows us that consumers find the traditional six-pack hard to handle. The new design is much more functional.” The Atlanta-based company offers four rack display options for retailers.

The company also expanded its offerings of beverage-enhancing drops to include three new brands. Powerade Zero Drops create a zero-calorie, ready-to-drink sports drink, available in Berry Blast, Fruit Punch and Orange flavors. Vitaminwater Zero Drops are zero-calorie, naturally sweetened, vitamin-enhanced for on-the-go consumers and available in four varieties. Minute Maid Drops are made with real fruit juice and available in Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, Fruit Punch and Mango Tropical.

Charge it while it’s hot!
Hottips! is helping consumers stay plugged in, on-the-go. The Navajo Manufacturing Co.’s brand of portable charging devices are designed to meet the needs of cell phone, tablet and other portable device users.

“While this concept has been around for a while, the new thought is to be able to use the battery pack with numerous devices, not just a particular cell phone,” said Deborah Levy-Abreu, vice president of marketing.

The Denver-based company was promoting three different size devices at the show. The smallest, which Levy-Abreu compared to the size and shape of a tube of lipstick, holds approximately enough power for one full phone recharge and is available for retail now. The two larger sizes—one which has about four-times the power of the small one and the other size, in between these two, holds enough power for two phone recharges—are both in the pipeline for next year.

Gallo goes barefoot
The E&J Gallo Winery is introducing Barefoot Bubbly Fusions in three flavors: Citrus, Berry and Tropical. The line, which began shipping in October, consists of sparkling wines with natural fruit flavors. It has a suggested retail price of $8 to $10 for a 750-ml bottle.

“Take a look across our entire industry and it is all about flavor,” said Herb Smith, vice president off-premise customer development & category management for Modesto, Calif.-based Gallo. “This product truly delivers great flavors and it is great for parties or a holiday toast. The packaging is so vivid that is it practically guaranteed to catch the consumer’s eye as he or she goes down the aisle.”

Through the mist
Mistic has two new blends hitting the electronic cigarette market. The American Blend is a spin-off on the Charlotte, N.C.-based company’s current tobacco blend; and Cool Ice is a spin-off on its current menthol blend. The blends come as an effort to “continually evolve and innovate the category for our retailers,” said John Wiesehan III, vice president of sales. Both have a suggested retail price of $14.99 for a 5-pack of cartridge refills.

New to the entire line of Mistic’s product packaging is the “Made in U.S.A.” logo. The company’s blends are developed by Tobacco Technology and are exclusive to Mistic, said John Wiesehan, Jr., CEO. “Having exclusive blends makes a big difference that we know is worth it.”

The company’s focus is to create a product at a price point that would allow people to “taste it for under five dollars,” said Wiesehan Jr. “The goal is to get consumers to try it and love it. We know it is working, too, because we have a high rate of purchase for the refill cartridges.”

Going big
V2 Cigs featured its Vapor Couture product line for women and gave away a Mini-Cooper to the attendee who guessed the number of e-cigs that filled the car. However, the real action was taking place behind the scenes.

V2 Cigs has partnered with National Tobacco Co. to expand its distribution nationwide. “This is a unique expansion because we are not starting something new; we are bringing our existing product line to a new consumer base and transferring our existing customer base to retail brick-and-mortar,” said Rafael Llopis, vice president of sales for Miami-based VMR Products, maker of V2 Cigs. “Before this we primarily sold them online.”

Along with distribution, the company is launching a new product—disposable e-cigs. Available in Red Tobacco and Menthol varieties, the e-cigs have soft tips and are lightweight, similar to traditional cigarettes. Each is good for about 400 puffs, said Llopis.

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