You might think you’re in a Whole Foods rather than a 7-Eleven® store
s when you walk into one of the two Evolution Store s in the Washington D.C. area. Front and center, you’ll see SKU Track 8’s Aura Bora and 13 other emerging brands in a carefully curated set – brands like ROAR Organic, Pop & Bottle and Koia. This innovation set can be found in 200 select 7-Eleven stores in the Washington D.C. area, in addition to the two Evolution Stores there. It’s the first of multiple emerging-brand sets slated to launch at 7-Eleven stores this year in multiple cities across the country.
In the past, customers like me viewed a 7-Eleven as the place you got a Slurpee® and a Big Bite®. Or maybe you swung down the beef jerky aisle before heading over to grab a Big Gulp® of Dr. Pepper.
Slurpees and non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free overnight oats
While those still are key staples for 7-Eleven, company leaders understand that their customers increasingly want emerging brands that are exciting, innovative and on trend – from plant-based foods to functional beverages. When they walk into the doors of a 7-Eleven now, customers increasingly want the thrill of discovering something new and hot – a brand like Aura Bora. It’s a strategy grounded in one of the company’s main missions: to bring in products that bring in more customers, particularly millennials, Gen Z and women.
For the SKU community, this it is a huge development that the nation’s largest C-store sees the value of bringing emerging brands onto its shelves. It expands the channel strategy for SKU brands who might not otherwise have had 7-Eleven on their radar.
I had the pleasure of talking with Marisa Bertha, Senior Director, New Business Development & 7-Ventures. Marisa and her team are some of the people charged with the company’s emerging-brand strategy, and they are passionate about their jobs.
Since 2018, 7-Eleven has hosted Brands w/ Heart, an invitation-only showcase for up-and-coming businesses to present their most innovative products. Hundreds apply to participate, but fewer than 100 are invited. Franchisees and company employees vote on their favorites, and the hand-picked winners land on store shelves where customers have the ultimate say.
In 2020, Aura Bora was one of those brands. Applications for the 2021 Brands w/Heart will go live in late this summer for the October event.
The 7-Eleven emerging brand team knows it’s not always easy to navigate a behemoth like 7-Eleven, with its 10,000 stores in the United States (now 14,000 with the acquisition of Speedway). Part of the team’s job is to be their champion, guiding emerging brands through the process.
Setting Emerging Brands up for Success
Once in the stores, the team
s help them stay successful, given this is often their first time selling in the C-store channel.
Rather than putting these SKUs in with other brands in their category, 7-Eleven merchandises them together. They do this intentionally because they believe they benefit from being together. It’s part of building awareness and a built-in marketing strategy.
“The brands really need that,” says Bertha. “You can’t just be in the chip aisle. You can’t expect the C-store customer to seek out these products.”
7-Eleven has come a long way since they began selling milk and bread from an ice dock in 1927. The focus on emerging brands is an exciting example of this innovation. So far, 7-Eleven’s test sets are gaining traction – something that can be seen in the social media posts from customers who have discovered a brand in one of their stores.
“The best part of all of this is these products are really resonating with the customers,” says Bertha.