Coca-Cola is unveiling new product innovations across a variety of categories — as well as shopper insights, tips and solutions for convenience retailers – at the 2018 National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show in Las Vegas.

We spoke with Susan Gambardella, VP of convenience retail for Coca-Cola North America, to learn more about the company’s role at the show.

Why is Coca-Cola at NACS?

This is where our customers come to see what’s new in the convenience retail channel, and what we’re doing at Coca-Cola. Our booth this year is all about sharing our growth, innovation and evolution story – from how we’re embracing technology and responding to changing consumer needs, to our company’s transformation to become a total beverage company. We’re very proud of the fact that, year to date, we’ve contributed $324 million, or 68 percent, of the total growth of NARTD beverages in the channel.

BODYARMOR Partner Kobe Bryant (back row, middle), and Co-founder and Chairman Mike Repole (front row middle) stopped by the Coca-Cola booth at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Expo to meet with Susan Gambardella (third from left) and the rest of the Coca-Cola team.

Greg Verville/GV Photography

How is Coca-Cola helping to drive this growth?

Ultimately, we don’t just want to be our customers’ best beverage supplier, but also their best business partner. Our Coca-Cola Commitment focuses on delivering sales and profit growth, loyal shoppers, and an engaged community by delivering actionable insights, differentiated shopper marketing solutions and leading brands in preferred categories.

I am so proud of our Convenience Retail Team. They’re a group of talented, growth oriented, and inspired individuals who continue to drive our business forward with aligned and collaborative business plans with our customer partners and bottlers that increase basket size, drive in-store traffic and deliver increased profits for our customers.

What are some of the new beverages and solutions we’re showcasing?

We’re debuting many firsts for our U.S. portfolio – including the Dunkin’ Shot in the Dark coffee and espresso blend; Minute Maid Tomato Juice Blend; smartwater alkaline and smartwater antioxidant; Simply Smoothies; ZICO COCO-LIXIRS, a fusion of the new ZICO Chilled Organic coconut water and organic, cold-pressed juice; the Barrilitos aguas frescas line of refreshing water beverages flavored with real fruit juices, purees and spices; and Sprite Lymonade. We’re also highlighting the fast-growing BODYARMOR line of premium sports performance and hydration beverages, which now has access to our bottling system.

On the shopper solutions front, we’re presenting our occasion-based merchandising equipment, which allows retailers to promote multiple categories of beverages alongside complementary snacks. This will help promote our portfolio with food and help retailers grow average basket sizes. We’re also highlighting the popular Arctic Coke dispenser, which continues to gain momentum in the channel.

I hear you’re sharing an infographic on the importance of Gen Z to the convenience retail channel. Tell me more about that.

A real differentiator for us with our customers is our access to proprietary, actionable insights. We’re constantly looking at consumer behavior and trends to help our customers adapt in the changing marketplace. One example is finding ways to reach Gen Z, which is an extremely important audience for convenience retailers. We developed an infographic to highlight insights related to Gen Z and how convenience retailers can reach them. Gen Z is critical to the channel because they make 7.8 trips to convenience retail stores per month, mostly at night and on the weekend. And 79 percent of Gen Z trips to c-stores are for immediate consumption items.

They’re also more likely than other generations to consider multiple convenience retail outlets when deciding where to shop. We’re providing high-level recommendations on how c-store retailers can engage Gen Z and drive their business by offering a variety of drinks and convenient meal bundles, and by leveraging beverages to get shoppers into the store. Currently only two-thirds of people who stop for gas enter the store. Download the infographic here.

What trends are you seeing at the show?

It’s a great opportunity for us to walk the show floor and see the up-and-coming beverages popping up in the market. We continue to see a huge variety of coffee brands and protein drinks, which is great because these are spaces where we’re playing. We’re also seeing a big emphasis on creating frictionless consumer experiences on the path to pay. In our booth, we’re showcasing how retailers can leverage NFC (Near Field Communication) technology  that lets a shopper purchase drinks from inside the store while they’re standing at the pump. Shoppers simply tap their phone to a chip affixed to the gas pump point of sale to buy a beverage using their preferred mobile payment solution. Then they step inside, grab their purchases, show their phone to the cashier and leave. We’re in discussions with a few retailers to hopefully test this solution in the market this year.

Why is convenience retail such an important channel for Coke’s business?

As you look at how consumer behaviors are changing thanks to digital technology, eCommerce and more, the true definition of convenience retail is morphing and changing. And, speaking of Gen Z, this channel is one of the first places young consumers get to go and make their own purchases. They’re coming to convenience retail for immediate consumption occasions, for innovation, for beverage variety. Convenience retail is a hotbed of innovation and the optimal environment to showcase a variety of beverages. That’s what we’re focused on doing as we evolve to a total beverage company.

Following the show, Bonnie Herzog, managing director of Equity Research for Wells Fargo, published her key takeaways and noted, “Once Again, KO Stole the Show & We Came Away with Greater Conviction That KO’s Top-Line Growth Will Accelerate.”

Herzog continued, “KO’s display was once again one of the most comprehensive and best attended at NACS – in short, the buzz was clearly palpable. As such, we think KO is at the forefront of innovation and technology across the beverage space. Importantly, KO’s NACS display reminded us once again that the company continues to pivot towards becoming a Total Beverage Company (with +4-6% organic sales growth highly achievable over the next several years). KO remains one of our top stock picks, and we reiterate our Outperform rating.”