Most people who shop at 7-Eleven, Wawa, or Quick Trip are usually in a rush and just grab and go for snacks, lunch or dinner. They often dine on grilled hot dogs, crusty pizza, soda, and chips; food that most nutritionists would likely tell them to avoid.
But Global Partners, a public company on the New York Stock Exchange (GLP), which owns, leases or supplies 1,600 gas stations and owns 296 convenience stores, has introduced a new concept, Alltown Fresh. It specializes in healthy food with an emphasis on organic, natural, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free offerings.
Despite Global Partners’ generating $12.6 billion in revenue in 2018, most people are unfamiliar with it, particularly convenience store users. Its stores go by a variety of brands including Xtra Mart, Honey Farms, Jiffy Mart and T bird, as well as Alltown Fresh (none are named Global Partners).
It acquired Xtra Mart in 2014, but its primary business is energy supply and importing petroleum products, and wholesale products such as gasoline and crude oil.
CEO Eric Slifka points out that convenience stores are only a small part of their multi-faceted utility business. They’re primarily a large energy utility provider and commodities business.
But Alltown Fresh is its first venture into healthier fare. About 75% of what it offers consists of fresh food, and 25% is more traditional selections. Most convenience stores sell on average about 10% fresh food.
For example, at Alltown Fresh, a consumer can choose avocado toast with cage-free eggs served on locally-sourced bread, protein bowls with veggies, nutrient-filled smoothies, or homemade hummus. Nonetheless, the consumer can always grab corn chips or soda, if so inclined.
So far, Global Partners has opened two Alltown Fresh outlets: one in Plymouth, Massachusetts (the first which opened in January 2019) and another in Auburn, Michigan. But it’s striving to expand and next up are Waterbury and Hamden Connecticut. It’s expecting to add six stores before year’s end, likely in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, though nothing is definitive.
Here’s what Global Partners CEO Slifka, who is based in Waltham, Massachusetts and has been CEO since March 2005, said about why it developed Alltown Fresh:
Why did Global Partners introduce the concept of Alltown Foods that specializes in fresh food?
Slifka: Personally, I’m a label reader. I like to try and eat clean and healthy. I haven’t eaten meat in years, not that there’s anything wrong with it. To manage my cholesterol as best I could, I became interested in eating cholesterol-healthy foods. I began to see the market really change, and people becoming more interested in what was on a label. Being in the convenience business, it was hard to get great, healthy food quickly on the go. I want someone who is on the road who can fuel up their car and fuel their body with the healthiest food available.
Why is the time ripe?
Slifka: I think that’s where the trend is going. Our guests are demanding better and healthier options. People are demanding meat that is antibiotic-free, grain-fed and sourced locally.
How much of Alltown Fresh’s concept is based on customer feedback?
Slifka: I’d describe it differently. I didn’t want to offer another convenience store, but more of a marketplace. I wanted its offerings to be differentiated from our competitors. Even if they’re not in many of the same markets we’re in, I wanted to give our guests a reason to come in. It was a personal journey for me.
Is this an experiment or are you committed to this natural foods convenience store long-term?
Slifka: Early on, the results are really good. We have a half dozen going on in various stages. We’ll get more data. I strongly believe that providing our guests with healthy, fresh food choices, vegan and gluten free with locally-sourced food, will attract guests to come in.
Any special programs or food you’re offering?
Slifka: We have a bean-to-cup coffee program. We have coffee machines on site, where we locally source our coffee beans. It offers hot and iced coffee, lattes and macchiato.
Are you opening new Alltown Fresh outlets or transforming former convenience stores into them?
Slifka: I’d describe it as little bit of both. We lease a piece of property, gain the permits and then build it. We may also have facilities where we’re able to buy and expand and then raze it and rebuild. It’s important to make sure the site is large enough so that you could build 3,000 to 5,000-square-foot stores, with plenty of parking spaces and multiple pumps out front, so that when guests come in, they can have a place to park.
Why would a public company that generates over $12 billion in revenue annually focus on organic and vegetarian food? Isn’t this outside the mainstream since most Americans dine on cheeseburgers, pizza, tacos and chicken wings?
Slifka: To say it slightly differently, we have approximately 300 convenience stores but in the scheme of the size of that business, that’s relatively small. We’re trying to carve out a unique position. We want to reach a different consumer, even though we offer steak and chicken, as part of our offerings. You can also buy potato chips or hand-carved turkey or hand-carved ham on site.
Can you attract new customers with Alltown Fresh?
Slifka: You’re attracting people on the run who don’t want to buy their children a soda, but are looking for organic drinks and kambuchi.
You’re mostly in the suburbs and small cities. Will this work in cities?
Slifka: Our concept is providing convenience for the traveling public. It’s difficult within major cities to have gas pumps and a large 5,000-square-foot building. So it’s mainly for people on the road and on highways.
Can you discuss the growth plans of Alltown Foods?
Slifka: We have half a dozen new stores coming in over the next few months. It’ll be tested in various markets. As we do that, we’ll fill in the pipeline.
Ultimately how can this affect your company’s bottom line?
Slifka: The idea is for us to gain mid-teen returns on our investments. We’re investing about $5 million to build each one out and deliver it.
What are the three keys to success of Alltown foods?/
Slikfa: 1) Providing different offerings for the traveling public, 2) Providing clean, healthy options for our guests, 3) Finally, providing made-to-order meals that follow along that line of organic, locally-sourced, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and natural items.