Buying Beverages from a Convenience Store? You Might Want to Rethink That Strategy
They’re named convenience stores for a reason. They’re everywhere, are typically open 24/7 and the classic small footprint makes them perfect for quick grab-and-go purchases.
What do consumers typically buy in convenience stores? According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, prepared food and cold beverages are driving the sector’s growth. That may be a good thing for the industry, but it’s not good for your health.
Aside from beer or other adult options (depending on where the c-store is located), the coolers likely present a bevy of soft drinks, from sodas and tea to juices and sports waters. Most people looking for healthier hydration know to stay away from the sodas, which are packed full of sugar and artificial flavors, but “healthy” energy drinks and fruit-flavored juices may attract you. Many of these beverages are made with fruits, lending to a healthier-looking label. In fact, many consumers do believe that skipping the soda for other sweetened beverages is a “healthy” option.
With so many bad-for-you things packed into the bottles, why do C-store coolers still offer so many unhealthy choices (and typically not nearly enough healthy ones?) Partly because beverage companies and distributers are still following traditional – and misguided – philosophies.
- Beverage companies use focus groups “average” Americans to determine product pushes.
- Beverage companies believe sweetness ensures more people buy the products.
- Beverage companies produce overly sweet beverages full of chemicals that are counterproductive to good health on many levels
- Beverage companies put out low sugar products that people would be content to consume once per day for fear of disrupting their more addictive options.
- Beverage companies are willing to put heart-stopping levels of caffeine into energy drinks and other products.
While focus groups are one way to get market information, they may not always be reliable. Focus group data is more difficult to control than other marketing data, and the interaction between people within the group can lead to skewed data. Beverage companies rely heavily on focus groups, though, attempting to gather what they consider “average” Americans to vet new product ideas or marketing campaigns. While surveys, interviews and other marketing tools may be deployed, it’s often the focus through that is the true focal point for decision making.
The problem is that focus groups can’t possibly account statistically for the largest swaths of customers. Different groups, with differing lifestyles, needs and desires, are not fully accounted for, which is partly why c-stores don’t offer the widest selection of beverages.
Focus groups may also be partly to blame for advertising and packaging that gives the impression that these drinks are healthy. While Americans are becoming more aware of labels, food and drink ingredients are still confusing to most. In a focus group, the wow factor of a marketing campaign is likely to make waves, despite what the reality behind it really is.
And they are right: companies don’t stock things people don’t sell. More sweetened beverages are in C-store refrigerators because people are buying them. Why? First, because beverage companies are very adept at marketing. Second, because the average American has developed a taste for sweet beverages, and sugar can be addicting.
Beverage company success in promoting these products prompt them to produce more. A growing desire for “healthier” options means that companies make drinks with less additives or other unhealthy ingredients, but the fact that sugary drinks sell faster in convenience stores than their unsweetened brethren means even healthy options have more than their fair share of sweetener.
Those buying these unhealthy drinks may not be aware of the consequences of consuming sweetened beverages and how it will affect them in the long run. Instead of investing development into unsweetened drinks and credible marketing, companies rely on sugar to push the bottles.
And while it’s true that America’s sweet tooth is strong, it’s not just sugar doing the talking. Brands throw a lot of marketing muscle behind these drinks, so what if they did the same for actually healthier options? With consumers growing more health conscious, awareness campaigns informing the public about the risks involved in consuming more sweetened drinks and offering healthier options could change the tide in convenience stores (it’s already happening in grocery stores).
Just because chemicals are considered safe doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Almost all beverages contain preservatives, which may not be unhealthy (they’re safe according to the FDA), but these drinks often contain zero nutrients. You may notice that some fruit juices have a shelf life of about a year, and that means a lot of preservatives were added to that drink. They might be safe, but do you really want to stuff your body with zero nutrient preservatives?
Some of these chemicals include benzoic acid, which is useful in killing bacteria. This preservative, commonly used in food and drinks, is safe in small quantities. However, it may pose a risk in some instances. It becomes harmful when benzoates, which are derived from benzoic acid, react to certain chemicals like Vitamin C. Benzene, a carcinogen, may likely be produced. And you know how harmful this substance is. It promotes the formation of cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death in modern society. When you continuously consume sweetened beverages, you may be at risk for cancer.
The FDA did say that the levels of benzene found in fruit drinks and other beverages shouldn’t worry consumers. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, though, and benzene isn’t the only chemical you’ll find in the convenience store cooler. Diet sodas are sweetened with chemicals known to cause health issues, including digestive distress, but the zero-calorie sweetness and carefully couched marketing keeps people coming back for more.
When Venezuela experienced a sugar shortage, Coca-Cola stopped production of its main product (which relied heavily on sugar). The brand also tried to expand while working to reduce the sugar content of their drinks. They distributed Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke Life, all which use no or little sugar. However, their sales dropped. Most people still preferred the addictive power of sugar.
To a beverage company, sugar is a commodity. This ingredient, when mixed with others, can be powerfully addictive. Without it, brands know they won’t get as large a market share, and that’s especially true in a convenience store cooler, where low-sugar brands stand beside sweeter options. This is one reason beverage companies resort to producing more of these products.
You might say, “that’s a culture problem, and brands are only supplying people what they want.” In some respects, this is true. It’s not 100 percent a beverage company’s responsibility to fix American eating and drinking habits. At the same time, knowing sweet drinks are addictive, brands are less likely to push a beverage that is going to be harder for consumers to refuse. A less sweet drink might be something you’d consume once a day, whereas a sugar-filled drink addition means two, three or even more servings a day for many people. That’s exponentially more sales for the brand.
Caffeine, when taken in moderation, is good for you. Some of its benefits include:
- Helps you focus
- Boosts your mood
But caffeine is a stimulant, which is considered a drug by the FDA. When you consume drinks high in caffeine, you can become addicted to it. You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop. You may feel irritable, tired and not being able to concentrate. Getting headaches is also one of the symptoms.
Most consumers aren’t aware that beverages in C-store drink refrigerators have high caffeine content. Beverage companies will tell you they use it only to enhance the flavor. But you know that’s not true. They sell caffeinated drinks because that’s what people want once they get addicted to it. When you buy more, they get a profit.
Rethink Your Drink
The key to good health is awareness. The next time you’re buying drinks, read the label. Check the ingredients and the number of calories per serving. If it’s more than your body needs, think again. Prioritize your health over your cravings if you want to live a healthy lifestyle.
If you really need to have a drink, consider those that promote good health like herbal tea. And water is always the best choice for hydration, purifying your body and boosting many organ functions. You may even find it in c-store refrigerators if you look past all the colorful sugary options.