More than 100 products fall under the better-for-you category, 7-Eleven said, with a variety of diet trends in their midst – from keto and paleo to vegan, high-protein and plant-based.
"When our emerging brands team created this unique product assortment in collaboration with our category managers, the goal was to give customers drinks and snacks that they might not expect to find at a 7-Eleven store," said Chris Harkness, VP of new business development for 7-Eleven.
Los Angeles stores have previously ‘shown great success’ in sales of lesser-known but trendy products, he added.
"Customers are demanding healthier options, and we know LA customers are leading the country in health and wellness trends, always willing to try the newest and most innovative products and services.”
The Dallas, Texas-based retailer, which operates or franchises more than 68k stores worldwide, invited 300 brands to its ‘Next Up’ showcase in 2018, ultimately selecting 70 to participate.
More than half of those companies are owned by women, the company said.
A thousand employees and local franchise owners tried the products and voted on their favorites; 7-Eleven is piloting the 31 winning brands in its Los Angeles stores.
Plant-based and protein
In the snack category, winners included several spinoffs of jerky.
Fishpeople Jerky make a salmon jerky that boasts 24g of protein and 900mg of Omega 3’s; Kalahari Biltong offers a thinly sliced air-dried meat snack with 32g of protein and no carbs or sugar; and Nick’s Sticks serves up grass-fed beef and free-range turkey snacks.
Snacklins developed a crunchy yet airy chip made from mushroom, onion and yucca that resembles chicharrones, in flavors like Miso Ginger and Chesapeake Bay spice.
Shrooms Snacks, which officially launched in February, also made the cut. Made by South Mills Mushroom farm outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the brand developed its line of mushroom crisps and jerky as a way to ‘add value to the lowly mushroom,’ David Eberwein, director of business development and innovation, told BakeryandSnacks.
“Mushrooms were never convenient,” he said, noting their fleeting five-day shelf life post-harvest. Waste can reach 50% at retail, he said. South Mills typically ships its fresh mushrooms to stores within 48 hours.
Shrooms’ flagship product – mushrooms dried in a unique process that leaves them moist on the inside but crunchy on the outside – retails for $5.99 for a 2oz bag. They are available plain, as well as four flavors – Mesquite Barbeque, Pizza, Spicy Jalapeno and Sea Salt.
The brand’s jerky, which retails for $6.99, marinates the mushrooms to resemble meat. Shrooms combines this style with dried fruit and more standard beef jerky – albeit made from filet mignon – to attract on-the-edge consumers.
“It seems unlikely that people would make that jump unless you’re a true mushroom lover,” said Eberwein.
Sweet tooth satisfaction
On the sweeter side, 7-Eleven chose Buff Bake, a gluten-free, nut-butter sandwich cookie with 12g of protein, as well as four snack bars: a frozen yogurt treat from Clio Bars, Bobo’s Oat Bars, KiZE’s nut-butter bars, Perfect Bar’s refrigerated protein bar and The Toasted Oat’s soft granola cookie. A marshmallow rice treat from Smashmallow also joined the list.
The remaining selections included nine beverages, including Brew Dr. kombucha and flavored sparkling water from Spindrift, and two candies.
Not necessarily small
Many of the brands 7-Eleven chose for the Los Angeles pilot have already made headway with retailers of varying sizes. Shrooms, for instance, is available in 1,500 stores across the US, such as Shop-Rite, TJMaxx and Lowe’s, and expects that number to reach 3k later this year.
Quinn Snacks, which produces a sorghum-based pretzel in Boulder, Colorado, is promoted at Whole Foods. Led by Kristy Lewis, Quinn has secured shelf space at major US retailers like Target, Kroger, Publix and Albertson’s Safeway.
Peatos – most recently in the news for a spat with Cheetos – was also selected as one of 7-Eleven’s ‘up-and-coming’ brands, as was Siete Family Foods, which makes tortillas and chips from almond, cassava, chickpea and cashew flour and secured $90m in private equity funding in March.
“We’ve really grown in the natural channel, but our goal has always been to make our product more available to the consumer," a Siete spokesperson told BakeryandSnacks at the time. “We will be pushing into club, mass and conventional this year to accomplish that goal.”
Nonetheless, 7-Eleven’s Harkness said the goal of the retailer’s ‘Doing Food and Drinks Differently’ initiative aims to give any brand not buoyed by the likes of CPG’s biggest players a fighting chance.
"We don't want small and emerging vendors to be intimidated by 7-Eleven's size," he said. "7-Eleven is always on the lookout for innovative companies who have a fresh take on a product, a healthier alternative or a unique flavor that might become the next big food trend.
“We are eager to see how these brands perform on our shelves and look forward to hearing directly from customers about these new items in the assortment."
In March, 7-Eleven opened in Texas the first of six 'concept' stores, where the retailer aims to develop brands and ideas to meet shifting consumer expectations. In addition to made-to-order smoothies, the stores also sell craft beer and wine on tap.