The humble convenience store seems next on the list for food disruption, if by disruption you mean organic smoothies and an onsite wine cellar.
Those things and much more are part of 7-11’s new “innovation station” store which the company announced this week. Located in 7-11’s hometown of Dallas, TX, the store will serve as a testing ground for the company to try new foods and food technologies, and see what sticks with customers. This is the first of a planned six locations for the so-called innovation station. The store is less than two miles away from the original ice house where 7-11 started nearly a century ago.
Some of the initiatives seem a natural fit for a convenience store that’s testing ways to make food better and faster. The store is equipped with scan-and-go technology, which allows customers to grab items (excepting beer, wine, tobacco, and other age-restricted products) and purchase them using their smartphones. The store is also offering a frozen-yogurt and ice-cream bar, baked goods made in-house, and seating both indoors and outdoors.
The new store will also include a Laredo Taco Company cafe, which will offer the chain’s famous handmade tortillas, salsa bar, and plate meals like enchiladas and fajitas. 7-11 acquired the trademark rights for Laredo from Sunoco in 2018.
Elsewhere in the new store, customers can find cold-pressed juices, made-to-order coffee drinks, kombucha and nitro-brew coffee on tap, and an area called “The Cellar” that features expanded wine selections and a growler-filling station.
The scan-and-go tech is especially interesting, as it could speed up the transaction process for customers so they can breeze in and out in minutes, rather than waiting in a line six people deep. That said, my colleague Chris Albrecht noted last year that something like Amazon Go, which lets you walk in, shop, and walk out, “is light years ahead of its competition when it comes to cashierless checkout, and putting the ‘convenience’ in convenience store.” As he rightly points out, you still have to manually scan the item to purchase it at 7-11, as opposed to literally just grabbing it and walking out of the store. So 7-11 still has some work ahead in terms of standing out in this area. (Though the same could be said of most convenience stores that aren’t Amazon.)
It’s also a smart move to offer food options beyond the usual convenience store fare of beef jerky, Doritos, and Twinkies. As someone who spends gratuitous amounts of time on the road, I can tell you the novelty of junk food wears off pretty quickly. The idea of finding a made-to-order latte or a fresh taco en route sounds like the definition of convenience to me.
Growlers and wine cellars I’m less convinced about. But as 7-11 noted in the press release, many of these initiatives are limited-time offerings and, according to 7‑Eleven executive vice president and chief operating officer Chris Tanco, meant to “explore new ideas that weren’t even on the retail radar a few months ago.”