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America's new favorite restaurants are Wawa, Sheetz and 7-Eleven – CNN

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But the convenience stores and gas stations that dot America’s retail landscape have worked to improve their dinners-to-go and coffee. Today, chains like Sheetz, Wawa and Kwik Trip offer meal kits, salads, keto snacks, Kombucha and espressos.
That overhaul is driving convenience stores’ rise, unexpected survivors in an industry suffering mass store closings and shoppers shifting online. While delivery from Amazon (AMZN) has redefined what convenience means for many Americans, the 24-hour, 3,230-average-square-foot convenience store still fills a niche for time-strapped customers searching for a bite to eat and a fill up at the pump.
“It has absolutely been a hidden gem,” said Jeff Williams, senior vice president of retail services at Nielsen. “They are demanding that consumers view them as a destination for food.”
Convenience stores have reinvented their businesses to adjust to the changing ways Americans eat. Snacking is becoming consumers’ preferred meal of choice, and Americans are cooking fewer of their dinners at home as they eat out or order in from their couch.
Casey's, based in Iowa, has grown to become America's fifth largest pizza chain.
To keep up, chains are hiring executives from restaurants and expanding their snack choices and prepared food in kitchens on site.
Consumers, especially Millennials, are not always willing to go to a quick-service restaurant, a fast-food joint or walk around a 40,000-square-foot grocery store, analysts say. Instead, they’ll often head to a convenience store, where the average amount of time customers spend inside the store is less than four minutes.
“People simply don’t have the time to sit down a whole meal at night like they used to,” said Carl Rick, leadership development specialist at Kwik Trip, which is building around 40 stores a year and just opened its 700th. “The more places there are where people can duck in, be out in three minutes with milk, eggs, maybe a sandwich, something to drink—those places are doing very well.”

The growth of convenience

Quirky chains like Wawa and Sheetz in the northeast, Casey’s and Kwik Trip in the midwest, Buc-ee’s from Texas, Maverik based in Utah and others are opening new stores and building devoted customer followings. (A couple recently tied the knot at Wawa and one Sheetz superfan — Sheetz Freakz as they’re known — got a tattoo of the company’s logo.)
Over the past decade, convenience chains have increased sales inside their stores by around 30%, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, an industry advocacy group. Since 2000, the number of convenience stores in the United States has grown by 28%.
The Southland Ice Company opened America’s first convenience store in 1927 in Dallas. The chain, which is now 7-Eleven, recognized an opportunity to sell these staples on Sundays and in the evenings when grocery stores were closed.
Convenience stores in the United States took off in the postwar period with the growth of car ownership, the creation of the interstate highway system and migration to the suburbs.
“These new vest-pocket supermarkets, most of them chain-operated, specialize in quick service, easy parking and long hours,” a New York Times reporter wrote in 1966 about how convenience stores were starting to fill a roll “for the housewife.”
In 1965, there were 5,000 convenience stores in the United States. Today, there are upward of 153,000 of these mini-marts, more than all the grocery stores, drug stores and dollar stores in this country combined. 7-Eleven is the largest US convenience store chain with more than 9,000 outposts.
Around 93% of Americans live within 10 minutes of a convenience store, a highly-fragmented sector where regional chains and mom-and-pops dominate. Close to 80% of convenience stores have a gas station attached.
For years, convenience chains relied on tobacco, soft drinks and fuel to draw in customers, a business model often known as “Cokes, smokes and gas.” But Americans today are smoking less and steadily cutting out soda.
An undated photo of 7-Eleven. The first convenience store in America opened in 1927. Today, there are around 153,000 in the United States.An undated photo of 7-Eleven. The first convenience store in America opened in 1927. Today, there are around 153,000 in the United States.
And increased regulations on tobacco and the decline of sugary drinks will continue to chip away at the areas convenience stores have long relied on to grow. This has forced convenience stores to adapt.
“When we look at what’s going to make us competitive in the future, it’s what’s going on inside the store,” said Rick from Kwik Trip.

Sheetz subs and Casey’s pizza

Top chains see an opening to cater to customers hunting for breakfast, a quick snack or a prepared meal for dinner. From 2009 to 2018, food service sales in convenience stores grew at a higher rate than any other area in the store, according to the industry trade group.
Spending on food away from home surpassed spending on food at Americans’ home for the first time in 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“Fewer people are making those big grocery trips and more and more people are buying individual meals,” said Rick. “We’re looking to capitalize on that.” Kwik Trip sells eggs, milk, burgers and produce and has been expanding its selection of take-home dinners and fried chicken, which it preps at kitchens in Wisconsin.
These food trends are pronounced among Millennials, who eat out more often and visit the grocery stores less frequently than their parents, according to the agency.
“Millennials exhibit a higher preference for convenience” when it comes to buying food, a 2017 USDA study found.
“Our bullseye is kind of that younger age group — the late teens to the early thirties for food and beverage,” said Travis Sheetz, chief operating officer at Sheetz, a family-owned chain that has more than 600 stores on the East Coast and topped $7 billion in sales last year. “They tend to be much more accepting of eating at a gas station.”
Sheetz offers made-to-order sandwiches and salads and has espresso bars. Everything is done on touch screens, which it introduced in the 1990s.
The chain tries to separate its offering from McDonald’s, which it calls its biggest competitor, by offering more customizable sandwiches and a wider variety of choices.
“We’ve always had breakfast at night,” he said. “McDonald’s did that recently.”
Wawa, which has more than 800 convenience stores along the East Coast and is known for its hoagies, has added custom salads, artisan sandwiches and organic coffee in recent years. Casey, based in Iowa, has grown to become the country’s fifth biggest pizza chain. Its website looks more like Domino’s (DPZ) than a gas station.
Groceries and glutes: Supermarkets add boutique gyms and yoga classesGroceries and glutes: Supermarkets add boutique gyms and yoga classes
“This isn’t what a lot of people would characterize as gas station food,” said Darren Rebelez, chief executive officer at Casey’s General Stores, which has grown to become the country’s fifth biggest pizza chain.
7-Eleven is attempting to transform its food and drinks, too. It has launched private-label meal kits and tested keto and paleo snacks at 125 Los Angeles stores. At a 7-Eleven lab store in Dallas, it has a growler bar stocked with local craft beers and a bar with frozen yogurt and ice cream. There is also a patio and inside dining areas.
The chain recently debuted Voyager Point, its own line of wine priced under $12.

Competition bearing down

But convenience stores are not the only areas of retail that recognize shifting consumer habits and demand for small-size stores.
Retailers and grocery stores have introduced copycat convenience-type models with food, and restaurants have sharpened their focus on breakfast and snacks. These strategies by competitors threaten to lure customers away from convenience stores.
At Sheetz, customers place their orders on touch screens.At Sheetz, customers place their orders on touch screens.
A better cup at coffee at McDonald’s, for example, could take away trips to convenience stores during the morning, which these companies depend on.
“Other retail channels also are trying to steal our thunder,” said Steve Holtz, who covers the convenience store industry for CSP Magazine.
Dollar General (DG) is building smaller versions of its stores, called DGX, while Kroger (KR) has partnered with Walgreens to test “Kroger Express” mini-sections inside some Walgreens (WBA) locations.
“This ability to get in and out really quickly is certainly something that is resonating,” Kroger CFO Gary Millerchip told analysts last year.
Other grocers such as Hy-Vee, Giant and Whole Foods are testing out new convenience-style formats, as well as adding food halls and prepared meals to stores for customers to grab on the go.
In the future, “major grocery players will employ more small-format, convenience-oriented concepts,” real estate firm CBRE said in a research report.
How Wegmans and H-E-B survived Amazon's onslaught How Wegmans and H-E-B survived Amazon's onslaught
In addition, fast-food and quick-service chains like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ (DNKN) have been focused on improving their breakfast offerings and coffee. Customer visits for breakfast, coffee and snacks are parts of the day “that we didn’t have our fair share” McDonald’s (MCD) CFO Kevin Ozan said on a call with analysts last year. These areas are “further growth opportunities” for McDonald’s.
Meanwhile, online competitors threaten to disrupt traditional convenience stores.
Amazon reportedly has its eye on opening up to 3,000 small, cashier-less Go stores by 2021. And startups such as GoPuff and Cargo are taking advantage of the gig economy by offering snacks in ride-sharing apps like Uber. GoPuff, a “convenience store delivery app” that has expanded rapidly in dozens of cities, offers $1.95 delivery on more than 2,000 items from its own fulfillment centers.
But some convenience store executives say they are unfazed by Amazon and online entrants.
More than half of Casey’s stores are in towns with fewer than 5,000 people. And CEO Darren Rebelez believes Amazon will have a difficult time reaching those rural customers.
“I don’t think that [Amazon Go] is something that’s likely to show up in our footprint anytime soon,” he said. “It’s tough to really disrupt this industry in a meaningful way.”

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Enter the Zuckerverse? Social media churns with new names for Facebook

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Zuckerverse. Timesuck. Faceplant.

They’re just a few of the suggestions being bandied around online following reports that Facebook plans to rebrand itself with a new group name. The company refused to comment on rumor or speculation, of course, but the Twitterati had no problem.

The debate careered from sensible to screwball to strange.

“Meta” was one of the more sober trending suggestions, referring to Facebook’s reported desire to assume a name that focuses on the metaverse, a virtual environment where users can hang out.

Bookface, Facegram, Facetagram, FreeFace, FreeTalk, World Changer.

On the wilder side, Twitter user Dave Pell drew a comparison with musician Kanye West who recently changed his name to “Ye”.

“It would be awesome if Facebook changes its name to  Ye,” he said.

Several humorous suggestions reflected online speculation that the alleged rebrand was driven by founder Mark Zuckerberg’s yearning to make Facebook “cool” once more.

The platform has been deserted by many younger users who have moved to apps like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, and has become increasingly populated by older people.

“Teenage Wasteland”, one wit suggested.

“The Old People’s App because that’s what us younger people call it,” college student Vittoria Esteves told Reuters in Rome.

“Boomerville”, suggested Marco, referring to so-called baby boomers born in the years following World War II.

‘STREISAND EFFECT’

The online naming feast was sparked by a report on the Verge tech site that a newly named group would act as a parent for all the company’s brands, including Facebook itself, Instagram and WhatsApp, and reflect a focus on virtual and augmented reality.

An announcement is expected next week, according to the report.

Many suggestions however reflected the public’s concern about how the company handles user safety and hate speech. Internal documents leaked by a whistleblower formed the basis for a U.S. Senate hearing last week.

“Fakebook”, for example. Tracebook.

Other people were sceptical whether a name change would be enough to detract from the growing legal and regulatory scrutiny that has tarnished the company’s reputation.

“It’s going to be the Barbra Streisand effect thing going on,” said 20-year old Glasgow student Thomas van der Hoven, referring to the phenomenon where seeking to suppress something inadvertently turbo-charges popular interest in it.

“So they’re going to try and change it, and then that’s just going to put the spotlight on the fact that they’re changing it. Why are they changing this?” he added. “So it’s probably going to spit back in their face at some point.”

 

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Antonio Denti; Additional reporting by Reuters newsrooms; Writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Tesla says new factories will need time to ramp up, posts record revenue

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Tesla Inc said on Wednesday its upcoming factories and supply-chain headwinds would put pressure on its margins after it beat Wall Street expectations for third-quarter revenue on the back of record deliveries.

The world’s most valuable automaker has weathered the pandemic and the global supply-chain crisis better than rivals, posting record revenue for the fifth consecutive quarter in the July-to-September period, fueled by a production build-up at its Chinese factory.

But the company led by billionaire Elon Musk faces challenges growing earnings in coming quarters due to supply chain disruptions and the time required to ramp up production at new factories in Berlin and Texas.

“There’s quite an execution journey ahead of us,” Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said, referring to the new factories.

Price fluctuations of raw materials such as nickel and aluminum had created an “uncertain environment with respect to cost structure”, he added.

Even so, he said Tesla was “quite a bit ahead” of its plan to increase deliveries by 50% this year.

“Q4 production will depend heavily on availability of parts, but we are driving for continued growth,” he said.

Tesla shares, up about 23% this year, were down about 0.6% in extended trade late on Wednesday.

Musk himself was not present on the quarterly earnings call for the first time, a development that may have disappointed those investors keen to hear the celebrity CEO’s latest thoughts.

Third-quarter revenue rose to $13.76 billion from $8.77 billion a year earlier, slightly beating analyst expectations according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Tesla’s automotive gross margin, excluding environmental credits, rose to 28.8%, from 25.8% the previous quarter.

Tesla’s overall average price fell as it sold more lower-priced Model 3 and Model Y cars, but it raised prices in the United States.

The company posted robust sales in China, where its low-cost Shanghai factory has surpassed the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in terms of production.

Tesla also said it intended to use lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, which is cheaper than traditional batteries but offers lower range, in entry-level models sold outside China. Analysts said this would help keep costs down and address shortages.

It expected the first vehicles equipped with its own 4680, bigger battery cells to be delivered early next year, although it did not say which model would be fitted with them. Musk said in September last year that using its own cells would let Tesla offer a $25,000 car in three years.

In the third quarter, Tesla posted $279 million in revenue from sales of environmental credits, the lowest level in nearly two years. The company sells its excess environmental credits to other automakers that are trying to comply with regulations in California and elsewhere.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

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Samsungs Galaxy Z Flip 3 Bespoke Edition lets users customize their phone – MobileSyrup

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Samsung is letting customers customize their handsets with a new ‘Bespoke Edition’ of the foldable Galaxy Z Flip 3.

The Bespoke Edition lets users configure the foldable smartphone with one or two frame colours (black or silver) and five-panel colours, including ‘Black,’ ‘White,’ ‘Yellow,’ ‘Pink’ and ‘Blue.’

The Bespoke Edition will be available starting October 20th for $1,399.99 CAD.

Samsung says altogether this gives users 49 different colour combinations.

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Additionally, the South Korean company will let users change their device’s colours after purchasing the smartphones with ‘Bespoke Upgrade Care.’

There will also be the Galaxy Watch 4 Bespoke Studio wearables that let users customize their smartwatch before purchasing. It seems like the Z Fold 3 isn’t getting a Bespoke Edition, which is odd considering it was possible to change the frame of the Z Fold 2.

The Bespoke Studio starts at $329.99 for the 40mm variant and the $459.99 for the 42mm version.

Samsung also announced a collaboration with the designer brand Maison Kitsuné that includes special brand editions of the Galaxy Buds 2 and Galaxy Watch 4. The special edition designs include cute fox branding on both the watch and buds.

The Maison Kitsuné 40mm Galaxy Watch costs $529.99. And the Maison Kitsuné Edition Galaxy Buds 2 costs $349.99.

The South Korean tech giant is also releasing a Galaxy Watch 4 update that lets users customize their watch faces and the mix and match complications. This update brings gesture controls and the ability to activate an app with a knock-knock motion on your wrist.

To learn more about the Galaxy Z Flip 3, check out my review of the foldable smartphone.

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