The New Normal is people saying, “New Normal” All the Time


Last fall, the Nielsen organization predicted “convenience stores will grow faster than all other offline channels over the next five years, reflecting the hyper focus consumers are putting on expediency.” That was three months before any of us heard rumblings of the mysterious coronavirus we now know too well, and the resulting shut down of much of the world’s economy.

Convenience stores were deemed “essential” businesses during the pandemic, and consumers learned the true meaning of “expediency,” finding they could avoid large crowds and limit time away from home by going to the nearest c-store. Especially if that store stocked grocery items like flour, eggs, meat, fruit, and critical cleaning supplies. Shelves holding products previously sold only when people had emergencies were suddenly empty, and suppliers struggled to restock them.

As some parts of the U.S. began the process of returning to whatever the future “normal” will be, Nielsen research found consumers place greater value on products that kill germs and protect health in (hopefully) post-coronavirus America, and are less concerned about brand loyalty or where a product came from.

During the shutdown, some ethanol plants that remained open provided ethanol for use in surface cleaners and hand sanitizers – often free of charge. In a marketplace where decades of misinformation have created doubts about ethanol’s cleanliness in some consumer’s minds, ethanol’s use as a pandemic germ-killer is an opportunity to destroy those misconceptions. At the same time, explaining how plant-based ethanol reduces pollution by replacing aromatics and helping gas burn more completely, should check the “natural product” and “protects health” boxes, too.

Station owners appealing to consumers who value products for different reasons than they did prior to COVID-19 can add new customers and increase volume by offering higher blends of cleaner, healthy ethanol. And with USDAs Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) in full swing, the opportunity to get a federal grant to pay for up to half of the cost of new equipment or upgrades needed to sell those higher ethanol blend fuels makes adding E15 and flex fuels smart AND affordable.

Over the years, some ethanol promoters have focused strictly on price as the reason a fuel retailer should add E15 or flex fuels. Ethanol has historically been less expensive than gasoline, reducing the price of blended gas versus straight gasoline, and reducing even more with more ethanol content. Even after Congress voted to increase the tax on ethanol blends at the end of 2011, ethanol rack prices have been an average of 25 to 50 cents less per gallon than any grade of gasoline.

In recent months, however, when the Russia versus Saudi Arabia “tough guy” contest cratered gas prices, the rack price of 84-octane “v-grade” gasoline was lower than the cost of ethanol for the first time in more than three years, making the economic benefit argument temporarily less compelling. Ethanol’s price didn’t fall as far as gasoline because of its value as an oxygenate (read: Clean) and lower cost versus other sources of octane (which are not clean).

The price of gasoline has predictably risen again, and if you can source “RIN-less” ethanol (discounted to reflect money the supplier’s earns selling the RIN), ethanol costs less than gas again, and more ethanol means even lower prices. If you want to sell E15 and flex fuels because they’re cheap, go ahead, and if you’d like to sell higher blends because they’re higher octane, cleaner, and healthier, even better.

And, if you need help finding free money to make it happen, go to flexfuelforward.com, look into USDA’s HBIIP program, and contact us if you need help.


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