OPINION: Casey’s making big strides on E15

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development at the Renewable Fuels Association | May 06, 2020

While some fuel retailers have over-promised and under-delivered when it comes to offering higher ethanol blends like E15, industry leader Casey’s is putting its money where its mouth is. Without a doubt, Casey’s is making good on its commitment to add lower-cost, higher-octane E15 at many of its stores across the country.

Ranked as the fourth-largest convenience store chain in the United States, Casey’s operates over 2,100 stations in 16 states. Last year, the company announced that it would be adding E15 at 500 stations. Its expansion of higher blends is well underway, with 247 stations now offering E15 and/or E85. Casey’s commitment to higher blends of ethanol is obvious and no doubt good news for the ethanol industry. What is even more exciting is the innovative approach Casey’s has taken to market higher blends.  

Casey’s is no stranger to innovation and shaking things up in the retail sector. In 1984, Casey’s launched pizza sales, marking the first major foray by a fuel retailer into the pizza business. With visions of becoming a major player in the pizza industry, it has since realized that goal and has become the fifth-largest pizza chain in the United States, selling more than 19 million pies each year and more than 62 million slices.

So, what does pizza have to do with E15? Clearly, when the company gets excited about offering a new or unique product to its loyal customers, it gets busy making that vision a reality. That bodes well for E15.

As it gauges its customers’ needs and looks to create the right model to market E15, Casey’s is trying different ways to offer the product. The first is to simply replace midgrade on a standard dispenser. This strategy employs the notion that “less is more”, or the less change to the consumer, the better the response. The dispenser looks identical to what it did before, except that the E15 label is there, and the posted octane rating is 88. With this conservative approach, Casey’s has experienced notable sales increases.

Another approach, bold in its nature, is to use E15 to replace regular unleaded (87 octane E10) altogether at the dispenser. E15 can be labeled as 87 octane (the required posting is a minimum octane rating) as well. This approach is being tested at a handful of stations and the response is off the charts. To properly evaluate consumer adoption, Casey’s is approaching options that vary from slightly differentiating the product, to altogether removing the traditional E10 offering in favor of E15. In every approach, Casey’s has reported exciting results. 

“The business landscape is ever-changing, and fuel is an area undergoing immense change right now as well,” said Nathaniel Doddridge, vice president of fuel at Casey’s General Stores. “We’re trying a few different ways to market our products, and ultimately the guest will choose what wins. We are fortunate to advance a product (E15) that is produced by Midwest farmers who are also Casey’s customers. Farmers are integral to the communities we serve and so are these higher ethanol blends.”

With the integration of new leadership over the past couple of years, Casey's has experienced significant shifts in its fuel strategy—focusing on fuel price optimization, commercial fuel expansion, fuel procurement and fuel transportation optimization.

More good news for ethanol enthusiasts is Casey’s commitment to install E15 and E85 at each of its “new build” locations going forward. The company’s ambitious plans to add 350 new convenience stores to its network by 2023 would make it the largest provider of E15 in the nation.

“We’re offering Unleaded88 at more stores because our guests want it,” said Jake Comer, fuel pricing manager for Casey’s. “The benefits of a lower price and higher octane are hard to argue with.”

Whatever the future may hold, one thing is for sure – with key industry partners like Casey’s by our side, the expansion of ethanol shows incredible promise.