OPINION: E15 expansion stays on track despite pandemic

By Mike O’Brien, vice president of market development at Growth Energy | February 26, 2021

2020 was a challenging year in a number of ways. For the retail and biofuel industry, we saw fuel demand plummet due to cars off the road from stay-at-home orders. 

Despite these unprecedented conditions, we actually saw E15 - known to consumers as Unleaded 88 - expansion continue to rise. In fact, we saw 10% growth of retail sites offering E15 in 2020, and the fuel is now offered at over 2,300 stations in 30 states. Americans logged more than 6 billion miles driven on E15 in 2020 alone, showing its growing popularity and hold on repeat customers. We also saw some E85 growth, which led to a total of over 5,000 retail sites where higher ethanol blends are offered. 

Additionally, nearly 220 terminals across the country are now offering pre-blended E15 due to increasing demand, making E15 the competitive choice - even for those who do no on-site blending. A number of major suppliers began offering pre-blended E15. Earlier this year, Magellan announced E15 will be offered as a “house recipe”. Also, Sinclair began offering pre-blended E15 at their mid-continent terminals to branded and un-branded customers. 

We believe that increased success despite the challenging times can be attributed to three top reasons: increased sales, loyal consumers, and it is easier to add than retailers at first realize. First, E15 boosts retailers’ bottom line and drives more traffic into their location.  As we heard in our “E15 Expressway: Web Chats with Retailers” series last year, retailers like Casey’s, Thorntons, and Family Express said they’ve seen this fuel become more and more popular over the years, and offering it gives them a competitive advantage over other retailers. 

Second, providing E15 to consumers enables retailers to tap into the growing, loyal customer base. More than 4,000 consumer surveys, on-location interviews, GasBuddy research, and trials at more than 350 retail locations show that consumers who are aware that E15 is a fuel option are likely to select a retailer that offers E15.  

Finally, retailers discover adding E15 is an easy, low-cost process that can quickly deliver returns at almost any location. E15 is already compatible with most equipment, which makes adding the option quick and affordable. Retailers can easily swap out E10 or mid-grade fuel blends for E15, a straightforward switch that makes installation a breeze.  

In order to match the growing demand, Growth Energy expanded as well, adding two new regional directors to our team to help grow E15’s footprint in the northeast and the west: David Durling and Will Beck. David Durling is the Western Regional Sales Director and will be focusing on helping retailers in the gulf and western states understand the opportunity with E15 while assisting them with adopting the fuel. He has more than 20 years of fuel retail experience, including working as a district manager for Murphy USA, and more recently as a senior specialist of unbranded fuel sales for Sunoco. 

Will Beck is the Northeastern Regional Sales Director and has more than 18 years of fuel experience working for fuel jobbers like Webber Energy Fuels and trade association experience with Maine Energy Marketers Association. He most recently served as the unbranded marketing manager for Gulf Oil. Based in Maine, Will’s mission will be to grow the E15 retail business in the Northeastern United States.  

We’re excited to have David and Will on board and encourage you to reach out to any of our team members if you’re in interested expanding your fuel choice. 

And looking ahead to 2021, we believe E15 is poised for continued success. Last year, Growth Energy helped secure nearly 33 million dollars for 293 retail sites in grants from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Higher Blend Infrastructure Incentive Program for infrastructure projects to facilitate increased sales of higher biofuel blends. That large investment alone gives us reason for optimism for expansion in the near future. We’ve also seen an increase in retailers, such as Casey’s General Store, making the easy swap from E10/87 or mid-grade fuel blends for E15. It’s a straightforward switch that makes installation a breeze so we expect to see more retailers adopting that model. We’re also anticipating greater expansion into the western states and look forward to sharing more promising news in the months ahead. 

This last year proved that E15 can weather the toughest of market conditions, and that this fuel choice has a bright future ahead. Stay tuned for more retail updates and announcements from Growth Energy in 2021.