OPINION: Retailer fills up with higher blend success

By Cassie Mullen, director of market development, Renewable Fuels Association | October 05, 2022

As prices at the pump spiked this past summer, a special E15 sales promotion by fuel retailer Sheetz offering the 15 percent ethanol blend (marketed by the company as UNLEADED 88) at $3.99 made national news—and also made a lot of drivers happy in the process.  Sheetz has more than 650 store locations across six different states, and more than half of these sites offer higher blends. We asked Joshua Jadlocki, senior petroleum scheduler at Sheetz, about how well higher blends of ethanol work for his company.

 

RFA: When did Sheetz first offer higher blends of ethanol, and why did you choose that path?

Sheetz: In true pioneering spirit, Sheetz became the first major gasoline retailer in Pennsylvania to offer E85 fuel in October 2006. The lower price of E85 offered customers some relief as conventional gas prices continued to fluctuate.  In July 2015 Sheetz started selling UNLEADED 88 as a way to supply the customers with a cleaner burning fuel at a lower cost.

 

Question: What were the biggest barriers to your growth of UNLEADED 88? Do those barriers still exist, or have they improved?

Answer: We see two leading barriers that exist around UNLEADED 88. The infrastructure costs to offer higher blends at the pump has made it difficult to offer at every store. The other is customer education and buy in to use the higher blend products.  Now that more people are learning about the benefits of UNLEADED 88, more customers are likely to make the switch from regular gas. That means that in the future there will be more of a push for UNLEADED 88 at every store.

 

RFA: What does the future look like for Sheetz and higher blends?

Sheetz: Total customer focus is always top-of-mind as we constantly look for new ways to please our customers.  In the future, we hope to offer our higher ethanol blends at more locations due to positive customer feedback. Sheetz is always looking for ways to lower the overall carbon footprint, and UNLEADED 88 is going to help us get there.

 

RFA: Do you believe motorists go out of their way to purchase UNLEADED 88 at your locations?

Sheetz: Yes, some customers go out of their way to purchase UNLEADED 88 because of cost savings, or the desire to use a more sustainable fuel. Due to our various locations, “out of their way” may be a mile or two up the road.

 

RFA: What are your top three contributing factors to the success of UNLEADED 88?

Sheetz: Price, marketing and a differentiated offering. Bringing awareness to employees and customers about UNLEADED 88 is something that we have been prioritizing more recently. Customers can find the nearest Sheetz store that offers UNLEADED 88 by using the Sheetz App or visiting the Sheetz website. Our most recent marketing campaign over the Fourth of July weekend has started spreading the word about what UNLEADED 88 is and where it’s available, and now more customers feel comfortable using UNLEADED 88 in their vehicles.

 

RFA: Sheetz has done a phenomenal job with pricing UNLEADED 88, making it very attractive for consumers. In the past we have been told by retailers that when the product was priced too aggressively, the consumer was somewhat trepidatious about trying it. Fearing a lower price might equate to an inferior product. Have you had any such experience? Does Sheetz have a sweet spot price wise?

Sheetz: By bringing awareness to various alternative fuels, we hope that more consumers will be able to determine on their own that the fuel is not inferior.

 

Our conversation will continue next month with a look at the success of the summer promotion and what Sheetz has learned from that effort.

Sheetz is one of many retailers who are seeing success and market differentiation by offering higher blends of ethanol to  their customers, especially as gas prices remain high, and we plan to provide more retailer conversations in the future. If you’d like more information on moving to higher blends, along with information on grants, contact me at [email protected].