3.28.2017 | printed in the Winter 2017 issue of VITAL magazine
There’s a new product on the market, and this fall, it was hard to miss.
Over the past couple years, Growth Energy has spent a lot of time building a new marketplace for E15, and this October, they launched the Pink Out program, a campaign that not only would build consumer awareness but would raise money for local charities.
And it has been quite the season of success.
E15 is a higher octane fuel that is approved for all vehicles 2001 or newer. That’s 86% of vehicles on the road today, says Mike O’Brien, Growth Energy’s Vice President of Market Development.
So Growth Energy got to work. Before they launched the Pink Out program, O’Brien says they began with infrastructure. And it was a big effort. Much of this work was made possible by Prime the Pump, a nonprofit which works to pool industry resources for the advancement of E15 and higher ethanol blends.
“There is a mountain of work in identifying sites, getting the pumps installed and getting these programs going,” O’Brien says. “It takes about two years to get all the infrastructure in place, but where we are turning our attention to now is the marketing side. How can we help the retailers increase their sales of E15?”
The Pink Out program was a great place to start. Participating retailers included Minnoco, Sheetz, Protec and Murphy USA, placing E15 at 720 dispensers across Minnesota, North Carolina, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas and Florida.
When they considered the market, they looked to women, their key consumer target.
“The female audience seems to have a keen interest in ethanol and in E15, and they also appear to be more aware of carcinogens and clean air,” O’Brien says. “So we tried to develop programs with both of those things in mind.”
O’Brien says Pink Out is also a nice kickoff to more joint marketing programs in the future. This is only the beginning of an already successful promotion for E15.
WHAT IS THE PINK OUT PROGRAM?
The Pink Out program originally began in 2015 as a fundraising initiative for Minnesota retailer Minnoco. They had some customers struggling with breast cancer and wanted to do something special for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month that also helped to promote E15.
It was incredibly successful for their communities.
“Last year, we raised $13,000 for a local charity called Hope Chest, and this year, we raised $15,000,” says Lance Klatt, executive director of Minnoco. “Hope Chest is an organization that helps breast cancer patients with gas money to get to treatments, help them at home with electricity bills, clothing or
grocery money. So the money is not going to a huge research firm. This is a local movement where the local individuals really see and feel the money we raise for them.”
The participating Minnoco locations rolled out the program with gusto. They put pink nozzles on, pink pump toppers, and all of the employees wore pink shirts that said “Fueling the Fight Against Breast Cancer.”
Growth Energy noticed. O’Brien says they were so pleased with Minnoco’s campaign that the Board of Directors volunteered their support, and they decided to roll it out nationally this year.
“We started it last year,” Klatt says, “but this year, Growth Energy really took the op-portunity and made it bigger. They took it to a national level and brought more awareness to it. They’ve done a phenomenal job with that.”
And O’Brien says POET is the one who plays the strong leadership role in getting E15 off the ground.
“POET has been right in the middle of it and very supportive with all the activities we’re trying to execute to build E15 into the marketplace,” he assured.
Minnoco has had E15 available at their pumps for three years now, but Klatt says they continue to see a steady increase in interest and in sales. The genuine investment of the retailers has a lot to do with that success.
“This is a learning curve. It’s an education,” Klatt says. “And when consumers arrive at the pump, it’s a new fuel. So my retailers spend a lot of time out at the gas islands explaining this fuel to them. And that’s the magic. These retailers are invested in their properties.”
And for good reason.
“Not only are these their sites, it’s their livelihood.”
Employees at the Sheetz locations in North Carolina have the same investment. Michael Lorenz is the Vice President of Petroleum Supply for Sheetz, and he says his retailers have to be out there talking to consumers, or they’ll lose a sale.
“What I found while engaging customers who were at the pumps is that a lot of them were unaware of the product,” he says. “But once you talk to them about it — without even going into a sales pitch, just purely explaining the facts of E15 — they were ex-tremely interested.”
Lorenz says that consumers are merely going through the motions.
“Pumping gas is a habit,” he explains. “People pull up, fill up their car like they normally do and drive off. You can be so inundated with advertising and noise going on that I don’t think they are really paying attention.”
Grabbing that attention is the responsibility of the retailer, one they have taken on well.
“Once they understand, it’s a good story,” Lorenz says. “It’s a good product for a good cause. And it’s important to continue to put that in front of the consumer. When they see it, they like it.”
Klatt says that once the Pink Out fundraiser ended, his retailers still marketed E15 with great enthusiasm.
“A lot of my older operators are out there themselves, just to talk to consumers about E15,” he says. “That’s their business plan. They are brand ambassadors for E15, and we appreciate their enthusiasm.”
THANK YOU, RETAILERS
O’Brien is also grateful to the employees at Sheetz, Minnoco, Protec and Murphy USA. Their energy and respect for their work has made a huge difference in promoting E15.
“I love working with the retailers,” O’Brien says. “They are a lot of fun. The way the retailers view it, they just want to sell liquid fuels and be able to make money. They care about a good product they can get to their consumers, and they’ve been tremendous partners.”
O’Brien also knows the E15 retailers stand out more than others.
“The people we work with are being much more aggressive than your typical retailer,” he says. “In the retail world, as long as they get the consumer to their site, the retailer wins. But in the case of our retailers, they have a bias toward E15 and trying to sell more E15 than other grades of fuel. They view that as a critical component to being more competitive than the retailer next to them.”
And, these retailers have immense respect for Growth Energy.
“I can tell you, multiple retailers have come up and said how much they like working with the ethanol industry and how much they appreciate what the ethanol industry is doing,” O’Brien says. “You certainly feel a kinship.”
“Without the farmers and ethanol producers, Prime the Pump, POET and Growth Energy, none of this is possible,” Klatt says. “Growth Energy has taken this program to the next level, and we always want to make sure we give them some love.”
Another way he’s tipping his hat? Pumping his own vehicle with the great E15.
“I’m a cool dad with a Honda Minivan that’s eight years old, and I really don’t see any mileage losses,” Klatt says. “Absolutely, I use E15.”
Retailers Drive Success for E15 Awareness, Fundraiser
by Angela Tewalt