Iowa-based company wants to be the nation’s largest E15 retailer
In Iowa, two things are certain: People like filling their bellies with Casey’s pizza, and they like filling their tanks with ethanol.
That’s not a surprise to Nathanial Doddridge, Director of Fuels for Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores.
Nevermind that the pizza is from a gas station, Doddridge said. Most Iowans would tell you that Casey’s, the fifth-largest pizza chain in the United States, has some of the best around.
And the ethanol? Well, corn is king in Iowa, and the state leads the nation in ethanol production.
“Here in the Midwest, every town we’re in is surrounded by agriculture,” Doddridge said. “This is an opportunity for us to bring a new product to our customers that’s good for their vehicles, but also a way to give the value right back to the farmers and ethanol producers in our communities.”
But outside of the Corn Belt, people aren’t as familiar with ethanol, Doddridge said. That’s where Prime the Pump comes into play.
Originally, Prime the Pump played an instrumental role for Casey’s in the decision to start selling E15 in the summer of 2017. The initiative targets high-volume, high-profile retailers to assist with initial investments in infrastructure to support E15. The biofuels industry has invested nearly $70 million in this initiative.
For Casey’s, the partnership meant the chain was able to expand its E15 offerings faster than originally anticipated. In August of 2017, there were only four Casey’s locations that sold E15. Today, they’re up to more than 220 locations. By the end of 2020, Casey’s will break the 300-store threshold. The goal is for Casey’s to be the nation’s largest E15 retailer.
“We started moving pretty quickly to getting higher blends of ethanol to our stores in 2018,” Doddridge said. “Now we’ve really added it to our standard product slate.”
But now, Prime the Pump contributes to educating Casey’s customers in areas outside the Midwest about the benefits of E15. In states like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio, for example, Casey’s was one of the first retailers to offer E15 to its customers, Doddridge said.
“When people pull up to the gas pump and see something different, their natural inclination is to not touch it,” Doddridge said. “We have to educate those customers and tell them why it’s OK to put E15 in their cars.”
Prime the Pump has been working with retailers like Casey’s on how to consistently brand E15 across the industry, testing different names in different markets. Casey’s now uses the name “Unleaded 88” at the pump instead of the trade name E15.
“Customers don’t want to read marketing materials. They just want to fill up their tanks and move on,” Doddridge said. “Since making the branding change to Unleaded 88 last year, our adoption rates have been better than ever.”
Those adoption rates should increase even more now that the summertime restrictions on E15 have been lifted, said Kelly Manning, Vice President of Development for Growth Energy.
“We will now have easier and more access to this fuel that saves us money at the pump, has more octane so our engines run better and significantly reduces tailpipe emissions compared to regular gasoline,” Manning said. “E15 will now replace E10 as the most popular fuel choice at the pump. Once this is fully realized, our industry will recognize around 7 billion gallons of new annual demand.”
The continued growth of E15 is good for producers, of course.
“The ethanol industry is now fully poised for domestic growth as this restriction had been the one factor keeping thousands of retailers from adding E15 to their fuel offerings,” Manning said.
But it’s even better for consumers — especially as Casey’s continues to expand its E15 offerings in new markets as well as retrofit its legacy stores with the product.
“Our customers like the value,” Doddridge says. “They can get a premium product at a lower price. It’s an easy selling point for us. E15 can be a market leader for Casey’s.”