The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) hosted its 30th annual conference in Omaha, Nebraska, last week, and for the fourth year in a row, the retailer panel was one of the highlights of the event. Charlie Bosselman, Owner of Nebraska-based Bosselman Enterprises and Pump & Pantry c-stores, and Bob O’Connor, Owner of JETZ Convenience Centers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shared experience-based insight on how the ethanol industry can help retailers add E15 and higher blends.
ACE Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty moderated the discussion, addressing how to drive more ethanol gallons at retail. “We can come up with all kinds of programs that we think will move more ethanol, but we make the most progress when retailers tell us what they’ve learned and what they need from us,” Lamberty said. “ACE ‘deputizes’ early adopters like Bosselman and O’Connor to help us spread the word to other fuel marketers about these topics. Retailers trust the opinions of other retailers, so these people like Charlie and Bob are critical to ethanol’s growth.”
“I think ethanol has a great story,” O’Connor said. “You get more power, more performance, it’s local and it’s cheaper. We’re all in the business to make money, and ethanol gave us an initial profit center.”
Bosselman echoed O’Connor in addressing why they got involved. “The simplest reason was to make money,” Bosselman said. “There are a lot of benefits that come with that—our ability to market the fuel, tell a story to our customers—especially since we are in rural communities—about us and ethanol and the products that they grow on their farm and how it’s all intertwined together.”
Echoing a theme from last year’s conference retailer panel, both retailers mentioned customer confusion over what E15 was and whether they could use it. O’Connor said his sales increased dramatically when he began marketing E15 as “Unleaded-88,” reflecting its octane value. Pump & Pantry started selling E15 under the name “Clean-88,” and is evaluating the effectiveness of the name. “At the end of the day, the consumer just wants to buy gas,” O’Connor said. “Whether we call it clean-88 or unleaded-88, customers should know what we’re going to call it so there’s no confusion in the marketplace.”
Bosselman and O’Connor shared how E15 and E85 sales are contributing to their bottom line. Bosselman said sales are up this year compared to last. “So far this year, we’re up 22% with E85, and our E15 sales are up 222%,” Bosselman said. “We understand the markets are a function of price, but as we’ve become more involved, it’s become more important for us to understand the ethanol business and be a partner in it.”
O’Connor expressed some pointers the ethanol industry can work on to help retailers adopt higher ethanol blends, including Reid vapor pressure (RVP) reform, availability of RIN-less ethanol, and helping promote financial incentives and resources. “I think at the end of the day, you have the right product at the right price at the right time, and we will prevail,” O’Connor said.