Dallas-based 7-Eleven has grown to become a giant in the convenience store business, in terms of both sales and the immense influence it exercises over the product mix in the industry. Its commitment to product innovation has proved profitable but manufacturer support is required to sustain the flow of new products into the future.

With US$33 billion in annual sales, 7-Eleven is the world's largest convenience store retailer, and the most influential company in the sector.

While the company constantly adjusts its offerings to respond to customer needs and drive traffic, few realize how deeply involved 7-Eleven is in the development of convenience products and packaging.

7-Eleven has become the leading innovator in the convenience store business, developing products through its USDA approved commissary in Lewisville, Texas or by driving product development through its manufacturers.

Currently, 7-Eleven creates 1,500 to 2,000 products for its own shelves each year, or 10-15% of its merchandise mix. It also has considerable clout in negotiations with manufacturers. For example, Conagra put its sunflower seeds inside a cup for easy shell disposal in response to 7-Eleven's request for more convenient packaging.

7-Eleven's use of technology allows each franchisee to design a product mix suited to its customer base while leaving room for experimental products.

Its attempt to give busy customers more of what they want has resulted in many novel product introductions such as disposable DVDs and diet Slurpees.

7-Eleven was also one of the first to anticipate the popularity of the low-carb Atkins diet and responded by pushing for a low-carb energy bar through Met-Rx, putting turkey-and-cheese cubes in a cup and introducing bite-size beef jerky.

Continuous innovation has proved successful in reinvigorating the company. Earnings have been rising, up 35% in the recently reported third quarter. Same-store sales have also increased for the 76th consecutive month in October. However, to ensure this flow of new products in the future, 7-Eleven requires the continued support of franchisees and manufacturers alike.