If this was a decade ago, a program sponsored by the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance in December might have left you scratching your head. What was Nathaniel Doddridge, a vice president for fuels with Casey’s General Stores, doing talking to farmers as part of the Indiana Corn and Soybean Forum?
Then again, if it was a decade ago, you likely couldn’t have viewed the program anyway. It was virtual, held online, and 10 years ago, very few people in rural Indiana had access to enough broadband power to join in. That’s still a work in progress.
So is the switch toward selling fuel with higher ethanol content. That’s how Doddridge opened the meeting. “We made a shift from calling our fuel with 15% ethanol E15 to Unleaded 88 about eight months ago,” he says. “It’s all about marketing. We need to present a cleaner message to consumers. E15 can be confusing to them. When it’s marketed as Unleaded 88 instead, and they understand octane ratings, it’s more appealing.
“It isn’t a case of ‘build it and they will come,’ like in ‘Field of Dreams.’ Consumers must want the product. Unleaded 88 is usually about a nickel a gallon cheaper than regular unleaded, and that gets their attention.”
Because Casey’s targets rural locations, selling higher-ethanol-blend fuels makes sense. Yet Casey’s is relatively new to the renewable fuels market. The company first began blending ethanol in 2004, Doddridge says. Its first stores offering E85 and E15 appeared in 2017. By 2019, Casey’s offered biodiesel at 900 stores, and that number is over 1,000 today. Today, E85 and E15 are offered at about 300 stores.
“We’ve learned in marketing that we need to get things right the first time,” Doddridge says. “People have long memories. That’s another reason why we feel marketing the 15% blend of ethanol as Unleaded 88 is the right thing to do.”
Support for biofuels
Casey’s is one of more than a dozen companies, mostly large regional brands, that have committed to supporting using higher blends of ethanol than 10%, offered at many stations in regular unleaded fuel.
Growth Energy, an industry group dedicated to promoting ethanol and biofuels, seems to have hit paydirt recently with a TV spot called “Emma and Nate use Unleaded 88.” Using animation, this 30-second ad highlights a modern mom choosing Unleaded 88 because it’s friendly to the environment, and a young man using it because it provides more power to his engine. Both like it because it saves them money. This catchy ad appears often on the Big Ten Network.
It will take more than commercials to help rebuild markets for ethanol after 2020 and the impact on the overall fuel industry created by the pandemic. Using products like Unleaded 88 in your own vehicles, and explaining them to your city cousins, is a good place to start.
Meanwhile, what happens in Congress under the new administration could play a large role in which direction ethanol sales head. Multiple bills were introduced in the last Congress to pave the way for helping the industry nationwide tool up to sell higher blends of ethanol. Now, those bills must be introduced again.
Progress needs to be made back home in Indiana. According to the Indiana Corn Growers Association, Indiana statutes still talk about “gasohol,” a term outdated for decades. Legislation was introduced to modernize Indiana statutes and recognize the potential value of ethanol.
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