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    7-Eleven CEO Dreams of 900 More Stores

    Plans for Canada and U.S. stores include serving hot meals to fend off encroaching rivals.

    DALLAS -- 7-Eleven Inc., operator of more than 7,100 locations in North America, is planning to add 900 more stores in North America by 2010.

    In addition to pumping up the pace of store expansion, the c-store chain will add more hot meals to its offering to fend off rival c-store chains and supermarkets that are becoming increasingly competitive, Bloomberg News reported.

    "We have a gigantic opportunity," CEO Joseph DePinto told Bloomberg News. "We're ramping it up." He predicts that one day, 7-Eleven will have 30,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, the report stated.

    "We see us doing more acquisitions in the short to medium term," DePinto said. 7-Eleven will reach the near-term goal of 8,000 stores through internal growth and acquisitions in areas where it already has a presence. The majority of 7-Eleven stores are located in the Northeast, West Coast, Great Lakes, Texas and Florida.

    Keeping it Fresh
    The chain also plans to sell hot meals like pasta dishes and meatloaf with mashed potatoes, catering to an increasing trend of consumers choosing prepared meals over home cooking.

    "We're really trying to differentiate into a more broad area of convenience," said DePinto. "There's a huge opportunity for hot food."

    The company, which adds 20 new products to its stores' offerings each week, also is trying to harness the increasing Hispanic population, and it offers taquitos and corn tortilla chips filled with meat or vegetables and cheese.

    The company might also venture further into private labels, expanding its proprietary brands from 4 percent of sales to 10 percent by 2010, DePinto told Bloomberg News. "Margin difference, especially on things like water, can be as much as 30 percent. Private label is a big opportunity for us."

    Some industry experts believe that such a goal may prove difficult to realize. "They have a significant challenge," said George Whalin, president of the Retail Management Consultants. "Good real estate is hard to find."

    He continued: "consumers are becoming more discerning about what they buy and eat." To that end, 700 of its stores have been remodeled to date. Walls, floors and lighting are being replaced, aisles are being widened and hot grills are being installed, the report stated.

    "The stores are cleaner and better presented. It's a better company than it has been," Whalin told Bloomberg News.

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