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With Tesco's imminent invasion of the U.S. retail market, this year's Future of International Convenience Retailing conference in England -- produced by U.K.-based Insight Conferences in association with NACS -- promised to be especially timely. In addition to presentations from a wide spectrum of c-store executives from across the globe, the event last month included two study tours to innovative British c-store retailers from the West Midlands to London.
I was so impressed with how these retailers have committed to fresh, high-quality food as their driving focus. Stores like Marks & Spencer's Simply Food are redefining the convenience experience. The concept ranges from 1,500 to 15,000 square feet and is located in a variety of locations -- from high-traffic commuter rail depots to working-class neighborhoods to roadside petrol stations. The famous British department store company also has launched a partnership with BP to open 150 jointly branded BP Connect-Wild Bean Cafe-Simply Food stores across the U.K.
Food is the future of convenience. At least for those who are willing to make the investment in the resources needed to do it right.
I believe many retailers will focus on making great-tasting, made-to-order food -- particularly those with proprietary branded foodservice. They'll follow the lead of companies like Wawa, Sheetz, Rutter's Farm Stores, Quick Chek Food Stores, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, MAPCO Mart and Tedeschi Food Shops.
Others will be really good at selling high-quality prepared meals to go. These will likely follow the British model of innovative convenience stores, like M&S Simply Food and Tesco Express. In the U.S., White Hen was probably one of the best examples before its acquisition by 7-Eleven. Kwik Trip, which makes all its food in its own commissary, also fits the British model. Thorntons' new redesign goes to great lengths to incorporate the message of fresh, grab-and-go food (see story, page 95).
Retailers outside the industry also will move into this niche, as we've seen with Giant Eagle Express ( Convenience Store News, June 18, Cover Story). Others said to be contemplating the jump onto the "super convenience" bandwagon include Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and the newly merged Brookshire Bros./Polk Oil partnership (see page 18). You will also see Canadian retailers like Sobey's going this route. The company recently opened a new smaller-format test store that places an emphasis on "fresh, gourmet and prepared foods."
Then, there will be the sodas-cigarettes-and-coffee retailers. These will be super-efficient, clean and friendly stores where customers get in and get out with minimal hassle. You'll see many of the new concepts, such as Chevron's ExtraMile franchise and others, following this path. But these stores also will provide an upgraded food experience. The consumer trend toward better-for-you, natural and fresh food is too big for them to ignore -- even at truck stop locations.
I want to express my thanks to Insight's partners, Dan Mumford and Fidel Gonzalez, as well as Sian Jones, Arabella Lacarta and Lorraine Evans, for organizing such a great, strategic tour and conference, and thank you to Michael Davis, NACS' vice president of member services, for co-hosting the event.
Keep an eye out for our Nov. 19 issue, which will contain an illustrated journal of my travels across the English countryside and full coverage of the conference.
Enjoy this special NACS Show issue of CSNews, and don't hesitate to call, write or e-mail me your ideas on what the future holds for the convenience industry.
For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editor-in-Chief, at (646) 654-7489 or [email protected].