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    An Inside Look at United Express

    United Supermarkets joins the c-store realm with a hybrid c-store and gourmet food store concept.

    LUBBOCK, Texas -- In its home base of Lubbock, Texas, grocery store operator United Supermarkets put a fresh face forward this May -- right into the convenience channel. "More than one supermarket chain has tried and failed to be successful in the c-store business," Chris Bridgford, director of fuel and convenience operations for United Supermarkets LLC, told CSNews Online. "But while it is certainly a crowded channel, we think we have something unique to offer."

    That edge could be what the company recently learned from its A Taste of Market Street stores. Located beside the fuel stations in the parking lots of its gourmet and fresh-food slanted Market Street stores, A Taste of Market Street is a convenient and unique drive-thru version of its larger supermarket format.

    In 2009, when its second A Taste of Market Street store opened, the company admitted to CSNews that many customers were thinking of it more like a c-store, and they wanted a few more convenience items and a few less gourmet items. In this way, United got a taste of the convenience store market by backing into it.

    Two years later, it's now an intentional focus with a dedicated banner and standalone format -- one that Bridgford describes as "a hybrid between a typical c-store and our A Taste of Market Street locations." And that's United Express, the first of which opened May 4.

    "Our goal with United Express is to take the offerings and products such as specially prepared foods, which have been the most successful at A Taste of Market Street, as well as those on-the-go convenience items, and blend them so guests will see traditional offerings with a unique United flair," said Bridgford. "If a guest wants to come in and get a bag of chips and a soft drink, they will be able to do that. But if they're looking for a nice tossed salad or some other quality meal solution, those are available as well -- items you don't typically find in a convenience store."

    In 3,100 square feet with approximately 3,500 SKUs, focal and signed departments of United Express are "Fountain," "Fridge" (frozen and chilled drinks), "Locker" (beer and wine) and "Fresh To Go" (foodservice). Other sections include general merchandise, grocery, candy/snacks and lottery.

    With the company's core competence, as well as its A Taste of Market Street background, fresh/prepared foods is clearly a highlight.

    "United Express will showcase many of the best attributes and lessons learned from our A Taste of Market Street locations," Bridgford explained. "The outstanding quality and freshness of the food selection at our Taste locations will be evident and apparent in our United Express locations as well."

    United Express is also showcasing a walk-in beer locker, offering "an extensive selection and quantity of ice-cold, quality beer, very competitively priced," Bridgford said. Additionally, the new c-store offers a unique and extensive selection of both warm and chilled wines, "the likes of which are seldom found anywhere else in West Texas convenience stores."

    United Express shoppers are also offered a significantly expanded section of the traditional convenience store food items, as well as some not-so-traditional. "A convenience store owned and operated by a grocery chain could not be short of grocery items, so we will also have a very broad selection of grocery and general merchandise items, as well," stated Bridgford. "For us the challenge and appeal is to extend what we do best in the supermarket channel into the convenience channel."

    He added that the concept is "simply the continuation of a tradition of providing quality products, outstanding guest service and competitive pricing offered in a slightly different format."

    For more on United Express, check out the June 13 issue of Convenience Store News.


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