More meal roles for c-stores

February 24, 2012

While big-box operators tinker with small formats, c-stores can build on their unique appeals to compete.

As Walmart Express, drug chains and Tesco Fresh & Easy types of stores amp up their food presentations in small formats, let’s remember that convenience stores were there first.

Maybe they didn’t always offer the most inviting formulas for female shoppers, or competitive prices, or broad assortments to meet multiple needs. But they have been and they remain the kings of quick in-and-out shopping to provide for immediate consumption. They have the accessible locations, the name recognition – and most recently improvements in fresh and prepared foods – to fill destination roles for meals, not just snacks.

So, supermarkets, don’t think they’ll take your small-format market encroachment lying down. The Lempert Report believes convenience stores could quickly turn much of their vast footprint into mini-groceries if they chose to do so by expanding current sites to the 8,000 to 10,000 square foot range. Think retail on two floors with large showcase windows that shout impulse, perhaps with wi-fi and seating, and hot food and cold beverages at the ready, with smartphone check-in promotions for different dayparts. They can do this without compromising their core appeals.

Convenience stores would need to learn the efficiencies and rhythms of selected grocery categories that turn more slowly than their usual merchandise.  But operators like Wawa, Quick Chek and 7-Eleven have already built expertise in fresh and prepared foods – and these are more where consumers are heading with Quick Trips for convenient, healthy food choices.

Once more c-stores decide to grow up in a hurry (in selected locations), supermarkets will have yet another strong rival for valuable trips.