A Peek at U.K. Convenience Stores

The makings of modern c-stores—and why these retailers are succeeding in the United Kingdom.

August 07, 2019

LONDON—What makes the modern U.K. c-store succeed in the midst of changing consumer habits and shopping trends? Convenience Store found the first building block is a strong fresh food offering.

HIM forecasted that yearly sales of food in the convenience store channel will jump by £500 million ($608 million) over the next three years. Many retailers—both independent and chains—have been regularly refreshing their stores to incorporate more to-go and fresh foodservice.

For example, Spar Scotland debuted an “urban transient” store in Glasgow with a Spar’s Daily Deli, a self-serve chicken bar and hot and cold grab-and-go. “We’re looking at how we’re formatting across the Spar estate,” said Ian Taylor, Spar director of formatting. “Grocery is becoming challenging in urban stores and foodservice is key for the transient mission.”

The Grocery chain the Co-op Group has been testing an on-the-go concept with lots of healthy options, including vegan and vegetarian. Peter Batt, the Co-op’s divisional managing director food retailer operations for the south, said that the company will be reformatting existing urban stores after the successful test. “Our strategy is now to become the UK’s biggest convenience operator – and food to go will be 40% of convenience growth in the next few years,” he said. “Our biggest competition in urban areas is now Eat, Prêt and other food-to-go outlets.”

For Simply Fresh convenience stores, evolving to meet changing customer tastes is the only option. “On the evolving urban store, clearly the old mainstay of sales and footfall was cigarettes and media. With both declining, due to very different reasons, stores in the UK and indeed around the world are having to evolve their offer and most bets in every market are on fresh and ready-to-eat food,” said CEO Tim Chalk. “The operational skillset and level of investment is very different, though, and takes a very different approach. However, I believe that those that embrace it will grow and prosper. Those that don’t will slowly die, as like-for-like sales declines will strangle the bottom line in a rising cost environment.”