At the annual Association of Convenience Stores Summit we heard from a host of speakers about their perspectives on the convenience market. One key recurring theme throughout the event was food-to-go, which is perhaps unsurprising given a third of delegates in the room said it was the no.1 priority focus for their business. So with the IGD predicting that food-to-go will be worth over £21bn by 2021, here are seven key take-outs.

1. Hire foodies

Offering “convenience at the speed of life” is the business mantra of President/CEO Scott Hartman’s, Rutter’s convenience stores in the US. Their customers demand convenience and speed when it comes to food-to-go and Rutter’s delivers on both counts. But what Rutter’s also does very well is offer customers a huge choice of food-to-go and the ability to customise what they order. Hiring foodies was one of Scott’s big tips. If the people who prepare your food-to-go and serve your customers are passionate foodies then your customers will keep coming back.

2. Talk missions & occasions

According to the IGD the average food-to-go shopper conducts over 300 food-to-go missions a year, whether that is for breakfast, lunch, drink, leisure or snack. Convenience stores must focus on food-to-go missions if they want to be successful, in fact Nick Read, CEO of Nisa has called for a change in language. Rather than just talking about products, he says we need to talk about missions and occasions. Nick urged retailers and suppliers to continually think about the missions that customers are on and to make sure their needs are always catered for.

3. Tap into trends

If you are serious about your store’s food credentials and in particular if your shoppers are discerning foodie types, then tapping into the latest food trends could make sound business sense. Free-from, vegan, health and heritage are bang on trend right now and growing in popularity. Offering customers a choice of products from these categories and making more of provenance and origin of ingredients in your store was a top tip from food industry specialist Jane Milton. For example we’ve just seen that Sainsbury’s is introducing Taiwanese steamed bao buns into its food-to-go range, which is a big hit with us Jellybeans.

4. Look the part

When award-winning Dublin retailer Thomas Ennis started his first convenience store in 2005, his mission was to offer the best fresh food and drink on the market. He now runs 12 city centre and forecourt stores turning over £16.8 million a year. During his time in convenience he’s tested and succeeded with a huge variety of different brands and concepts to meet the food-to-go needs of customers. He thinks looking and dressing the part is massively important to increase the perception of food quality in store. Having a great quality barista coffee, ideally served by a hipster with skinny jeans, is a great way to show food credentials and create a real ambience.

5. Be brave and commit

Premium symbol group Simply Fresh founded by Kash Khera is eyeing up a big opportunity by focusing on healthy eating on-the-move in a small convenience store format. Kash revealed he’s looking at two new city centre stores which have a split offering between foodservice and convenience retail. The intention is to generate half of its profit from the kitchen and half from the retail side. He advised retailers to be brave when thinking about a store’s proposition and said convenience stores really do need to commit to the big growth categories – fresh and food-to-go.

6. Find your local USP

Leading independent convenience retailers Raj Aggarwal and Avtar Sidhu went head to head in the annual ‘Battle of the Best’ convenience stores. Travelling the UK to visit some of the finest stores in the land, they were able to share their insights and interviews in a film which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CTeUUZQWYw
Food-to-go was a key point of difference for many, if not all, of the stores featured. Each had their own take on food and particularly food-to-go. The key outtake from the battle of the best for me was for retailers to really think about and find their own local USP which could be bakery, alcohol or of course food-to-go.

7. Build better food solutions

Tracey Clements, MD of Tesco Convenience & CEO of One Stop Stores, says food retailers have an obligation to build better food solutions. Tracey and her team have been focused on segmenting their Express and One Stop stores to better understand and meet the different missions its shoppers are on. Whilst food-to-go remains hugely important, the no.1 opportunity identified for Tesco One Stop is the food-for-tonight mission. The lesson here to take away is that if you can build food credentials and a loyal customer base with your food-to-go offer, then food-for-tonight sales will naturally follow and the basket spend per shop will be that much higher.

These are just some of the food-to-go highlights that were shared at the Summit. But if you’d like to get more food-to-go insights why not check out our blog from the MCA FTG Conference here https://www.jellybeancreative.co.uk/2017/02/10/foodservice-marketing-eye-food-go-market/

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