Convenience Retail Re-imagined
Convenience stores: they immediately conjure fluorescent lighting, sticky floors, the smell of gasoline, and sound of plastic – plastic bottles, plastic bags and plastic Bic lighters. In a fast-moving health and wellness world, this environment stands as a strange contrast to our organic, non-GMO, locavore aspirations. Until now.
Rachel Krupka, a wellness PR firm founder, saw the opportunity and opened The Goods Mart in Los Angeles. It is an upgrade to your standard convenience store with food and beverages you’d find in a Whole Foods, all with clean ingredient labels. Shortly after this news, 7-11 announced it has plans for a specialty convenience store in Dallas. The pilot store is integrated with Laredo Taco Co., a fast-casual taco restaurant with freshly made ingredients (including tortillas) and outdoor seating. Within the convenience store itself, it will feature made-to-order coffee drinks, cold-pressed juices, smoothies, and agua frescas. Novelty beverages, such as nitro cold brew, kombucha, and organic teas are also available.
THE WHOLE FOODS ANGLE
While The Goods Mart is a reinvention of the category norms and 7-11 is aspiring for an upgrade on its current model, Whole Foods is coming in from the other direction - the grocery side. It has opened its first bodega style store in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, dedicating two aisles to everyday grocery items but adding in more convenience store goods like toothbrushes, toilet paper, pet food and travel-sized items to live up to the conveniences of convenience stores.
THE POP-UP SHOP
Bridging the consumer desire for healthful grocery items with the familiarity and relative ease of convenience stores leaves room for another popular format these days: the pop-up experience. In April, marketer Emily Schildt opened the Pop Up Grocer in the Soho neighborhood of New York City to give innovative food and beverage brands (largely all playing in the health and wellness sandbox) an opportunity to showcase their products while delivering a discovery experience for its audience.
While we’ve seen larger grocery and general goods stores scale down to smaller footprints before – Whole Foods’ 365, Target’s urban marts and locally, CUB's soon-to-be smaller footprint store – the appeal in what The Goods Mart, 7-11, Whole Foods’ bodega and the Pop Up Grocer comes from its reinvention. No longer is it about simply scaling down to mimic the size of convenience store, it seeks to re-imagine their role in consumers’ lives and stock the shelves accordingly.
For those all-in on organic and fresh products, this new convenience store approach could be a definite boon. I would find myself in this camp, enjoying the choice of kombucha and a hemp chia bar on the drive up North for a weekend in the woods. But, isn’t there something special to the traditional product offerings at convenience stores? I find myself using the limitation of selection as an excuse to buy something I never usually would. To see if I was alone in this, I asked several Ultralites what they buy at convenience stores on the regular versus what is special, and what are those circumstances surrounding them? And, what is not at convenience stores today that they would like to see?
Typical items purchased on the regular at conveniencestores: Powerade or Gatorade, water, lotto ticket.
Typical items purchased as a treat, with almost all commenting these were purchased only for road trips: fountain soda, Rice Krispie treat,licorice, Combos, beef jerky, donuts, Twizzlers, Pringles, Cheddar Potato Skins.As one Ultralite said: “Road trips are an excuse for me to eat whatever garbage catches my eye!”
Items Ultralites said they wished convenience stores had more of: fresh fruit, chopped vegetables with dips and hummus, better bakery items, gourmet cheeses, better-for-you brands like Way Better or Boom ChickaPop. One commented they wish all of these fresher items were available but, “I’m always uneasy about buying “fresh” food at convenience stores because I don’t know where they come from. I don’t trust their freshness.”
From this small but pretty consistent sample of responses,convenience stores are perceived as best for the beverages on the perimeter of the store. Items within the store – the less-than-great for you snacks – get a second look when confined to road trips and limited options elsewhere. In almost all of the responses, there was a sense of delight in using road trips as an excuse to buy pre-packaged goods.And while more people would like to see fresh fruits, vegetables and otheritems, freshness was called into question.
KUM AND GO
Kum and Go, a client of ours, has made gains in the freshness perception of their stores. A few years ago, they observed that while their stores were a stop to purchase gas and grab a snack, they were also a destination each morning for people to buy their coffee on their way to work. Additionally,the local workforce was coming in during on weekdays to buy their lunches and afternoon snacks. While convenience is greens fees, they found ease was not enough. No longer were the pre-packaged egg salad sandwiches a viable option – these consumers wanted hot delicious pizza, fresh salads, and sandwiches made from ingredients that were sliced,chopped and assembled that day. So they invested millions of dollars to upgrade their stores, create a consistent experience and match the store designs to the quality of the food they were offering. All of this has made for a much better brand experience for the consumer.
Freshness, health, convenience – all needs of consumers who are trying to pack in as much as they can to their days and lives. Each of the companies we’ve touched on here are tackling this in different ways, and it will be interesting to see how consumers respond, and ultimately, how to define the role of the convenience store in their lives.