Convenience stores are being forced out of their comfort zone to meet the evolving needs of today’s casual shopper
Words by Kay Hill
With the mass arrival of domestic fridges and freezers in the Fifties and Sixties followed swiftly by the rise of the big supermarkets, women were at last freed from the tyranny of the daily shop. Instead of trotting down to the butcher, baker and greengrocer every day carrying a wicker basket, mums began to fill up their trolleys just once a week.
For the older generation, that still tends to be the most common pattern – around 60 per cent of those over 55 years old do a single main shop a week, with the odd trip to a convenience store for that little something they’ve forgotten. Look at the 18 to 34-year-olds, however, and just 46 per cent do a main shop once a week, with more than half preferring to buy what they want to eat on an almost daily basis, often from convenience stores on the way home from work. To these customers it isn’t a tyranny any more – just a convenient way to avoid waste when plans are often made at the last minute, plus the instant gratification of being able to eat exactly what they fancy.
A holistic feel across the store demonstrates that Centra is a handy destination at all times of the day – whether grabbing breakfast to go, sitting down for lunch or picking up milk or a package on the way home
These younger people don’t want the canned soup and frozen peas staples of the old-fashioned corner shop. They want fresh bread, fresh meat and fresh veggies, without the bother of having to walk around a giant supermarket. And a new generation of convenience stores is trying to give them just that. Devinder Jheeta, retail designer and creative director of SimplyFresh, explains: ‘There’s a big working population that’s buying little and often and thinking about their meal very late in the day, often after work. If you are going to cook that evening you want something as fresh as possible, so there’s no longer a massive need to stock lots of ambient products in tins or stuff in the freezer.’
A range of different display options at the latest SimplyFresh at the University of Surrey helps to avoid customers walking through the store on autopilot, while natural materials enhance the sense of old-fashioned values and freshness
When Devinder Jheeta took on the task of designing the SimplyFresh stores, his aim was for the retail design to give the consumer confidence. ‘The first thing I did was strip the vinyl off the windows. We are not hiding anything, you don’t have to come inside to see what we are selling.’ He then banished plastic surfaces and ugly ceiling grids and installed natural-looking finishes like stone and timber patterned vinyl on the floor, birch ply and oak counters and hessian, canvas and privet-hedge patterned signage.
Clever use of shelving means that SimplyFresh fits in up to 20 per cent more ingredients than older-style convenience stores, making it easier for people to make a meal from scratch
‘We used timber to instil old-school values,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of integrity in wood and that set the tone straight away that we were being honest and transparent.’ SimplyFresh, as the name suggests, stocks a large range of fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and meat. ‘You need a good variety of produce for customers to make whole meals,’ says Jheeta. ‘Typically, the first thing you will see is the fruit and veggies not only displayed, but also displayed in abundance to kick off the shopping journey.’
It’s the same focus on freshness that is transforming other convenience stores. Retail specialist Household Design has recently transformed the Centra franchise chain of convenience stores in Ireland, and one of the first moves was to reduce the non-food range by 25 per cent to create more space for fresh goods. Creative director of Household Sarah Page explains: ‘Particularly in Ireland, there’s a food revolution happening. People are getting much more interested in food and what they are eating, and wanting less down-and-dirty food like instant noodles.
Today’s convenience-store shoppers want healthier, fresh products. So, everything about SimplyFresh, from the finishes to the lighting, is designed to make fresh items look good
Our concept is convenience food with a fresh focus.’ Centra combines a café, take-home food area, stationery department, parcel pick-up and much more. ‘The convenience format hasn’t actually been very convenient in the past,’ says experience strategy director at Household Design, Sian Novakovic. ‘Now, we have unified all the elements into a convenience hub where you can do everything you need to do, in one space.’ Sarah Page adds: ‘The whole convenience store concept has had a shift from very functional to being more lifestyle.’