With the arrival of the pandemic, convenience stores became the go-to destination for shoppers, but on very different missions than pre pandemic.

With more people staying at home and working from home, there has been a big shift in shopper behaviour, with overall growth in convenience being driven by shoppers visiting fewer stores during lockdown and more shoppers choosing to get their main shop from local stores, which has inevitably led to a significant increase in convenience basket spend.

In fact, 1 in 3 shoppers have bought their groceries in their local shop more often during lockdown, and this has resulted in the convenience channel growing by 28% during the lockdown period, and independents and symbols growing by 57% over the same period (Kantar).

However, not all areas of the store have fared as well, with food to go sales in particular seeing big falls because of reduced footfall, as a result of many people working from and staying at home. The category, which was growing at double the rate of grocery retail before the pandemic and worth over £20bn, changed instantly; not only did the commuters and tourists disappear, but so did passing traffic. The Food to go category declined by 43% in 2020 – £8bn on 2019 (IGD).

As a result many retailers have reduced the space they give to their food to go offering during Covid, instead using the space for categories that have proven more popular throughout the pandemic.

Although the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions continue to impact shopper behaviour, with the vaccine rollout and eventual easing of restrictions bringing more people out, it is anticipated that both store traffic and the food to go category will increase again.

“To get the food to go category right, it’s imperative that retailers know their local area and understand what their shoppers want from their store so they can cater for their differing needs, which can range from urban, fast-paced, quick snacks to health conscious and/or vegetarian wholefood meals,” comments, Kat Simpson, Unilever Category Director.

Unilever’s Partners for Growth programme offers a tool on its website to check the local affluence and demographic for each UK postcode area and tells retailers how to flex their ranging for their customer profile. One quarter of c-store shoppers are going into the store for food to eat now (HIM), so the mission offers retailers a huge opportunity.

“Get it right and shoppers will be back – and probably often,” says Simpson. “Get it wrong and they won’t bother.”

Many convenience stores decide their store layout based on operational functions. However, the real key for retailers to satisfy customers and maximise their sales is fulfilling the reasons they come into the store – their ‘shopping missions’ – and making this quick and easy.

Category management is about having the right product on the shelf to meet customers’ needs and merchandising it effectively. Fulfilling shopper missions is about putting the products that people buy together next to each other in the store to make the shopping trip quicker and easy – key needs for convenience store shoppers.

Simpson adds: “Stocking the right products, maintaining availability and merchandising fixtures with appropriate adjacencies is key to maximising the opportunity. When shoppers can’t see a simple solution to their food for now mission, they’ll go elsewhere.”

Guy Harvey, Impulse Category Management Controller, PepsiCo, comments: “2020 saw a number of major changes to how people shop in the Impulse channel, many of which have carried through to this year. Although convenience stores have always been a community hub, during the pandemic they have become pivotal. They have offered daily essentials to shoppers who would rather not visit the larger supermarkets, resulting in many consumers shopping more locally.”

Over half of shoppers (54%) now use a convenience store every week (Lumina).

There has also been a huge difference in shopper behaviour across the channel, with a decrease in traditional Food to Go occasions.

As shoppers spent more time of their time at home, on-the-go occasions featured less in shoppers’ lives, causing a decrease in sales of single-serve products.

However, this has been replaced by an increase in sharing and multi-packs sales. Multipacks specifically have performed extremely well – growing by +15.6% over the past year (Nielsen). As we begin the slow transition out of lockdown, larger packs will likely to continue to dominate over traditional singles as shoppers look to incorporate a series of lunchtime and snacking occasions.

65% of shopping trips to symbols and indies now consist of sharing products, but 88% of sharing purchases occur outside of the impulse channel.

“This presents an opportunity for wholesalers, as retailers can capitalise on a bit of the market traditionally purchased elsewhere,” adds Harvey. “Therefore, crisps and snacks will play an important role for wholesalers, with shoppers wanting larger formats for on-the-go occasions with friends and family, dependent on changing lockdown restrictions.”

PepsiCo is introducing new price-marked packs across a number of its multipack and sharing bag lines, to help retailers offer everyday value to shoppers. For the first time, two multipack products will include a price-marked flash; Walkers Classic Variety and Quavers Cheese 6-packs. New larger Doritos and Walkers Sensations sharing bags will also launch with an RRP of £2, with pack size having increased in size by 20g. The £2 PMPs will be available across 3 products; Doritos Chilli Heatwave, Tangy Cheese and Walkers Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli, offering better value than the existing 65g bags.

“We hope that our new range – exclusive to the convenience channel – will help wholesalers to appeal to retailers as we begin the move out of lockdown, catering to demand for sharing packs as restrictions on socialising together decrease,” says Harvey.

PepsiCo has also updated its core range of crisps and snacks for symbols and independents, launching a HERO 25 line-up. It gives a greater focus to PMP and sharing products, allowing wholesalers to offer value and in-demand formats.

“With financial uncertainty a concern for many, shoppers aren’t just looking for products to share whilst out and about, value for money is still high on the agenda,” continues Harvey. “Indeed, 62% of shoppers say they are now more careful with their cash. By offering PMP’s in sharing formats, Hero 25 allows wholesalers to stock our core bestsellers that meet this demand. We wanted to ensure they could maximise crisp and snacks sales, encouraging customers to stock the formats and flavours that shoppers will want on-the-go.”

PepsiCo has also launched an additional range called DRIVE 25. It offers a tailored approach, with a targeted range for medium and larger stores. Having a wider selection than HERO 25 means wholesalers can offer breath and excitement to their range, with fun products that will lead to strong sales. The selected lines, such as Cheetos, Wotsits and Quavers, are ideal for on-the-go occasions, with recognisable brands that add a sense of occasion to savoury snacking. DRIVE 25 gives retailers the ability to tailor their range, stocking new launches and additional formats in the best-selling segments like £1 RRP PMP.

The Stack Snack Company, available via Simtom Food Products, has launched Ranchito; a Mexican themed snack box which offers clear hygiene benefits as well as an authentic, convenient snack.

The impact of Covid will see sharing decline, wrapped products prove more popular, and consumers looking for new and innovative formats. Each 250g snack box includes a large 100g pack of individually wrapped nachos with an individually wrapped 150g dip of choice. With 3 products in the range, consumers can choose from one of three Mexican flavoured dips including Mild Salsa, Hot Salsa and Guacamole.

The range is suitable for a gluten free and vegetarian diet, and the mild and hot salsa variants are suitable for a Vegan diet.

With food safety and hygiene high on consumers agenda, the snack box also includes a hand sanitising wipe, and the boxes have an antibacterial coating which protects against bacteria and viruses.

Bhavin Chandarana, Managing Director of Simtom Food Products, said: “With outdoor hospitality reopening on 12th April, I wanted to create a cost-effective snacking solution that was Covid safe. With food-to-go and snacking on the rise, the Ranchito snack box offers a quality snack that is convenient, and we created it with pubs, bars, bowling alleys, train stations, stadiums, and festivals in mind. The large pack format demonstrates huge value to consumers – something which is increasingly important in the current climate – and I believe the antibacterial coating on the box and the inclusion of a hand sanitising wipe, gives it a real USP in the market.”

The team at Simtom are always looking for new and creative ways to evolve and adapt the range to support their customers, and they pride themselves on delivering authentic, consistent, high-quality products that are cost effective.

Claire Williams, Marketing Director, Zest Food Partners, said: “Simtom want to support customers with solutions that are right for their business going forward. With the roadmap announced and the foodservice industry getting ready for the reopening, this is the perfect time to launch such an exciting and innovative concept. To increase visibility in outlets, the snack boxes come pre-packed in branded SRP which look great on display and will help outlets and end users capture those incremental sales.”

Ranchito is available to order now, and the brand will be advertising in key trade titles during April and May to support the launch.

Now employing over 100 people at its manufacturing site in Leicestershire, Simtom has a product portfolio of ready to use sauces, pastes, traditional chutneys, dips, ingredients, and accompaniments.

Matt Smith, Marketing Director for Tayto Group, comments: “Consumers have changed both what they buy and where they buy it due to Coronavirus. In the Convenience sector, the core segments of crisps and snacks have struggled. The big story has been that special snacks, such as pork snacks and hand cooked crisps, have done better as people have treated themselves at home as a substitute to going out. Pork snacks has been the star performer – the fastest growing category (+10.1%) due, in part, to pub closures leading consumers to pick up scratchings in shops so that they can take the pub taste home.”

Restrictions have accelerated the shift away from impulse packs with 24% of consumers buying more sharing packs than a year ago (iRI). However, with children returning to school, people starting back at work and the long-awaited opportunity to get ‘out and about’ opening up, we are likely to see people grabbing a snack ‘on-the-go’. Whether to compliment a meal deal, ‘fill the gap’ or to share on a long walk or picnic, picking up that tasty treat is going to be as important to consumers as ever.

Smith explains: “In every piece of research we have conducted, taste is always the No1 reason for purchase as consumers recognise savoury snacks are a treat and so, have to be ‘worth the calories’. This is underlined in pork scratchings where consumers crave their unique, rich flavour and salty crunch – especially when paired with alcohol or fizzy soft-drinks.”

So much so that 1 in 5 consumers won’t switch to another snack if they are not available (Norstat).

Smith adds: “Despite the historical association with pubs, the majority of pork scratchings are now sold in the off-trade and so wholesalers should be stocking a range of display-ready scratchings for their retail customers.”

80% of pork snacks are consumed with a drink (Norstat) and consumers frequently talk about buying them ‘at the offie’, i.e. their local convenience store. To meet this need, Tayto has developed a range of Mr Porky clipstrips that enable retailers to merchandise pork scratchings on, or adjacent to, BWS to capture these incremental impulse sales.

Capturing the booming sharing snacks market means wholesalers need to be stocking a strong range of £1 PMP snacks – which are growing at 18% (Norstat).

Smith continues: “Ringos and Transform-A-Snack continue to be our top performers in the £1 sector as they deliver Golden Wonder’s legendary ‘punch per crunch’, great consumer value, as well as strong margins for both wholesalers and retailers.”

Smith shares: “As restrictions ease, pork snacks provide an excellent opportunity to drive high margin, VAT-free sales in both retail and foodservice channels. As the licensed sector re-opens, re-stocking with proven sellers is key – such as Midland Snacks Traditional Scratchings, the best-selling pubcard. In Retail, during lockdown many of us have ‘taken the pub home’ which has led to pork snacks being the fastest growing snacks category. Siting Mr Porky clipstrips alongside BWS will not only help customers to grab their tasty snacks on the go, but enable retailers to capture incremental sales without taking up valuable shelf space.”

 

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