You'd think the C-word, convenience, has no place in this recession. Convenience items — and convenience stores — are typically viewed as more expensive. The C-word smacks of excess and even laziness. Why go the easy route when you can be cooking at home to save money, right?
Not so fast. Convenience is getting a lot of play in SN stories lately, so clearly something is up.
First, new formats are rolling out with convenience front and center. Last week, for example, Giant-Carlisle launched a new convenience store concept called Giant to Go. The company's pitch is twofold: an emphasis on fresh items and quality along with savings from its Bonus Card loyalty program, tied to a gas discount initiative. This format, like some others before it, wisely targets fresh foods rather than competing only with the commodity grocery offerings of traditional c-stores. It's also on target by incorporating a strong value component to avoid leaving the impression of being pricey in the midst of a downturn.
Meanwhile, a number of stores are launching new layouts around convenience. Food Lion will be unveiling a new convenience/prepared-meal aisle in 17 stores that eschews the typical category approach in favor of grouping items by level of convenience, such as amount of time needed for preparation. In another effort, Giant Eagle has retooled an Express store to emphasize fresh prepared meals and grocery items that are most frequently purchased, with the fastest-turning items up front.
These new ventures show retailers are committed to experimenting with convenience, not just with the products for sale but also the in-store experience. The reality is that recession hasn't changed the time pressures on many customers. Shoppers avoiding restaurants are still looking for value-oriented ways of replicating that experience at home.
Convenience is taking surprising turns for some food retailers. 7-Eleven, the c-store known for marketing smaller package sizes, is suddenly doing well with value-oriented bulk items, such as 18-packs of beer vs. six- or 12-packs. Meanwhile, food retailers are reporting that refrigerated, packaged side dishes is a growing convenience category, not because people are abandoning cooking, but because shoppers instead want to spend the bulk of their time preparing main dishes.
Mona Doyle, president of The Consumer Network, told me convenience has strong staying power and is being fueled by supermarkets that have become “superanteurs” (her coinage) by markedly improving their prepared-foods offerings.
One warning about convenience: It has to make sense for all parties to be successful. Last week we learned that Supervalu is discontinuing home delivery for online orders placed through Albertsons.com and Acmemarkets.com (click here to read the story), while maintaining in-store pickup in most markets. This is a reminder that convenience products or services rely on a critical mass of consumers and a solid business model for retailers.
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