After a few years in the doldrums with seemingly diminished interested in them, forecourts are now very much back in fashion as retailers embrace the opportunities that come with running a modern c-store alongside a high footfall petrol forecourt.
by Émer O’Toole
The attractions and challenges of the petrol forecourt are diverse and unique, and are often very different from those of a standard convenience store. The forecourt market has evolved signifiantly in the last few years but just how buoyant is the market and what lies ahead for the forecourt operator?
With forecourt stores increasingly seen as destination shops, there is an enormous opportunity for the forecourt retailer. Forecourts are unique in that they are able to appeal to a broader range of customers and capitalise on not only fuel but many different products, services and shopper missions that the fuel customer then wants to use.
Before a forecourt can expand its services and range, it needs to ensure that it gets the basics right. It’s easy to overlook the fundamentals such as having clean fuel pump handles, visible rubbish bins, fully stocked hand towels and gloves — small things that can make a big difference to a consumers’ perception of the site and the retail offer, particularly if they are visiting the site for the first time.
Small features can make a difference, including clean and fault free water, air, vacuuming and car washing equipment, and ensures the forecourt becomes a destination for these services which in itself can encourage additional sales across the site as a whole. A customer is never going to trust a retailer for their fresh food if the retailer can’t even keep the pump island clean or provide good value with forecourt basics like free water and functioning air services.
Over the years forecourts have evolved significantly — gone are the days of the small forecourt kiosk full of cigarettes, chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks and car accessories — now we have modern forecourts incorporating 2,500 sq. ft. convenience stores with fantastic fresh food offers, full grocery offerings, food to go and a wide range of additional services.
“One of the challenges of running a forecourt is the historical consumer perception of what they used to be as opposed to what they could become; that they are a necessity rather than a destination shop for fresh food, meal solutions or a broader range of services and products that are seen much more commonly now,” says Nigel Gray, Business Unit Director for Symbol.
To change this misconception, retailers need to drive the fresh agenda and to help the consumer recognise the varied fresh meal missions available to them be it at breakfast, lunchtime or evening meal.
According to CCE, sales of soft drinks have grown by 0.3% in forecourts. Choice is a key driver behind the category, particularly with the rise of health conscious consumers who are looking for more options to suit their individual lifestyles. CCE has invested £15m on reformulation since 2012, helping to reduce the average calorie content in its sparkling drinks by 5.3%. Retailers should consider their best-selling drinks, and stock a low or zero sugar equivalent. It’s also advisable to monitor for new products, or those being backed by marketing campaigns, in order to make the most of consumer interest.
Bottled water is performing well in forecourts, with Nielsen data calculating an 11.9% growth to £736.2m. The sector will remain a key focus area for retailers during the summer, as consumers look for fast rehydration in warmer weather.
CCE says energy drinks continue to perform well in forecourts and this growth looks set to continue as further innovation in low or no sugar variants are introduced to the sector. Monster Energy has grown by 10.8% over the past year.
The new Monster Energy Ultra range brings a range of three different flavours with no calories. The Ultra White variant leads the line-up, and is joined by Ultra Sunrise, which brings a citrus and orange twist with a sophisticated dry flavour, and Ultra Red.
With the growing importance of convenience and forecourt stores providing a great fresh food to go offer, forecourts can now also offer the convenience customer access to a strong fresh range of product be it fresh produce, protein or meal solutions supported by a wide grocery range that caters therefore to their everyday needs. This in particular presents a real opportunity for forecourt retailers to drive overall spend, footfall and attract a much broader consumer profile.
There is a huge opportunity for independent forecourts in an increasingly competitive market place by using fuel as a key footfall driving element to their proposition, and to then expand their offering to ensure that it caters for the wide range of customers that could potentially use the site. To do this successfully, however, forecourts have to get the basics right first and build on the reputation that arises from that.