Dublin up on food to go

Last week I was – along with about 70 retailers and suppliers – in Dublin looking at the much-heralded convenience store market in Ireland.  We saw loads of great stores, but the thing that stood out more than anything else was the outstanding food to go offer in pretty much every site we visited. 

Every conference I go to dedicates a great deal of time to talking about this opportunity, yet hot food to go only accounts for 0.4% of UK convenience store sales.  This is a slightly skewed figure as some of the sales through franchises like Subway and Greggs in c-stores may not get counted in the figures. The national average will also be dragged down by the many stores that don’t offer any hot food to go, plus there are also many more sales in chilled or ambient food to go.  Also, we saw stores in central Dublin, so not a direct comparison with the whole of the UK.  Despite all these caveats, none of the 70 experts on our tour would disagree that we are behind in this area.  So, why is food to go so good in Irish convenience stores by comparison with those in Great Britain?

Firstly, Irish convenience stores were early adopters of food to go, and established customers’ habits on where to get their breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks.  The investment and risk taken by Irish convenience operators 20 years ago or more is paying off now.  The lesson here for UK operators is that the way to win isn’t just to ape current operators, but to think about how to leapfrog the competition to lead in a market.  This could be by teaming up with street food operators to offer different cuisines to local customers, or through new services that are needed in the catchment of the store.

Secondly, the retailers we saw in Dublin were much more comfortable with complexity.  We saw two, three or even four serve over counters in some pretty small shops, all of these bringing risk, waste and staff costs, but also bringing sales, margin, footfall and most importantly relevance.  Are we too fearful of the risks of food to go, and not as focused as we should be on the opportunity?  Retail is a tough business where success is about mastering a thousand details, so I get why retailers want to take out some of this complexity.  The problem is, by trying to simplify and de-skill food to go, we may have also removed the abundance, quality and wow factor that attracts customers in a competitive market. 

Thirdly, Irish and British consumers appear to have a very different relationship with brands.  The multiple grocers, and some of the big global fast food chains, reached Ireland a little later than Great Britain, and customer expectations were formed not by these giant brands but by local offers.  In some parts of Britain, we’re seeing momentum behind a counter-culture of supporting small, local businesses.  This may bring opportunities for retailers who want to do something different with food to go (and in other categories).

I would encourage any retailer with an interest in food to go, and in great convenience retailing, to go and see the Irish market first hand.

This entry was posted by Chloe on Fri, 10/11/2017 - 11:47