Prepare for 2017

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I don’t think it’s too late to wish you a happy new year, but I wonder what sort of year 2017 will be? There are many indications it will be tough, with increased wage and business costs, an uncertain household economic environment and more grocery stores opening despite the growth of online. But, at the same time, there are still opportunities to be had, and in a steady market such as food and drink there will always be as many operators on the winning side as those under pressure.

But 2017 is unusual in the sheer scale of the issues on the horizon, so perhaps the best way forward is to break the cycle of previous years and to forge ahead on a new model. Food to go is an obvious area to develop, as it fits perfectly within the instant consumption focus of a c-store. For some this means a rearrangement to put all the ‘eat now’ lines together, but for others it will involve a more ambitious refit with an in-store kitchen and more specialised staff.

It is more expensive and risky, of course, but the advantage of a kitchen is that it allows you to create your own brand of food and mealtime offerings as well as food to go. On a recent trip to Northern Ireland most of the stores I visited had their own selection of pies, puddings and meals prepared within in-store kitchens, and sold at a good price to busy shoppers.

All this is easier said than done, but plenty of stores are doing it, and independent c-store operators prove themselves year after year to be adaptable and resilient – and can usually respond to broad market changes and specific local opportunities quicker than big chains. If there is a theme for 2017 it could be ‘do it yourself’ – ask your customers what they really want, and then make it happen for them and for you.

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