The C-Store Champions reveal how they are adapting their stock for today’s increasingly health-conscious and diet-aware shoppers

Emma Jenkins, Milverton Stores, Taunton, Somerset

Gluten- and dairy-free products are a must in Emma’s store, bought by those even without an intolerance

Jay Patel, St James News, London

Jay makes sure he has products aimed at shoppers passing his Tube station store who are on their way to the gym

Donna Mullan, Mullan’s Spar, Armagh

Protein bars are proving a big success for Donna, as her shoppers look for alternatives to chocolate, cakes and donuts

Barrie Seymour, Londis Littletown, West Yorkshire

Water is selling well at Barrie’s store, thanks to increasing numbers of people exercising outdoors or hitting the gym

What are the main health trends that you’ve noticed your shoppers buying into over the past months?

Emma: My customers aren’t exactly trendsetters as they are mostly the elderly and young families on a budget. Although saying that, healthier snacking is definitely a big trend at the moment and something which we are going to be looking into more and more this year. People are always on the lookout for healthy alternatives to crisps and chocolate bars which they can easily grab and eat on the go. This is an area which we can hopefully push to make up for some of the lost sales from tobacco. Gluten-free is also definitely a trend with my shoppers. I think people are buying into these products even if they do not have any sort of intolerance, but they are doing it to see if it makes a difference to their overall wellbeing. I’ve found it difficult to maintain in some categories, though. Fresh foods and products with a short shelf life don’t tend to work for our customer base, for example we tried gluten-free bread, but there wasn’t enough people buying it and we ended up with some waste. However, with biscuits, cakes and crackers it’s great. They’re very popular and bought by people who have a gluten intolerance as well as those people who don’t. Another trend that some of our shoppers do follow is in dairy-free foods and so we’ve brought in more dairy-free milks.

Jay: The two main health trends in my store are those concerned with high-protein diets and the gluten-free diets. Ever since we opened as a Simply Fresh people have seen our store as a place where they can go to buy fresh and healthy foods and so people with those sorts of diets come here expecting to find what they want. The other reason that we see a lot of these shoppers is because we are located within a tube station and so commuters come past our store on their way from work to the gym and grab a snack.

Donna: Definitely the protein bars and the salads are very popular in our store. We used to have chocolate bars, cakes, donuts and pastries situated next to the coffee machine as that’s what people used to pick up, but now we have moved healthier cereal bars and protein bars there and that’s proving far more popular as people are so much more conscious of the sugar content of foods. Not only are protein bars seen as having more nutritional value, but they are much easier to eat on the go and probably more filling as well. We have a lot of gyms and boot camps going on in the local area, and my husband attends a gym and so he hears people discussing the nutritional value of the foods they eat and has noticed how important this is to lots of people.

Barrie: I’ve not really noticed many health trends other than our Porky Lights sausages selling in ridiculous numbers because people following the Slimming World diet say they can eat these because they have a low number of “syns”. People are also buying a lot more bottled water than they used to and I think this is because they are using the leisure facilities within walking distance from the store. Not only are people using the gyms, swimming pools and running track more, but I’ve noticed a lot more people out running in the parks and outdoors. There’s definitely much more awareness of health and fitness now.

What products have you started stocking as a result of healthy eating and Free-from trends?

Emma: I’ve got gluten-free pizza in the freezer, which is really popular. I also tried stocking gluten-free beer, but that didn’t do very well. In terms of dairy-free, we have started selling almond and soya milk. We currently have the sweetened and unsweetened variants of almond milk, which are more popular than the soya.

Jay: We’ve increased our range of protein bars so customers have a good selection to choose from as there are a lot of popular brands within this category. We’ve also started stocking the UFIT protein shakes as we were told that these were much better than another brand that we were selling. I don’t know why these are better, but they’ve sold really well since we started stocking them!

Donna: We have increased the number of salad bowls that we have on offer, as well as bringing in a whole standalone protein bars range, which could help create another point of difference for us. We also do bags of five fruits and change this each month depending on what’s in season.

Barrie: I’ve increased the number of water SKUs I stock and reduced the amount of Coke, Lucozade and Red Bull in stock. Lucozade sales have slowed down a lot now, as have Red Bull.

What demographic of shoppers buy into these trends?

Emma: Gluten-free is bought across the board. I had an 11-year-old girl with a gluten intolerance come in with her parents, and the elderly buy into it as well. The dairy-free trend is definitely followed more by younger females.

Jay: I would say all office workers in the area are into these trends, male and female.

Donna: I see it as across the board. If people aren’t gym bunnies then they are the parents of children who are being encouraged to 
eat more healthily at school and therefore parents are having to buy more healthy foods and in turn end up eating more healthily themselves.

Barrie: Water is bought by the whole range of shoppers, but probably more by those on their way to the gyms down the road.

What are your best sellers within this area? And have you tried any products which haven’t sold?

Emma: The gluten-free pizza is my best seller in this area. It’s the Goodfella’s Margherita variant. I was surprised that it was so popular as I thought that people following a gluten-free diet would mostly be eating healthy foods. However, I think that this pizza is good for when they’re eating socially.

Jay: The Clif protein bars are good sellers for me. Trek bars, Bounce protein balls and UFIT protein shakes are all very popular for us, too. There was a more watery protein shake that we started stocking, but we were told by our shoppers they were not very nice. People who follow these trends know the brands very well and know exactly what they want.

Donna: The jar of egg whites didn’t work in our store. The protein powder retails at £34.99 so it’s designed for the real fanatics, so we don’t sell a lot of these, but we do sell the odd few. The biggest sellers are the caramel and peanut Fulfil bar, the Tracker bars and the Grain bars. It’s the sweeter the better when it comes to protein bars.

Barrie: Smart Water and Volvic Touch of Fruit are both particularly popular in my store.

How do you see this trend evolving over the next year?

Emma: As more and more of the big brands bring out Free-from products I think it will continue to become more mainstream. For example, McVities has brought out gluten-free Hob Nobs and consumers who don’t need to be gluten-free are much more likely to try those than a specialist gluten-free branded product, as people are more likely to trust that it will taste good.

Jay: These health trends are both really big and I think they’ll continue to expand over the next year. I’m noticing more and more people looking at the ingredients in products now and paying more attention to what they are eating, so health is definitely a growing concern.

Donna: If it continues to expand as quickly as it has done over the past year then it will be amazing for us, but we will just have to watch and continue to expand our selection if it does grow further.

Barrie: I think it’s going to continue to evolve and I plan to increase my range of products for health-conscious 
people. I have been informed through our retailer Whatsapp group that protein shakes are really popular in other stores so I am going to get some of these in. I’ve noticed forecourts in the area are selling protein bars and even protein powder now, which seems bizarre for a garage forecourt, but they must sell otherwise why would they continue to stock them? It just goes to show how widespread that trend is so I definitely need to see if it will work in my shop.

What prompted you to start stocking Free-from and healthier lines, and how has your range expanded?

Emma: We just began to notice more people picking up gluten-free products, so started getting in more and more. One example of a gluten-free product that was selling well was our Black Farmer sausages, from Dorset. When it came to our dairy-free range, someone mentioned to me last autumn that they would like me to sell almond milk and so I started to sell it from then on.

Jay: We always had quite a good range of these products because of the fact we are supplied by Simply Fresh, but we’ve expanded both the protein and the gluten-free ranges over time in line with the growing popularity of both. People have also started buying more pieces of fruit as snacks so I’ve made sure to keep up with demand.

Donna: We keep talking to customers all the time to find out what they want, but the protein bars actually came from a protein company salesman who kept coming into our store asking if we wanted a protein stand. We weren’t even sure what a protein stand was to begin with, but eventually decided it might work. We started with a range of everything, from bars, to powders and a jar full of egg whites. Right from the start we noticed the protein bars were flying out and people were picking them up alongside their coffee. We’ve gradually expanded this range over time and reduced the number SKUs of the other products.

Barrie: I think the amount of water we sold increased last summer when we had a good spell of hot weather and it continued from there.

How do you merchandise these lines? Have you reduced your range of any other products as a result?

Emma: I haven’t needed to reduce my range of other products. I just merchandise the gluten-free products within their categories rather than in their own area. This helps boost sales of these products, as people who aren’t specifically looking for gluten-free will pick them up, too.

Jay: I have separate bays especially for protein bars and for gluten-free products. Commuters want to get in and out quite quickly so this makes it easier for them to know where to get what they are looking for.

Donna: We are currently expanding our range of protein products so that we will have a one-metre standalone fixture with seven shelves next to the coffee machine, as that’s the item that shoppers generally buy at the same time.

Barrie: We do stock fewer sugary drinks now that we’ve expanded the number of water SKUs available.