C-store retailers have been urged to capitalise on growing demand for ready meals and smaller basket sizes, and the continual decline in out-of-town shopping.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, said shoppers were under increasing pressure from the economic slowdown. Latest Nielsen research showed 29% said they had less money than the previous year, up from 22% in 2012, while 29% were continuing to use their car less often.

Speaking at the Convenience Performance Seminar organised by Convenience Store and sponsored by Mondelēz UK, he said more than half of shoppers (56%) had cut down on take-away meals, while fresh ready meals was the fastest-growing category in grocery in 2012 (up 7.9% to £2.4bn).

However, Jill Livesey, insight and marketing director at HIM, told delegates that currently only 5% of shoppers came to convenience stores for ‘meals for tonight’, meaning retailers needed to improve their offer.

Watkins said people were spending on smaller baskets at supermarkets to save money. Up to 10 items per basket now accounts for 60% of visits and one to five items account for 49%. “Smaller basket spend is your opportunity, but it’s also the multiples’ opportunity,” he said.

Reflecting the trends in smaller basket sizes and desire to reduce car use, out-of-town stores were in long-term decline and half of shoppers “simply visit their closest store,” he added. However, discounters Aldi and Lidl had grown their presence by 28% and would be opening more stores in urbanised areas, he warned.