Working in the customer marketing department of a large frozen food manufacturer means it can be difficult to truly understand how your products are sold in a busy community c-store. So Convenience Store sent Jon Smythe, head of customer marketing at McCain Foods, back to the shop floor to get first-hand experience.
Jon spent the day under the watchful eye of Jackie Barber, who helps run Proudfoot Foodstore, a 3,000sq ft outlet in Seamer, Scarborough. Jackie has worked for the Proudfoot Group for 18 years and has been at the Seamer branch for 11 of them. The Nisa-supplied Proudfoot Group operates five stores in the North Yorkshire area - three in Scarborough, one in Withernsea and one in Barton. Seamer is the retailer's only c-store.
The store has an extensive range of fresh and chilled foods, including a large display of loose and prepacked produce, a good off licence, plenty of grocery, as well as a wide range of non-food, including stationery, books and toys. And the post office brings in a lot of the shop's core customers, who are elderly people and young mums. "The elderly don't like going off to the big shops," says Jackie. "They come in for their pension and do their shopping at the same time."
Getting down to business, Jon rolled up his sleeves and got stuck into checking off a delivery, merchandising new stock, serving customers and discovering straightaway that it's not as easy as it looks. "The problem is that cases are bigger than the sales space - case size and space available don't match," he says. "Where we can find a way to do smaller case sizes, we should. But it's difficult for a manufacturer because it's another line on the inventory and you have to change the packing machines. If we were absolutely convenience-focused, that's what we would do. It's something we we'll continue to look at."
He also found that fitting a new line into an already cramped fixture means it's difficult to keep prices and products matching up. "It's hard to match up price labels to products in the freezer. And if you've got a new line, making sure it's featured without messing up your whole fixture is a challenge. Pricemarked packs would definitely help."
Jon also discovered that the staff on the shop floor aren't always aware of upcoming marketing campaigns, but Jackie had an idea she wanted to put to him. "What often happens is that when a product goes on TV, we're not prepared for it. But if manufacturers could let us know beforehand, we can get the extra stock in on time," says Jackie. "What would be useful is for manufacturers to put a notice on the box to say when the product is being advertised on TV."
Jon responded: "What I didn't realise is that while we communicate marketing campaigns to the head office or wholesaler, the message isn't always getting through to the people who put the stock out. We don't have that problem with multiples because there's fewer people involved. Jackie's idea is a good one."
While Jon clearly enjoyed his day on the shop floor, it made him think harder about how suppliers work with smaller stores. "Manufacturers need to help c-stores more through management resources," he says. "We provide a lot of expertise to Nisa, but I think we could do more on ranging. Working here today has highlighted that manufacturers need to offer more advice on core range. With all the promotions and new lines, it can be difficult for them to ensure they still have the core range."
Going back to the shop floor has also prompted Jon to consider the suitability of shelf-ready packaging for convenience stores. "It's great for getting stock out quickly, but we'll have to have a really hard think about how it could work in convenience because it would challenge their space flexibility."