According to HIM, top up remains the most valuable mission to the convenience sector, accounting for 38% of trade spend and 30% of footfall. Almost nine in 10 (88%) of the UK adult population does a top up shop at least once a week and spends about 24% of their monthly grocery budget on top-up shopping. So why are shoppers topping up and what are they buying?

Top 5

Mission Products

1. Milk

2. Bread

3. Fruit & Veg

4. Chilled

5. Soft drinks

“Primarily to buy fresh products between main shops, as well as items they’ve run out of or forgot to buy,” says HIM’s Katie Littler. “The battle for top up spend is already competitive with convenience seeing a slow decline over the last few years, with supermarkets and discounters snatching an increased proportion of ‘top up’ spend.”

Although top up may not be as lucrative in the future, with future trends pointing towards a shopper who is more planned and focused on budgeting and reducing waste - meaning retailers will be battling harder for a potentially decreased number of top up shopping occasions - it doesn’t mean retailers should begin ignoring the mission. “Shoppers tell us that it is a reliable and credible fresh range that is the key driver to where they choose to top up, as well as a shop they trust to give them value for money,” adds Littler.

Warburtons category controller Martin Baptie agrees that fresh produce is a staple of top up. “Out of all top up missions, 17% are planned and 13% are distress, with many shoppers making planned ‘routine’ top up trips to stock up during the week - particularly for fresh products,” he says. “There is an opportunity here for convenience retailers to capitalise on this consumer need to top up on fresh by improving their offering in fresh categories.”

Milk and bread are the two most common top up mission products purchased so making sure these categories are correct is crucial. “Bread and milk are key top up items and more focus needs to be given to these products to drive shoppers into convenience stores for their top up missions,” says Baptie. “Retailers need to focus on getting their range right, offering availability of core products at all times, and ensuring strong visibility of best-selling bread products in order to grow sales.”

He adds that retailers need to help consumers overcome the perception that convenience stores are more expensive than the multiples. “Poor price perception and quality of range of fresh products is currently driving shoppers away from convenience stores,” he says.

Sandy Wilkie, Müller Wiseman sales and marketing director, agrees and advises retailers who want to capitalise on the top up mission to focus on deals in these categories. “Increasingly, offers and deals should be targeted to the four out of five shoppers not currently buying their milk from the convenience sector,” he says. “The potential for growth here is huge, and offers should be scattered around the shop, not just at point of sale, to maximise awareness.

“It’s a little-known fact that shoppers who add milk to their shopping basket will spend up to 30% more than an average shopper who doesn’t. The message is clear: get the milk fixture right and sales will follow.”

Retailer’s view

“Bread and milk are real customer winners in my store. They’re fast-selling lines that we do better than our competition. In fact, we’re 19p cheaper on a 800g loaf of bread and 23p cheaper on a 2ltr bottle of milk than the Tesco next door. That’s a saving of 42p for customers who buy both products and it’s why we sell 140 loaves a day and 800 2ltr bottle of milk a week.

Retailers who want to focus on the top up mission need to have these lines perfect. They shouldn’t go too heavy on profit margin but focus on volume sales through price promotions.

It’s also key to promote the fact that you’re a good store for topping up on everyday items. In every one of our Premier leaflets, we’ll remind customers of our bread and milk offer, and have plenty of signs around the store. Also, when customers come in to top up on other products like toilet roll, we’ll remind them about the offers we have on the core top up products of bread and milk.”

Mandeep Singh, Premier Singh’s, Sheffield