The convenience sector is projected to grow by 3.5% in value during 2019, according to a new market valuation by HIM. 

P4 LEAD Spar Warton customers

The increase represents an acceleration on last year’s growth figure of 2.7%, and is driven by improved professionalism, product premiumisation and increases in Retail Price Index inflation.

Under HIM’s valuation, total sales in the sector are forecast to reach £41.7bn by the end of 2019.

In general terms, shoppers are increasingly using the convenience sector for quicker but more frequent visits than before, with smaller average basket sizes. Across the industry as a whole, trip frequency rose from 3.4 visits per week in 2018 to 3.8 this year, with the average number of items purchased per visit dropping from 2.5 to 2.3.

Average time spent in store also fell by 32 seconds to three minutes 46 seconds.

The sector has made some progress in attracting food-to-go shoppers, with sales in the category up by 3% and the convenience sector’s share of shoppers on a food-to-go mission increasing from 13% last year to 14% this year. However, this is still well below the peak of 20% achieved five years ago as the food-to-go marketplace has become more competitive, with an estimated 150,000 outlets in the UK now offering it in some form.

Further cause for concern is in the fact that the convenience sector is under-used by young consumers, according to the survey, with a falling market share among shoppers aged 18-24, who cite lack of ease and speed as reasons to avoid the sector. However, customer service remains a high priority for other age groups, with “friendly and helpful staff” driving 12% of visits to a particular outlet, up from the 10% recorded last year.

In the associated HIM awards programme, Booker’s symbol group Premier was named the shopper’s favourite convenience fascia, based on shopper feedback. The full study interviewed more than 20,000 shoppers at more than 1,200 stores, across 25 different trading fascias.