Children's health and food

Making convenience stores healthier

20 February 2020
3 min read

Convenience is a key determinant that influences what we eat. Portfolio Manager Jessica Attard shares what we’ve learnt from our local pilot in Southwark, introducing small changes to nudge consumers towards healthier options.

Jessica Attard
Jessica Attard
Portfolio Manager

Research has taught us that convenience is a key determinant of the food we eat. 

It follows affordability in the list of priorities for food and sits alongside social considerations and taste. Busy families, or teens on their route home from school, will use convenience stores to top-up the weekly shop or grab a quick bite.

We know that these stores are generally less healthy. They have smaller product ranges and often lack balanced options compared to their larger competitors. These stores also focus on key categories like confectionery, alcohol and fizzy drinks. 

This is particularly true for independently-owned stores; smaller in size and have crowded isles. In most cases, owners are not marketeers. Their shops may not change much over time, they may be less likely to respond to new consumer trends and more likely to respond to wholesaler deals.

The fragmented nature of these smaller stores makes them challenging to engage. They are often not part of membership bodies and don’t have links to one another so engagement must be on an individual basis. 


Testing changes to influence healthier behaviours

Relatively little is known about what approaches work to make them healthier. That’s why we supported the Mayor’s Good Food Retail project. Funded by the Mayor and supported by Sustain, six boroughs in the capital including Southwark planned and piloted an approach to good food retail. 

The pilot in Southwark, delivered by retail and local marketing experts Rice Marketing, had a specific focus on independent convenience stores.

This pilot involved working with six stores in areas with a high proportion of families on a low income (Camberwell Green and South Bermondsey). 

All outlets were identified as being important to the local community and were segmented based on their size and location. They were given agreed action plans which involved changes to the product range, space, layout and merchandising. 

These were to increase the amount and prominence of healthier options. Specific examples include:

– Extending the range of low or no sugar fizzy drinks;

– Adding healthier confectionery alternatives at check-outs;

– And, moving healthier items into eye-line.

The pilot emphasises that small and simple changes can have a significant impact on purchasing behaviour. And also that these can be good for businesses as well as people.

Jessica Attard Portfolio Manager

What we learned

We’ve been impressed by the results of a relatively quick and inexpensive trial. We are using these to inform what we do next. Here’s what we learnt:

  1. Shop owners were surprisingly open to change. They welcomed having expert advice on how they could drive profits through healthier options. Across the trial, over 50 new product lines were introduced. Having advice like this isn’t something that many of these businesses have had access to before, so it’s a valued resource.
  2. Products sold are influenced by what’s on offer in the wholesaler depot. In independent stores more so than chains, product ranges are fluid and often influenced by the wholesaler and price deals. This gives us another route to influence what convenience stores stock by engaging with wholesalers. We’re working with Rice Marketing to look at this opportunity in more detail.
  3. Small changes can have a relatively significant impact. As a result of the trial, some stores saw sales of particular product categories shift by as much as 18%. For example, consumers switching from white to wholemeal bread, buying more fresh fruit and choosing healthier confectionery options.
  4. What’s healthy for consumers can also be healthy for business profits. There hasn’t yet been a comprehensive evaluation of all the stores. Yet, there are positive reports and indications that the changes have resulted in higher profits. This is both, through greater profit margins on new products as well as higher sales. For example Rajappa, who owns a local store, has seen on average £250 worth of new sales each month. This is from the healthier lines introduced and small changes like placing all zero sugar cereals in one place in the store.


Taking onboard lessons to inform what’s next

This project has been interesting to learn about how we might begin to improve the food offering in local convenience stores. It emphasises that small and simple changes can have a significant impact on purchasing behaviour. And also that these can be good for businesses as well as people.

As part of the streets strand of our children’s health and food programme, we’ll continue to consider how we might scale up this type of intervention. We’re also starting our work with wholesalers and will share lessons as we learn more.

In the meantime, do get in touch if you have ideas about how we could scale this exciting work.