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Top Five Top-Up Shops

As the supermarkets continue to infiltrate the C-store sector, Robyn Lewis rounds up the top five ‘kings of convenience’

With the UK  retail market increasingly characterised by consolidation and dominated by fewer and fewer big players it is the convenience sector that has become the battleground for growth. This has inevitably led to the entry of some of those powerful players into the market and – perhaps unsurprisingly – it is Tesco that is thus far making the biggest success of things. This move into different retail channels is, according to Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, one of the keys to the group’s success. Maintaining this state of affairs going forward is, as he put it in his 2005 review statement, “[for us] to operate multi-formats – no single format can reach the whole market.”

In terms of the beers, wines and spirits category (BWS), the convenience sector is in growth – but more so for some categories than others. Beer, for example, saw some 11.1% of its off-trade volume sold through this channel last year, an increase of 2.1% since 1997, compared with 58% through supermarkets and hypermarkets and 19.5% through independent food stores. Meanwhile, the wine category sees some 4.1% of off-trade volume sold through this channel, compared with a whopping 67.3% through supermarkets and hypermarkets and 6.9% through direct sales. Spirits sees just 1.8% of off-trade volume sold through C-stores but 59.6% through supermarkets and hypermarkets and 10.6% through specialists (all figures Euromonitor).


Number of outlets: 1,190* (Source: Euromonitor) * includes supermarkets

Sales: £2.6 billion, 2003 sales (Source: Euromonitor)

Chief executive: Martin Beaumont

Food retail chief executive: Nick Eyre

Contact information:The Co-operative Group (CWS) Limited, PO Box 53, New Century House, Manchester, M60 4ES Tel: +44 (0) 161 834 1212


The Co-op has undergone something of a revival of late, morphing from old-fashioned, parochial retailer to ethical, organic and fair-trade champion beloved by left-wing urbanites. It is by concentrating on these USPs that the Co-op believes it has been successful. “The Co-op has been able to remain competitive while also offering a point of difference,” says Vicky Steel, category marketing manager at the retailer. However, Co-op acknowledges there are still challenges to be faced in the convenience sector. “Customers are becoming increasingly less loyal and will shop at a number of stores depending on their needs,” Steel says. “Shopping habits are changing – they are becoming more frequent with the onceweekly shop now a declining pattern. Most consumers now do a couple of top-up shops during the week.”


Number of outlets: 2,662 (Source: Euromonitor)

Sales: £2.3bn, 2003 sales (Source: Euromonitor)

Chief executive: Jerry Marwood managing director

Contact information: SPAR (UK) Limited, Hygeia Building, 66-68 College Road, Harrow, Middlesex, HA1 1BE Tel: +44 (0) 208 426 3700 Fax: +44 (0) 208 426 3701


It surprises most people to discover that Spar is in fact the world’s biggest retail food chain with almost 16,000 stores around the world. Interestingly, the retailer is also the UK’s biggest off-licence, in that it has the most off-licence outlets, and the company claims that 74% of the UK population lives within three-quarters of a mile from a SPAR store. Within this sector it is wine where the retailer really boasts of success. With Liz Aked as trading controller at the head of the department, wine sales have increased 100% in a decade and 8% of Blossom Hill sold in this country is sold through Spar.

And it is with its own brand too, that the company has been able to drive sales. The strong own-label offering – over 900 products, which the company claims are the preferred buy for some 75% of its customers – and its value-for-money positioning has put the chain in a strong position in the convenience sector. 


Number of outlets: 2,236 (Source: Euromonitor)

Sales: £0.5bn, sales 2003 (Source: Euromonitor)

Group chief executive officer (Musgrave): Chris Martin

Contact information: Musgrave Budgens Londis, Musgrave House, Widewater Place, Moorhall Road, Harefield, Middlesex, UB9 6PE Tel: +44 (0) 870 050 0158 Fax: +44 (0) 870 050 0159

Website: or

The Musgrave group acquired Londis in June 2004, combining it with its existing retail business – Budgens. This has, the group says, delivered “significant” benefits to the business and stands the company in good stead despite the entry of the UK multiples into the convenience sector, making the marketplace an increasingly tough and competitive environment. It is also having the philosophy of a family business that helps, says the group. “The strong family business dimension of the Londis retailer population links well with the Musgrave tradition of a ‘family business serving family businesses’. We believe that a similar philosophy and outlook exists within the Londis structure. The Budgens and Londis central functions have been brought together and we are confident that the combination of Budgens as a larger store format and Londis operating smaller convenience stores will allow the creation of a UKwide infra-structure supporting independent retailers.”


Number of outlets: 1,150 (Source: Euromonitor)

Sales: £0.4bn, 2003 sales (Source: Euromonitor)

Chairman and managing director: Colin Graves

Contact information: Costcutter Supermarkets Group Ltd, Harvest Mills, Dunnington, York, YO19 5RY Tel: 01904 488663

Website: Founded as recently as 1986, Costcutter now boasts 1,200 stores in the UK and a European presence in Poland and Southern Ireland. The group claims this continued pattern of growth has been made possible by its competitive price positioning and strong grocery offer.

Beers, wines and spirits are a key part of this successful offer, according to a Costcutter spokesperson who spoke to db. “The chilled area in particular is an essential area for convenience stores to take advantage of and is also one offering that we have ‘stolen a march on’ compared to the multiples. At Costcutter, our group-wide development of the chilled beer and wine offering and the strong three-weekly promotional programme supported by leaflet drops, national press and TV advertising are definite advantages we offer over other convenience stores.”


Number of outlets: 910 (Source: Euromonitor)

Sales: n/a

Chief Executive: (T&S) Steve Murrells

Contact information: One Stop, Apex Road, Brownhills Walsall, West Midlands WS8 7TS Tel: +44 (0)1543 363000

 Website: or

The One Stop chain is part of the T&S Stores group which was bought by Tesco at the beginning of 2003. The acquisition saw a number of One Stop outlets change to the Tesco Express format but other (primarily neighbourhood) stores remain under the One Stop facia and the company claims it continues to run as an independent business.

Tesco’s 2004 interim report claimed the group was more than satisfied with the chain’s performance, stating, “We are pleased with the trading performance of the T&S stores, they are ahead of plan.” But it remains to be seen how many of the outlets retain their independent facias as the Tesco juggernaut continues to gather pace in the C-store marketplace and the face of UK retailing becomes more and more homogenised.

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