There remains a huge gulf between genuinely operating a convenience store and running a small version of a big supermarket.

There remains a huge gulf between genuinely operating a convenience store and running a small version of a big supermarket.

Suppliers that I work with in the UK are frequently unimpressed with the efforts of some of the major multiples: one comment I noted down after touring some ‘convenience’ stores with a confectionery supplier was that “these are big-box experts trying to drive a small-box solution through efficiency. These stores are actually the polar opposite of convenience”.

I can sympathise with that point of view. Many c-stores one encounters (be they of a multiple or symbol group) are little more than shrunken supermarkets. Sure, the assortment might be compact and pack sizes teeny-tiny but, aside from that, little thought appears to have gone into the shopper missions the store is there to satisfy.

That said, recently refurbished Tesco Metro stores I’ve visited have exponentially improved in terms of demonstrating genuine shopper insight. It’s also fair to suggest Morrisons’ take on convenience has been pretty impressive.

The news that Aldi - continuing to demonstrate jaw-droppingly brilliant growth - was opening its take on convenience retailing initially prompted feelings of mild despair.

Having seen the store, though, one can only be impressed by how Aldi has tweaked its proposition to create a convincing destination. It would be stretching things to actually call it a c-store, but features such as the strong food-to-go offer and a decent top-up grocery range suggests Aldi has understood what shoppers want from the store and how best to service these requirements.

The Aldi store in Kilburn has more than a faint whiff of Lidl’s ‘urban’ concept in Camden, but is the latest in countless examples of proximity being one of the top priorities for virtually all major food retailers.

From Walmart to Carrefour to Tesco, small is definitely the new big in global grocery. What the Aldi store lacks in random piles of telescopes and angle-grinders, it makes up for in offering genuine convenience. Good effort.

  • Bryan Roberts, Retail insights director, Kantar Retail