Somerfield prepares for convenience revolution

Somerfield plans to have 600 convenience stores by 2008 in an aggressive expansion push that could make the grocer a major force in the market.

The retailer will embark on a roll-out of its Essentials fascia. Most of the 600 shops will be come from openings, acquisitions and the development of a franchise business.

About 150 stores will be converted to the Essentials format (Retail Week, March 26), as well as 36 Aberness stores acquired last month.

Somerfield head of convenience formats Steve Tremlett revealed the target at Tuesday's Customer-Focused Convenience conference.

He said: 'The revolution has begun and we believe that the (Essentials) format is industry-leading. The proposition is different to Tesco Express - that is more of a scaled-down supermarket. We are focusing more on food to go, food for now and food for later.'

Somerfield has three Essentials stores at present. The first Essentials franchise will open within the next couple of weeks at Heacham, near Norwich.

Consolidation in the convenience sector is continuing apace, with the sale of Londis expected to be completed in the next couple of months.

Teather & Greenwood analyst Dave Stoddart said: 'There will not be enough market share to support everyone (expanding in the convenience sector). There will be some casualties, but as to who, we don't know yet.'

- United Co-op - the UK's biggest regional Co-op - has set aside£100 million for acquisitions in sectors including convenience.