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The incursion of the multiples, beginning with the first Tesco Express in 1994, raised shopper expectations in the convenience sector and has driven the traditional convenience operators to respond effectively; raising standards, driving investment in store and introducing new categories and services.

According to the latest figures from the ACS, convenience retailers have already spent £177m refurbishing stores in the three months to May, and one in four plan to invest in their stores this year. With a new confidence and sense of optimism, the convenience sector, worth over £37bn to the UK economy, and with 50,000 stores nationwide and employing nearly 400,000 people, looks to be in a strong position.

The decline of the traditional big weekly shop in favour of ‘little and often’ has been a lifeline for the convenience sector, with consumers shopping when needed to avoid waste and stockpiling.

Around a quarter of shoppers now visit their local shop every day. Spending is up, with the average number of items bought in a c-store hitting three products for the first time in 10 years. Top-up shopping is helping to drive this and now accounts for 44p in every £1 spent in c-stores.

But the convenience operators haven’t had it all their own way with the top-up shop. The discounter store format means shoppers can get in and out quickly and conveniently, focusing on food shopping - something that has previously played to the strengths of c-stores.

But what of the leading supermarkets? The pressure is on for them to compete in this space. But while we have seen some of the grocery multiples successfully growing their c-store footprint like Waitrose and M&S Simply Food, others, including Morrisons and Tesco, are now putting the brakes on their c-store plans.

As convenience becomes the new battleground for the major retailers, we’re seeing the more traditional c-stores upping their game. As the ACS figures suggest, many are already investing in store refurbishment and layout to encourage the quick ‘in and out’ shopping trip and to make stores more modern and relevant.

Visiting a refurbished c-store now, you’ll likely see a real focus on fresh and baked to reinforce top-up credentials, and the introduction of dedicated food on the go, hot drink on the go and meal for tonight categories.

Many convenience retailers are looking at how they can build customer loyalty, optimise and extend their ranges, introduce new categories and develop price and promotion strategies to appeal to a new breed of shopper.

Manufacturers will also be keen to capitalise on this growing market and understand the real drivers and challenges in the convenience channel, whether it’s gaps in distribution, regional sales differences or the impact of particular deals on brands. They in turn can develop the right promotional plans and NPD launches.

The c-store is back - and back with a vengeance. Times are changing and shoppers are changing with it, welcoming back their local store for more than just a pint of milk!

Stephen Lampard is head of convenience at IRI