Ethnic food is a staple of the c-store offer with many claiming to stock a good range of products, from Chinese sauces and Caribbean food to Indian bread and vegetables. The majority of stores say they will also be expanding their ranges as the communities they serve become more culturally diverse and more ethnic products become mainstream.
The influx of Polish, and to a lesser extent Hungarian, people into the UK has encouraged many c-stores to stock at least a limited range of eastern European products, although many owners express confusion over which lines they should be selling. "We try and ask our Polish customers what products they would like us to sell but it is difficult to fully understand what they want or the different types of products available," says one retailer. "It's hard to know what some Polish products are, especially the ones in jars because their ingredients are often only written in Polish on the labels, so we don't buy them."
Many stores have made only tentative steps into the Polish market by stocking a few "safe" products such as bread, biscuits and fruit juices. Some are also starting to stock a Polish newspaper for their regular customers.
Not every store is in favour of stocking Polish food, however. "There are a few small shops nearby that stock a limited range, and these tend to be frequented by the Polish community, but we haven't followed suit. It's still only a niche market," says one.
Other retailers say they aren't confident enough to sell Polish food and will leave it up to the growing number of Polish stores and delicatessens, which are often run by Polish people.
Our survey also indicates that the stores that want to stock Polish food are already doing so, with only 20% of respondents saying they intend to stock it in the future.
The Polish food market, however, has been given a boost by the introduction of brands by Heinz and Unilever and the major multiples have started to stock Polish lines for the first time. Next month Birmingham-based independent chain Pak Supermarkets is opening the UK's largest ethnic food supermarket.
Wholesalers such as Booker have responded to independents' needs by listing a decent range of Polish food and drink but some store owners say they still have trouble sourcing products. "There is quite a large demand for products, but we don't know where to get them," says one retailer.