The forecourt shopper’s main reason for visiting a site is still to top up with fuel. But, according to Him’s Convenience Tracking Programme survey of 22,000 shoppers, the second reason is for ’newsagent’ items such as tobacco and newspapers, followed by food-to-go, top-up items and treats. These latter three categories all feature in your chillers for example, a sandwich, a pint of milk and an indulgent creamy yogurt.

Claire McLaughlin, marketing manager at Him, says: "Forecourts attract a disproportionate number of AB shoppers where range, availability and quality are more important. Plus these consumers will shop for chilled items more often.

"Twenty two per cent of forecourt customers are AB compared to the 17% convenience average, and 58% are male compared to the 47% convenience average. So when looking at the chilled offer, it’s important to consider the range of products as well as mission management by that I mean merchandising associated products together. There are definitely opportunities within the food-to-go mission where forecourts outperform the convenience average, and again retailers should make sure associated items and offers are placed together, and at the right time of day. These customers will probably be time-poor and will therefore respond well to the ultimate convenience."

McLaughlin says that when it comes to chilled, symbol fascia forecourt stores and grocery-based ones usually win over traditional oil-company owned stores because they have a better chilled offer.

Colin Smith, commercial director at Müller Dairy, says: "The argument for forecourt retailers with convenience stores to put more focus on chilled food in general, and dairy products in particular, is overwhelming, and not just in terms of the size of these categories, but in terms of what consumers want and expect from their local convenience store. Research among convenience shoppers unveiled at the recent IGD Convenience Conference revealed that over two-thirds (68%) of respondents cited dairy as the ’most important’ category when it comes to shopping in c-stores, followed by fresh fruit and veg, then bread, rolls and cakes."

Smith adds that the ’best-in-class’ convenience stores are already grasping the opportunity by devoting as much as a third or more of their store space to chilled food. He is therefore urging all independent retailers, including forecourts, to re-assess the level of impact that chilled food sales could have in terms of driving footfall and increasing basket spend.

New lines always attract attention, and the latest new Müller line to hit chillers is a pineapple & caramelised sugar limited edition Müller Rice. Available until the end of the year, it is the fourth new flavour in the Müller Rice limited edition series, replacing the toffee apple variant launched last autumn. Amoré also has a special edition luscious lemon & ginger, which replaces the delicious plum & cinnamon flavour launched last November.

Meanwhile, three classic British puddings Eton mess, apple pie and cherry bakewell have provided the inspiration for the new Müller Corner limited edition range.

They are available in a six-pack containing two of each flavour while the Eton mess and apple pie variants are also available in single 135g pots.

Spread it about

IRI data has the butters and spreads category worth over £1.2bn in the UK, with growth of 12% in the past year.

But Stuart Ibberson, business unit director at Arla Foods, says butter and spreads are bought almost on ’autopilot’. "When compared with other categories, shoppers spend very little time browsing the butters and spreads aisle. This massively reduces the opportunity to trade up as the shopper heads directly to their preferred brand. It is therefore essential to merchandise the category with the best selling products such as Lurpak and Anchor Spreadable."

However, according to IRI data, it is Flora which is the largest brand in the £1.2bn butters and spreads market, with a household penetration of 53%.

Brand manager Alastair McKerrow says Unilever is aiming to grow the brand and category further by encouraging the use of Flora for spreading in sandwiches. "In particular, we’ll be focusing on tapping into the lunchtime in-home and lunchbox sandwich occasions, where the opportunity for growth is strongest," he says.

Meanwhile, Adam Mehegan, shopper marketing manager at Dairy Crest, reckons retailers should stock a good range from full fat butters, to low-fat health-specific products so that all occasions and customer needs are catered for. "Avoiding duplication, particularly different sizes of the same product, will mean the chiller won’t be overcrowded," he advises.

"Think about what customers are looking for. Pack size is important as larger family packs such as 1kg tubs are less appropriate for small stores because they can be more expensive and do not cater for convenience shopper needs."

Katy Ryan, director of insight and innovation for Adams Foods, says there were 5.6 billion meal occasions that included cheese in the UK last year. And according to AC Nielsen data, just one more portion a week could add £350m to the category.

Ryan says forecourt retailers should focus on the ’big wins’. "Cheese in lunchtime occasions is worth £2.5bn with 37.1% of cheese being eaten at this time (Kantar Worldpanel). Retailers should be sure to suit their cheese offering to lunchtime, particularly by making it sandwich friendly with sliced or grated cheese.

"There is also an opportunity with cheese as a treat. Adults often indulge in cheese as a snack, particularly in the evening. Stocking a good variety can help appeal to those looking to fulfil a particular craving."

Cheese is what Mehegan describes as "an expandable category", one where consumers will consume more if it’s available in the fridge. According to IRI data, Cathedral City is worth £21m within the convenience category and is experiencing strong growth at 13.4%. The range was recently extended with the launch of a twin pack containing one 350g block of mature and one of mature lighter.

"Health has been a long-term trend within the cheese category," explains Mehegan. "This has driven growth for lighter variants as they cater for consumers who are looking to make steps towards a healthier lifestyle. Cathedral City mature lighter fits perfectly with this trend, offering a great tasting cheese that can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, balanced and active lifestyle.

"We expect the lighter sector to continue to grow over the next three years as demand for lighter products with no sacrifice on taste increases."

He says consumers have also started becoming more adventurous, expanding their repertoire and trying new cheeses. "This trade-up to new or more premium variants is very important for category growth and is a key trend for Cathedral City. We introduced trial size packs to support this and to introduce the consumer to the wider portfolio."

Meanwhile, Wyke Farms, is taking its cheese to the people with its biggest summer sampling tour yet, which is set to reach over one million consumers. Visiting 37 national consumer events over a six-month period, the Wyke Farms tour trailer will be hard to miss thanks to a 2.5m inflatable cow flying from the roof. The public will be invited into the trailer to taste the award-winning Cheddar in a traditional farmhouse kitchen layout.

Shake it up

According to Nielsen, the flavoured milk category is worth £195.5m and is growing by 14% year-on-year in value terms. Frijj is the number one flavoured milk brand, worth £49m and is growing 10.5% year-on-year.

The latest additions to the range were The Incredible variants premium products with more indulgent flavours. These have proved a hit, with sales worth £3.6m since the launch last year.

Meanwhile, Jon Rodriguez, business managerat Yoplait UK, recommends that forecourt stores stock Yop strawberry 330g and Yop raspberry 330g as "this is a great yogurt drink, perfect for instant consumption".

Finally, one category you won’t want to overlook is meat snacks. According to IRI data, the ’handheld meat’ category is currently worth more than £93m and continues to grow. Unilever’s Peperami is the UK’s leading meat snacking brand, with a 45% share of the market and overall value sales totaling almost £42m (IRI). A bite size format Peperami Nibblers was added to the range in 2010. Brand manager Kate Mitchell says this has achieved value sales of over £2m, increasing by over 73% in the last 12 months, indicating that there is strong consumer demand for such products.

"The format of Peperami is great for guys on the go, packed lunches and is an ideal impulse purchase for consumers," she says.

retailer view

Jonathan and Rebecca James won Best Display of Chilled Food at the 2011 Forecourt Trader of the Year Awards for their Ely (Budgens fascia) store.

Jonathan says: "I think the reason we won was because we have every kind of chilled meal solution available; it’s an extremely good range; and it’s very well laid out.

"Ready meals are our star performers and I think a lot of that is to do with there always being NPD. The section just keeps reinventing itself.

"The key to a good chilled section is to give ownership to one person so they are in charge of all the ordering and wastage. We have Laura Kirby, who has worked for us for 10 years and she is great.

"Some retailers are worried about wastage it is a downside but with chilled food you do get better margins. You just need to manage your wastage carefully. We use some of the items that haven’t sold but are still within date for sandwiches or for cooking on the hot food counter.

"We put doors back on our chillers a couple of years ago and other retailers said they’d never do that but now they are. Having doors allows us to light up the display vertically as well as horizontally so it makes it look more appealing and really brings it to life."