As forecourts evolve in line with the increase in EV charging and changing consumer demand, new opportunities are emerging for fast-food operators, as one young and enterprising pizza company is discovering.

Widespread changes in how consumers fuel their vehicles is having a significant impact on how forecourt operators are now planning the layout and product selection offered to those who visit their premises.

According to the Association of Convenience Stores, the total value of forecourt sales in 2023 amounted to £4.9bn [Experian]. However, with the growing number of electric vehicle (EV) charging points, dwell times at forecourts are becoming longer, and consumers are seeking a raft of different services to while away the time, from superfast wifi to meeting spaces. Alongside that, they are seeking more exciting food and drink propositions.

“More frequently, customers are visiting the forecourt for shopping missions that don’t include petrol,” reports brand identity and interior design company CADA. While these do include in-and-out quick refuel missions, they also offer opportunities to rest and recharge or have become destinations in themselves – either as local community stores or social hubs.

Indeed, speakers on a Forecourt Trader panel at the recent National Convenience Show in Birmingham looked at how retailers and suppliers could make the most of this evolving forecourt scene.

For example, Steve Rodell, managing director for retail at commercial property company Christie & Co, noted that, over the past two to three years, it has become clear that top forecourt retail operators are now thinking long-term and are seeking bigger sites for their operations. Meanwhile on smaller sites, operators are looking to make use of every square foot of space to its optimum. “Utilisation of existing space is key,” he said.

Moreover, as Matt Cundrick, consultant at MKMC Food Business Support, pointed out, there is a shift away from legacy sandwich counters to far more of a dining experience delivered by quick-service restaurant brands, with higher average spends offering higher margins for forecourts. “It is the quality of food that will drive retail expansion,” he noted.

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The power of pizza

One company that has realised the major opportunity presented by the changing nature of forecourts is Fireaway Pizza. First established in the UK in 2016 by managing director Mario Aleppo, the company has developed rapidly, with branches across the UK and Europe now numbering over 150.

The company’s success has been built on its reputation for handmade dough and fresh toppings, with ingredients sourced from the UK and Italy, as well as super-quick service at an average of 180 seconds.

Fireaway Pizza operates a franchise model, with outlets in standard retail locations ranging from a minimum of 800sq ft up to 2,000sq ft. To establish where to open its outlets, the company considers local branch sales and population in a given area, he notes.

It currently operates a large store in a forecourt in Dover. However, in a new venture in partnership with forecourt operator Highway Stops Retail, Fireaway Pizza has just opened an Express outlet in Gravesend on a smaller footprint.

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Fireaway Pizza’s forecourt debut

Fireaway Pizza’s Gravesend forecourt outlet is a first for both the pizza company and the forecourt operator, Highway Stops.

Ramsay MacDonald, non-executive director at Highway Stops, says the company had been casting around for a new type of fast food franchise when discovered the Fireaway Pizza network. The forecourt operator was attracted by the bold colours of the pizza company’s brand image, the direct access to its hands-on MD and its clear targeting of a young demographic.

“And pizza is universally liked,” he says. “It appeals across the board.”

At the new location, which measures 150sq ft, customers can take away the pizza or sit in and dine, with seating for up to 17 people, reveals Highway Stops operations director Sellarajah Gunalan, who says the concept has got off to a flying start. While the site does not have EV charging as yet, it does have parking spaces so that people can park up and visit the pizza outlet, making it a destination quick-serve restaurant, as well as a takeaway space. “Food-to-go is the trend in the market,” he notes, but we get people who are picking up the kids from school, stopping to refuel and then discovering the pizzas.”

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Only launched on 10th May, Gunalan reveals the pizza outlet has received very positive feedback from the local community and sales are getting better and better, with pepperoni and cheese currently the most popular variety. One surprise, he adds, was that the company’s calzone offer is also proving really popular with kids.

If the space at Gravesend proves successful, Highway Stops would look to negotiate rolling out the concept to other locations, confirms MacDonald.

While the extended dwell times at forecourts are a factor in Fireaway Pizza’s interest in these sites, Aleppo says the speed at which its pizzas are served, even on sites without EV charging, mean forecourts offer a good opportunity for the company. In return, it can offer forecourt operators a “youthful and slick artisan fast food brand, which mixes flavour with speed”, he says. Awareness of Fireaway Pizza is growing and, with several full set-up stores already operating in Kent meaning the brand already has a familiar presence in the area, the company viewed the Gravesend site as a good fit.

With forecourt retailing increasingly competing with convenience stores in local communities, and, in a hybrid working world, being used as places to meet colleagues or rest and relax, the opportunity for Fireaway is evident.

Aleppo says his ambition is to open a minimum of five forecourt stores a year over the next five years. Given the rapid development of the business to date, it’s an ambition that seems more than likely to be achieved.

To get a flavour of Fireaway’s authentic Italian pizza, see the video below:

To discover more about Fireaway Pizza, go to