We spend a lot of time looking at food-to-go operating models in retail. Approaches vary significantly by operator and also by country. Take a look at the UK (or rather the Great Britain part of it) for example, where a bias towards grab & go, self-serve solutions has shaped the market. Meanwhile, across the Irish sea, and linked to a strong sandwich deli counter heritage, counter-based models have been prioritised.
A grab & go offer can deliver many things, but ultimately without a counter offer, there will be a clear ceiling on the food-to-go growth opportunity within a store. It frames thinking in a certain way, and almost by its nature, restricts the opportunity for time of day merchandising, and for targeting non-lunchtime missions.
In all honesty, this grab & go model can and does work well for many, and we've covered many excellent examples of this previously. But simply put, a counter can deliver more, in particular around hot food. There is additional investment required, often both from a set up and an ongoing operational perspective, but that extra investment undoubtedly raises the potential rewards, both in what it offers in sales itself, and on the halo effect it can have on the rest of the store.
Scotmid Co-operative offers a great example of the benefits it can deliver, and how it can raise the ceiling in terms of the opportunity, opening up new missions and expanding the customer base. We've been in-store to learn more about how it has become increasingly focused on food-to-go, putting impactful food-to-go counters at the heart of its retail proposition.
An overview of Scotmid: Combining benefits of national buying scale with local tailoring
Scotmid Co-operative is a longstanding feature of the Scottish food retail landscape, celebrating its 160th anniversary just last year. It sits within the broader UK co-operative framework, enabling it to take advantage of group sourcing in scale and ranging, and access the Co-op product catalogue and own brand proposition. But it also retains flexibility to tailor its ranges locally. And that’s exactly what it’s done with its standout approach to developing food-to-go.
While Scotmid’s business covers several areas, it is perhaps best known for its food retail activities, where it operates over 180 convenience stores and small supermarkets, mostly in Scotland, but including a handful south of the border under the Lakes & Dales fascia.
We explored some of its latest food formats in and around Edinburgh with Danny Scobie, Food-to-go Operations Manager at Scotmid, to understand more about how Scotmid is making food-to-go do more for its business across multiple dayparts and missions.
An increasing food-to-go focus
The foundations for the current food-to-go proposition have been in-store for a while, with its first bakery counters – in partnership with local businesses - introduced in 2013.
But the offer has moved on massively since then. And in fact, the development and rollout of the food-to-go counter offer in its current form is relatively recent, with 2019 marking the start of rollout using defined modules. It’s quickly become part of the DNA of the business, integrated by default into new builds going forward and now a feature of almost all Scotmid food stores.
There’s a nice fit in food-to-go with some of the principles integral to the broader Scotmid proposition, which itself continues to evolve, as any visitor to its Leven Street flagship store in Edinburgh will see. One example is in local partnerships, where regionally specific bakery partners feature prominently in the food-to-go offer. At the same time, the affordability and accessibility of the food-to-go offer, combined with a focus on quality, fit well with the Scotmid goal of serving its communities and improving people’s everyday lives.
Delivering impact through food-to-go
One important point here is understanding the broader focus around boosting food-to-go. Much of this is delivered through highly impactful counters, undoubtedly the headline act. But there’s been considerable focus on understanding the fuller breadth of food-to-go missions and introducing solutions to meet these. Grab and go ranges are clearly a part of this, as are self-serve units from the likes Costa Express, Rollover hot dogs, Skwishee/ Slushee and Dots donuts, depending on the specific store. In addition to Co-op food-to-go lines, the grab & go offer also includes additional lines, prepared daily in-store and branded under The Kitchen at Scotmid.
‘The Kitchen at Scotmid’ branding is a feature of the counters themselves. Sometimes integrated with the tills, sometimes in a separate part of the store, these counters are significantly expanding the remit of food related missions that individual stores can meet. And at the same time they’re driving greater community relevance.
Food as the hero, provided with the right platform for the offer to shine
Counters are designed to showcase the food offer itself. Visibility of the food items is high - this was an important focus when choosing the equipment for the units. So too was versatility in food preparation, meaning Scotmid opted for higher spec, RATIONAL, ovens, to give that flexibility.
But another key element here to showcase the range is the use of digital screens. At first sight, you might think that having three, sometimes four, digital screens to support a food-to-go counter offer is excessive. But they are integral to the communication of the menu, relevant promotions and meal deals and also in some instances showcasing individual product lines, whether it be coffee in the morning, burgers at lunchtime or pizza in the evening. In short, they drive the food-to-go mission focus.
Mission 1: breakfast
“Across our estate, approximately one in five food-to-go missions are breakfast related” says Danny. The significance of the breakfast mission comes through in what is a strong focus on this area. In most stores, in recognition of the local customer, it’s a traditional Scottish hot breakfast offer that dominates. Visual theatre at the counter is led by the product itself: as well as the serve over proposition, there’s also a grab and go range of hot Big Al’s breakfast muffins. Time matters more before 9am so this is important to ensure customers can be in and out quickly. Costa Express is Scotmid's coffee partner, and breakfast meal deals are a significant morning focus in-store.
“We’ve taken inspiration here from what we’ve seen convenience stores do around breakfast in Ireland – and it’s really working for us. In many locations we’re the only ones doing breakfast in this way – though clearly that might change in the future, so we need to be prepared.”
Mission 2: lunch
A transition stage precedes lunch, where the digital screens highlight a combination of breakfast and lunchtime lines, which then gives way to an extensive core lunch offer. The range includes baguettes – competitively priced and made on site, hot flatbreads (heated on order), house made salads, a deli sandwich bar and a range of grab & go hot food lines. Chicken bites, burgers, hot pastries and mac’ n cheese are also part of the offer. Scotmid has pushed this further in several sites, with its Edinburgh Leven St store the best example. Here the range covers much more, including Asian noodle pots and loaded fries, as well as hot pizza by the slice, burritos and stromboli.
Mission 3: evening
The evening mission is tough for retailers and food-to-go operators. Many have tried and failed to create a compelling offer. But Scotmid is succeeding here, placing considerable focus on ensuring the counter remains a live space running through into the evening. Pizza and Asian cuisine form core elements of the offer here, but a broader range is offered through continuation of many of the lunch options.
Collaboration with local partners, especially in bakery
Scotmid does local very well, working with many local partners and effectively showcasing many local suppliers. From a food-to-go perspective, the pies, sausage rolls, birdies and cake offer from local bakeries Stuart’s and Stephens was a core element of the offer in the stores we visited. A total of 13 different bakery partners are used across the estate.
And Scotmid remains keen to test new opportunities with new local partners. One of the most recent is a partnership with local specialist Artisan Cheesecakes, bringing an enhanced premium offer to selected Scotmid stores.
A well-considered and well-executed format
Overall it’s a highly impressive food-to-go proposition. There are many different aspects to the range, which of course adds complexity, but it feels like the processes themselves are broken down well enough to enable effective implementation across the portfolio. And it’s true that Scotmid aren’t the only ones developing in this space – CJ Lang for example, which runs SPAR stores in Scotland, is also driving food-to-go as a core development aspect, while well-known independent retailer David Sands is expanding his own David’s Kitchen concept. However Scotland is not at the same level as Ireland when it comes to food-to-go development in retail, meaning those that excel in food-to-go are few and far between.
With a new urban format evolving the offer further
On the site of Scotland’s first supermarket, Scotmid’s recently reopened Leven St store in Edinburgh provides some great cues as to the future urban opportunity, particularly around food-to-go.
A modern environment is enriched by several standout features, including the bulk refillables section, a bakery offer from local premium specialist Breadwinner, a dedicated walk-in beer & wine chiller and of course a standout food-to-go counter, taking pride of place on entry to the store. Significantly, this positioning enables the store to very easily be used as a purer food-to-go destination.. Overall this is a impressive, contemporary, urban food format. With a total size of 9,500 sq ft it's able to meet a very wide range of food related missions, and it's a format that points towards a strong future for Scotmid.
Subscribers can learn more about the store in our upcoming Edinburgh & Glasgow retail safari report.
Top tips from Scotmid’s Danny Scobie on building a food-to-go proposition:
1. Be brave. Making an impact at the start is key if you’re adding in a new offer. The impact of your new counter or fixtures needs to be significant if it is to shift customer behaviour. We’ve had some fantastic support from local bakery partners in how they support and bring to life an important part of our food-to-go offer, delivering great looking product to our sites daily. But we also know that the signposting around the freshness of the offer is. Cooking the food fresh in-store is an important part of this for us.
2. Know your direction but be prepared to flex around the bumps in the road. You’ve got to accept that not everything will work first time. But if you’ve done your homework, identified the wider opportunity, then you should have the confidence to know that often it’s only small shifts in approach that are needed. That said, make sure you’ve a set up that enables you to deliver these. Expecting to have to make them from the start is probably sensible.
3. Aligning with in-store teams is key. Our food-to-go counter installations inevitably cause disruption in-store – often making it harder for in-store colleagues initially. Which is why it’s so important to keep them fully engaged with the process. Giving them the chance to sample the menu pre-launch as well really helps!
4. Have flexibility in using promotional mechanics, particularly around driving newer missions and menu items. We’ve found offering deals on quieter evenings during the week – we focus on Tuesdays – helps build the brand awareness overall. This sits alongside our meal deals, focused on both breakfast and lunch.
5. Digital screens help at many levels. For Scotmid, these are the menu. But they’re also a great shop window for our meal deals, specials and newer or seasonally relevant menu items. They add cost, but for me there’s a clear payback. The visual images of products come across very well, and with strong sightlines to these from across the stores they’re in, I’m really happy with the role they’ve played in helping to build and expand our proposition, so I’d recommend them.
6. Keep it fresh. And I mean this in every sense. You’ll only ever be as good as the look and feel of your products on shelf. And this is equally true at the best and the worst of times. Also, keeping an innovation focus on the menu will help stimulate customer interest and sales. It often only needs to be small tweaks - like a new pizza variety for example – our recent special of an onion bhaji pizza went down a treat!