So far this year we have been struck by a strengthening focus around welcoming internal environments, simplicity to serve, fresh & healthier options and value for money. Here are some of our top picks of new concepts that encapsulate much of this.
1. Exki, Avenue Kléber, Paris
On our three visits so far this year, we've been impressed by a wide range of healthier concepts in Paris. This is a trait it shares with Brussels, and Brussels is actually the home of Exki, whose store portfolio now stretches from Amsterdam in the north to Marseille in the south. Its latest generation concept can, however, be found in Paris. The impressive grab & go range is supported by an enticing serve over offer, but one where simplicity of service has been carefully considered. The breadth of options here impressed, with lasagnes, empañadas and pastillas for example sitting alongside an enticing range of quiches and salads. Our other key take out from here was the environment, including extensive and differentiated indoor and outdoor seating areas. A plant wall helped here, but careful consideration has been given to the whole look and feel. This is the first store where Exki is testing digital screen based ordering, in a hybrid model where you can order and scan at the screen. And while it's early days, initial feedback has been positive.
2. TXB, Bee Cave, Texas
Forecourts (aka gas stations) in the US are very mixed in the quality of their food proposition. But there are some real gems around, where operators are really investing in creating standout foodservice propositions. TXB is definitely one of those. For us, on our first visit, to see what is their latest concept, we were impressed at what we'd define as wider US roadside best-in-class foodservice given a strong Texan twist. Tacos are a mainstay - we were there to try the impressive breakfast taco programme, fit for grab & go or prepared bespoke, with quality, fresh ingredients and served in a welcoming environment. A key feature in-store was the merchandise, found across many US operators, but rarely seen in Europe. The breadth of this struck us - stretching across clothing and picnic/ BBQ equipment back into food & drink, in the form of coffee, BBQ sauces and snacks.
3. The Kiosk by WH Smith, Oslo Airport
Making the most of small spaces is increasingly the key to food-to-go success, and we were impressed by what we found on a brief layover in Oslo at The Kiosk by WH Smith. Fundamental here has been, to our minds, the adoption of food-to-go thinking over retail thinking. We'd define this as identifying key missions and making the navigation to them as straightforward as possible, rather than bulking up the in-store offer. Less is very much more in this context, where speed of visit is paramount. Coffee was a strong feature, alongside grab & go sandwiches & wraps, but what really made this store stand out was the impressive bakery counter at the back of store.
4. Applegreen with M&S, Booterstown, Ireland
A feature here is again that less can be very much more, and it's very much solution-led rather than product-led thinking, something that is highly relevant in transit locations. The beauty of the M&S range is that it can be compartmentalised and lifted into different locations very well, something it, and its partners across the UK, have done to great effect. This now extends to Ireland, a market where forecourts deliver some fantastic meal solutions already, but typically on a food-for-now basis for breakfast and lunch. So dinner is often a missing part of the appeal. If you're ever doing a retail safari around Irish forecourts, our advice would be to go early to see them at their best.
But the Applegreen M&S tie-up has the combination to change that. You could argue it picks up on many of the things that, for example, M&S and BP already provide in the UK. But bringing this to a new market, which has developed differently in many regards to the UK (or GB) market, this unlocks new opportunities.
5. Backwerk, various locations
Backwerk has been expanding at pace over recent months across various locations, including multiple rail hubs across the Netherlands. We visited one of these late last year in Rotterdam, which showed us how powerful a concept this is. Its origins are in Germany, where the bakery tradition remains very strong, but the ability to curate the best of it into an internationally relevant format, focusing on a value for money self-serve breakfast and lunch offer, gives it additional relevance. Observing this format and how it operates, you can see operational and display principles that are shared with the likes of La Place and Pret. We've been struck by the fresh fruit and juice additions to the range on recent visits, making it relevant for additional missions and complementing the core missions - we'd expect others to be looking at this as well, and assessing how they could implement something similar. Overall, an impressive concept, targeted around on the move needs throughout the day. One that's well worth a visit.
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