Valued at around £40 billion, the UK’s convenience retail industry is one of the most advanced markets in the world. Trends shift quickly and competition is fierce – remaining connected to customers’ wants and needs is key to survival.
bp and M&S Food have played a central role in the UK convenience landscape since 2005, when the two British brands agreed to open a network of M&S Food stores at bp forecourts.
In the early 2000s, British food shopping habits were changing rapidly. “You’re talking about a time when customers’ lives were getting busier and busier,” says Alex Jensen, bp’s senior vice president for mobility and convenience, Europe and Southern Africa.
The bp forecourt in London’s Hammersmith today, where the first M&S Simply Food store in the relationship was opened in 2005
Back then, UK customers were among the first to switch from big weekly shops at out-of-town hypermarkets to a combination of online deliveries and local top-ups. While big-name supermarkets, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, were busy building smaller, local networks, bp was growing its own coffee brand – Wild Bean Cafe – alongside a successful partnership with a smaller retailer.
bp and M&S Food spotted a unique opportunity – one that combined M&S’s high-quality and innovative food with bp’s expertise in ‘on-the-go’ convenience. “M&S were the pioneers in high-quality convenience ‘food for later’ and we had the customer on the go know-how,” says Alex. “We struck gold with this partnership.”
A customer shops in the Hammersmith branch
Alex Jensen, SVP for mobility and convenience, Europe and Southern Africa
The first M&S Food store opened at bp’s forecourt in Hammersmith, London, in 2005. It was an immediate success. More stores quickly followed and today there are 300 partnership sites across the UK.
While bp already had an excellent fuel, coffee and ‘food for now’ offer, teaming up with M&S Food meant it could also offer customers high-quality fresh food. And it is that combination that has proved so successful.
But there’s another ingredient – the customers themselves – and the key, says Tracey Clements, vice president, convenience, ESA, is to give them what they want, sometimes before they even know they want it. “The partnership allows us to cater for different customers on different shopping missions,” she explains. “It has definitely brought new customers onto bp forecourts."
As well as shopping on site, customers can pre-order goods and collect at the store
Our own brand, Wild Bean Cafe, sits alongside the M&S Food offer
In 2021, the basket size at our M&S Food stores increased by 20% compared to 2019
Putting the customer at the heart like this, though, requires a huge amount of trust on either side, says Alex: “This is a highly competitive market and we’re custodians of each other’s brands. We’ve had to be open with each other along the way and adapt when necessary.”
This next phase of the agreement will see the partners adapt again when, post the COVID-19 pandemic, shopping habits have changed for good, with bp’s retail sites being at the heart of the community shop.
“We saw people shop even more locally during lockdowns,” says Allan Abernethy, UK trading manager for convenience. “There’s no doubt that our forecourts had a real community spirit about them.”
“Our strategy to redefine convenience puts us right at the centre of this trend,” says Tracey, a self-confessed convenience store geek, who was instrumental in establishing the successful Tesco Express network. “Our partnership with M&S Food is a key to that.”
It’s also central to bp’s plans for future forecourts. Over the next decade, more of us will start driving an electric vehicle (EV) and bp is installing charging points right across its UK network. While charging times are falling, customers are likely to find themselves spending longer at their local forecourt.
“There’s a great opportunity for us to change the way people use our services again,” says Alex. “We want our forecourts to be a friendly destination – somewhere you don’t mind spending 20 minutes while your EV charges, where you can get a great coffee, stock up on your key top-up needs, and indulge in M&S Food favourites.”
The partnership has also become the blueprint for bp’s global ambitions to redefine convenience. “Convenience is a highly resilient business,” says Alex. “In the US, for example, we’ve seen five-fold sales growth in our own ampm brand every year since 2010. And we know from external research that the convenience market is expected to double in 45 of the leading global economies by 2030.”
It’s another massive opportunity for bp and fundamental to its aim to double the number of strategic convenience sites (those that have both food for now and food for later offers) around the world to more than 3,000 in the next 10 years.
bp is clear that it is strategic retail partnerships that will help it to realize this aim. And in the past few years, it’s signed a host of new deals with other longstanding premium brands, such as REWE in Germany, Albert Heijn in the Nertherlands, and Auchan in Poland.
“I think bp’s model with M&S Food is unique to the UK industry,” says Tracey. “It’s shown that two brands can come together to improve their customer offers and both gain from that. I think that success has only cemented bp’s broader convenience ambitions.”
We’re making our convenience offer bigger and better all over the world.
Our Wild Bean Cafe brand started serving cappuccinos and croissants to bp customers in the UK 20 years ago. Since then, it has expanded into mainland Europe, Australia, South Africa, China and Russia. And, most recently, in 2021, India, where you can grab a masala chai on the go.
In the Netherlands, we have a growing partnership with Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain, and we've recently acquired Thorntons to make bp a leading convenience operator in the US Midwest.
Having convenience stores the world over gives us a unique insight into global shopping habits. From bananas in Germany to Gatorade in the US, here are some of the most popular purchases in store.