To beat the competition, British convenience stores are turning to more specialized foods.

Charlie Heller
September 18, 2017

Despite growing competition from online shopping, gentrification, and changing tastes, British off-licenses managed to grow in business last year, according The Guardian, by adapting to customers evolving tastes. Especially, several say store owners, those of millennials.

Named for their alcohol licenses, which require alcohol sold be consumed off the premises, many of the British convenience store-equivalents are emphasizing stocking organic, vegan, and other specialized foods alongside the cheaper snacks, cigarettes, and liquor they're traditionally known for.

"Organic customers generally want to support the local shops," Kenan Yildrim, longtime owner of an off-license in London's rapidly gentrifying Hackney neighborhood, told the paper of his changing inventory—which now greets customers entering the store with a display of oat milk. Like other off-license owners interviewed, he credits the small shops' success with their ability to respond to customer needs, willing to stock a new product after only two or three requests.

A recent study from IGD Retail Analysis showed that one in five 18 to 25-year olds shop mainly in convenience stores, and off-license owners are keeping up with the times. Yildrim, says 20 to 30 percent of his store's sales come from "organic, healthy, or niche brands," which he researches both online and at trade shows.

It's not just old off-licenses adjusting, either. The piece describes how a pair of brothers went through a long process of neighborhood trend research before deciding their new store would stock and highlight organic products three years ago, and those products now make up 20 percent of sales.

With demand for organic food in the U.K. reaching its highest point in over a decade, off-licenses are betting that the more upscale foods will keep business going even as premium supermarkets accompanying gentrification spring up around them.

To that end, the off-license world is also becoming known as early adopters for smaller craft beers. Savvy stores have been instrumental in the early success of brewers like Beavertown Brewery, whose head of sales credits the in-the-know off-licenses of east London with helping them grow from neighborhood favorite to national brand.