Christian Warning talks with Patrick Steppe, CEO Lekkerland

How did you get into this business? Tell us about your experience so far.

After having worked in different sales jobs for Impex Benelux and MoTip – both companies from the automobile industry – I joined the Lekkerland Group in 2000, as Sales Director of Conway Belgium. In 2006 I took over the position as Vice President Sales at Lekkerland Netherlands. In 2011 I switched to Lekkerland AG & Co. KG as Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing. A year later in 2012 I was appointed as a member of the Board of Management of the Lekkerland Group, being responsible for sales and marketing. Since the end of August 2016 I am the chairman of the Board of Management of Lekkerland AG & Co. KG. In my position as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) I am responsible for sales and marketing, Category Management of all product groups, strategy, business development, human resources (HR) and communications as well as the management of all national companies in the Lekkerland Group.

What are the strategic growth opportunities for convenience retailers in the markets Lekkerland is operating in?

The market prospects for retailers in convenience are incredibly good: According to a 2015 study by Competence Center for on-the-go Consumption 84 percent of people in Germany are eating on the go. This means an increase of 20 per cent in comparison to 2008, and more than 3 billion meals that are being consumed out of home per year (GfK, Consumer Index 05|2015). Especially breakfast and lunch are being consumed more and more on the go while the main consumer group is just growing up – meaning, younger people consume on the go most frequently. We are operating within an incredibly dynamic market environment – which poses loads of opportunities but also challenges. Consumers expect fresh products, quality and service. The image of convenience retailers such as filling stations has to improve if they want to continue to compete successfully with new players in the convenience segment like discounters and bakeries. If they are able to offer convenient solutions and react dynamically to fast changing needs, the growth opportunities are very good.

How can Lekkerland help retailers to explore those sales opportunities? / How do you define Lekkerlands role within the convenience value chain?

We want to help our customers to grow profitably. To be able to do this we are developing more and more into a 360-degrees concept and solution provider. Convenience retailers have to constantly improve their solutions and product ranges in order to adapt to market changes, but they also have to handle a business. This is where partners like Lekkerland come in: We enable them to maintain customer focus by providing them with different services. We call this retail enablement. For example, by helping them improve their staff and service quality with qualified trainings, by identifying trends and advising them about product ranges or by offering food service concepts which are tailored to the individual location.

What are the key strengths of the current Lekkerland organization?

Lekkerland has a unique position in the European convenience segment: Based on 60 years of experience, regular exchanges with our 90.000 customers and close contacts to industry partners, we are continuously developing the company. More and more, Lekkerland is evolving to a 360-degrees concept and solution provider that supports our customers to become even more successful.

How is Lekkerland reacting to the growing speed of consumer changing behavior within the out of home market?

The market for on the go consumption will continue to grow. We are very active in developing new solutions and will continue to work on this in 2017. One example is ‘Frischwerk’, a new concept for filling stations shops which is currently being tested in two stores - a dealer-owned ARAL petrol station in Aalen (near Stuttgart) and an Esso petrol station in Hamburg. The purpose of those stores is to try out and test new concepts and approaches. The overall goal is to increase conversion rate, get new customer groups to visit the shop and to increase sales and profit.

The global convenience trends towards healthier and fresh grab & go products and food convenience on site prepared food for now and later leads to re-thinking of the total c-store offer in many markets. How can Lekkerland provide its retail clients with turnkey solutions in this area?

Lekkerland provides its customers with a broad range of tailor-made concepts which include solutions for the entire shop as well as selected modules. The modular solutions include concepts relating to foodservice/bistro and coffee, among others, and certainly enable the merchant to serve more healthy and fresh grab & go products.

In addition, Lekkerland tests an innovative new shop concept: “Frischwerk” (“fresh factory”). Among the innovations of this concept are the separation of the foodservice offering and the tobacco and fuel area. Comprehensive surveys during the development phase revealed that this is a consumer demand. Another highlight of the concept is the complete bakery, which offers entire loaves of bread and cakes, in addition to food for take-away. Moreover, the foodservice offering of the “fresh factory” includes an extensive range of fresh products including salads and wraps.

A further characteristic of the concept is the fresh design that is new to filling stations, characterised by wood and steel. The innovative offerings include the “meal deal” and the “colourful cups”, whereby consumers can put together their own combination of a snack, dessert and drink or pre-packaged confectionary at a favourable price. Further special features include digital display boards showing adverts that change according to the time of day, mobile phone charging stations and free WLAN. Our results up until now are very positive. We plan to add additional test stores in the course of this year.

More and more successful petropreneurs are co-operating with strong brands in the foodservice and convenience retail area, do you see this as an opportunity or thread for Lekkerland?

Apriori: everything that helps to further increase the image and the perception of petrol stations among consumers is good for the market – and, in a certain way, good for Lekkerland. Improving our customers’ competitiveness, is the main target of our activities. If we are involved in these activities – e.g. with all our 360-degrees services, as a supplier or a logistics provider – all the better. The entrepreneur has to sustain or improve its profitability, and we doubt that a cobranding with a grocer is profitable in Germany. We believe that the German market, with more than 50.000 supermarkets and discounters, needs other convenience format solutions at gas stations.

You have in the past attended NACS Insight international events – what have been your major take outs from these trips?

Spending time with other professionals of the European convenience industry is very useful and inspiring. Seeing what happens in other countries helped me to develop ideas for our own markets.

Speeches of inspiring key note speakers, new shop formats – taking part in NACS Insight international events is very informative and helpful. I will definitely attend the upcoming summit.

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Christian WarningChristian Warning Sales and marketing expert

NACS Insight representative for German-speaking markets. Christian is the founder and managing director of The Retail Marketeers, a Hamburg based agency. Christian represents Insight's global convenience retail strategy business with particular reference to advising businesses on entering DACH markets.

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