SimplyFresh serves up convenience to students at the University of Surrey

SimplyFresh, the convenience store format launched at the University of Surrey in partnership with the catering company, Chartwells, is living up to its philosophy of never standing still because its customers are never standing still.

Serving some 15,000 university students with a significant proportion from overseas, the University of Surrey is ranked as a top 20 university. Chartwells, part of the Compass Group, won the competitive tender for the university site in 2016, choosing SimplyFresh as its preferred retail brand and creating a 3,000sq ft convenience store with a consumer focus at the core.

Customer engagement, responsiveness and innovation underpins the SimplyFresh proposition. The company reports it invests time in understanding and building relationships with customers. It runs WhatsApp and focus groups and hosts monthly meetings with student reps. Social media are also used to good effect. The two-way dialogue ensures it can make changes to the store based on direct feedback, while customers develop a sense of ownership, which builds loyalty. In terms of the offer, 20% of the store’s range is based on local insight and customer data. New ranges have also been added for international student groups and to support various dietary requirements alongside fitness products. SimplyFresh says speed on NPD has enabled it to be first to market on many new lines.

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Innovation spans payment and self serve is a key payment mechanism at the store, accounting for 30% of transactions. App payment - a loyalty app already has 15,000 users - will be introduced later this year. New products are introduced regularly in key categories such as food to go and hot beverages plus a new approach to meal deals offering more choice.

People development involves empowering local management to make decisions for their store and employing a high number of students from the university to better understand the customers. In addition, team members take ownership of departments and growing sales. Staff are incentivised around growth with a golden ticket awarded for commitment to customer service and sales growth.

The store format, meanwhile, is experience led with 61% of sales driven by food and drink for now and there are two key customer journeys: an express food for now mission and a browse/kitchen experience, where shoppers walk further into the store to discover the range.

Healthy choices dominate along with an authentic food offering designed to appeal to the student population but the store is flexible too and the shop floor is regularly adapted based on shopper feedback and new insights.

In terms of store design, the choice of materials help to create an artisan shopping experience with a theatrical kitchen focused on great food, self service and an open plan environment to encourage interaction.

The layout is designed to ease congestion in key categories; while 11 tills including five quick serve, ensure a speedy service. The self checkouts also ensure staff are redeployed to the shop floor to deliver a market leading shopping experience.

Food innovation includes the launch of Chartwell’s new Hot-Pot range, which uses patented steam valve technology to create a fresh, nutritious and consistent hot food experience. It’s a day part offer which includes a breakfast pot and a number of options with fewer than 500 calories.

The food to go offer spans kitchen, bakery, chilled products and hot beverages. In the kitchen the offer includes toasted sandwiches, steamed buns, hot dogs, pizza and noodles plus the new Hot-Pots. The bakery offer is baked on site and included in meal deals. It has an artisan look and feel and includes a Krispy Kreme concession. The chilled offer features salads, sushi and sandwiches plus vegan, vegetarian and gluten free lines. Four self serve coffee towers serve more than 12,000 cups of coffee per week and provide both a premium and value offer.

New technology includes the self service tills and the SimplyFresh app, which is used to promote loyalty with the ability to send push notifications to a database. Digital media is used in place of printed PoS to communicate themes with remote managed content but onsite flexibility. A full automated vended tobacco gantry is linked to EPoS, allowing better stock management and security.

SimplyFresh monitors performance and prioritises five key categories: chilled food to go, hot food to go, hot beverages, bakery and water.

The results: in year one, the store recorded 34% sales growth, 65% growth in food to go sales and 85% growth in fruit and veg sales. Sandwich sales are ahead by 56% and the speed of service is twice as fast with an annual turnover of £3.3m over 38 weeks of trading. In year two, the store delivered 14% year-on-year sales growth.

Critically, the store is winning for its student customers, who believe the store provides a ‘taste of home’ and feels like their very own store.

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