I’m a big fan of the Co-op but sadly don’t often get an opportunity to shop there: it’s the only national retailer without a store near Roberts Acres and there’s not one near the office either. It was therefore a pleasant treat to pop into the recently opened (November 2018) Co-op On The Go concept in Manchester.

Located just outside Manchester Piccadilly station in one of several former Little Waitrose stores that the Co-op picked up last year and are reopening, the store is a finely-honed mission-based concept intended to serve the food-for-now and food-for-later needs of travellers and commuters. And very good it is too.

While it still operates a big estate of supermarkets, convenience retailing is the bedrock of the Co-op’s food retailing activities. The retailer continues to expand at a decent tempo – about 100 new stores a year – and shoppers seem to be responding well to the Co-op’s proposition: the latest data from Kantar Worldpanel indicated that it was posting growth of 3.2% and had seen its market share increase for the seventh period in a row.

The rebranding process (seeing the return of the cloverleaf logo) has been impressive, as have improvements in private label, pricing and promotions. I must confess that I was unaware that the Co-op logo resembled a cloverleaf, but then it also took me 20 years to realise that the Carrefour logo had a big ‘C’ in the middle of it.

Anyway, this is a great store and augurs well for the impending opening of similar stores in London’s Baker Street and the Minories. Speaking alongside the announcement of store opening plans for 2019, Stuart Hookins, the Co-op’s Director of Portfolio and Development, said: “Shifts in consumer shopping trends has seen ease, speed and convenience continuing to rise in importance for time-pressed shoppers. The right location and range tailored to fulfil the shopping needs of a community is a cornerstone of our approach, and there has been an evolution in how we choose new locations and, innovate our offer. Our strategy is to offer the products members and customers want, need and care about, closer to where they live and work.” On this evidence, the Co-op is delivering on this ambition in spades.

The store’s frontage states that it caters for breakfast, coffee, brunch, lunch, snacks, teatime, supper and dinner. I’m not 100% certain, but I thought that northerners had tea, not dinner, and only the metropolitan elite had supper, but either way it is safe to suggest that this store has all meal occasions covered off. Brunch is an awful Americanism and should be banned outright, but we’ll save that debate for another time.

The store has a nice seating area with phone / laptop charging facilities along the window, allowing punters to tuck into their food and drinks. The drinks on offer includes a massive chilled range as well as Seattle’s Best coffee, F’Real shakes and blue flavour Slush Puppie.

The lunch proposition houses an extensive array of sandwiches, salads, sushi and pasta, while the ‘dinner for tonight’ chiller is home to a decent selection of ready meals and ingredients. A hot food counter and bakery section round out the food offer while the chilled booze range is very good indeed.

The store is awash with references to the Co-op’s laudable stance on various CSR initiatives, including the 1% donation (from private label sales) to local good causes, and one great highlight is the free water facility enabling shoppers to fill up their water bottles. A superb initiative.

The check-out options included manned tills as well as a bank of express self-checkouts, meaning that throughput is expedited well even at busier times. This is a genuinely impressive concept and I look forward to seeing the London iterations when they open later this year.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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