Convenience retailing trends favour stores geared toward packaged, to-go foods, advise experts in c-store architecture, engineering and design

Design, layout and infrastructure of traditional c-stores may more resemble that of Pret-A-Manger than Chipotle Mexican Grill, advise James Owens of HFA Architecture and Engineering and Joseph Bona of Bona Design Lab

Marketplace trends are creating stronger incentives for convenience retailers to embrace store designs geared toward the sale of sandwiches, wraps, salads and other packaged, to-go foods, advise executives from HFA Architecture and Engineering and Bona Design Lab in an online opinion piece for Convenience Store News.   

Today’s employment and supply-chain shortages, along with the increasing availability of ghost kitchens, stand to affect c-store design, architecture and infrastructure, write HFA’s James Owens, a Boston-based architect with two decades of experience in c-store, retail and other sectors, and Joseph Bona, a veteran c-store designer and Principal of New York-based Bona Design Lab.

That could translate into c-stores that more closely resemble those of Pret-A-Manger, with its coolers full of high-quality, prepared foods, compared to Chipotle Mexican Grill, where meals are assembled on the spot by employees at the foodservice bar.

“Packaged goods involve less preparation, waste and cleanup, and are easily scannable for self-checkout. That means they require far less labor—an important advantage today,” they explain in the Feb. 25 piece (“Is Pret A Manger the New Model for C-store Foodservice Programs?”). “Packaged goods also take up less space than the kinds of make-it-yourself foodservice bars that have become more commonplace in the industry.”

The column is based on a chapter in the 2021 HFA/Bona Design Lab whitepaper, “Reimagining Sites & Stores: Perspectives on the Future of Convenience Retail.” The two firms announced a strategic alliance on Sept. 9.
But while today’s trends favor to-go SKUs, Owens and Bona draw an important distinction between traditional c-stores and larger-scale, newly built convenience retail outlets, which are designed to meet the greater space requirements of QSR-like operations. “While the likes of open-kitchen designs for cuisine prepared onsite can dramatically convey the seriousness of the offer, they are not for everybody,” they explain. “The reality is that most c-stores continue to be legacy locations with their smaller, traditional footprints.”

Given these considerations, c-stores should: 

  • Make sure their elevated offerings are highly appealing in taste, novelty and ingredient quality;
  • Revisit their distribution models to maximize the use of ghost kitchens; and 
  • Adopt creative and efficient approaches to site and store design to further enhance the offering. 

“This could mean working with a third-party consultant to better celebrate displays of these new SKUs through location, lighting, signage, colour palettes and more,” they conclude.