Kennedy: Kitchen will be focal point at new Erie Boulevard c-store

'Foodvenience concepts are an adaptive response to significant shifts in the retail jungle'

When Global Partners opens a new Alltown Market on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady, it will become part of a crowded convenience store scene populated by national chains, mom-and-pop shops and the hometown favorite, Stewart’s Shops.

But here’s its secret weapon: “foodvenience.”

The phrase was championed a couple of years ago by Joe Bona, principal of Bona Design Labs in Manhattan and a longtime consultant to convenience stores, to describe the next stage in the evolution of the so-called c-store.

Rather than offering just the traditional gasoline, cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets, forward-thinking c-stores are adding the equivalent of fast-casual restaurant fare.

“In the natural world, new species evolve in part because of changing environmental conditions,” Bona wrote then. “In the same way, foodvenience concepts are an adaptive response to significant shifts in the retail jungle – a kill-or-be-killed world in which finicky consumers increasingly expect higher quality and healthier foods (with customizable choices to boot) pretty much anywhere they go.”

For Alltown, that means an in-store, made-to-order kitchen for everything from breakfast sandwiches to pizza, artisan sandwiches, salads and “loaded” macaroni and cheese.

Dubbed Centre Street Kitchen, it adds a quick-service restaurant element as orders placed by customers at touch-screen kiosks are prepared while they wait. Bona’s company helped Global Partners fine-tune the concept, suggesting the kitchen become the focal point of the store.

Photos on Bona Design’s website of the interior of the Alltown in Stoughton, Massachusetts, one of four stores with a Centre Street Kitchen, show natural wood paneling, open truss ceiling, tables and chairs, and a “breakfast bar” with charging ports and free WiFi.

The idea was to position the kitchen as “a fresh-prepared food offer that is authentic, contemporary and professional, to overcome the perceived ‘gas penalty’ of serving food at a fuel location,” the accompanying narrative states.

A Global Partners spokeswoman said the Schenectady Alltown would include the in-store kitchen, along with already-prepared grab-and-go foods. It will be located at the vacant Grossman’s site near Rivers Casino; city approvals still are needed for the 4,800-square-foot market and six fuel pumps.

Global Partners, a Massachusetts-based energy supplier, also operates Xtra Mart gas/convenience stores in the area. The Schenectady Alltown would be the first in New York.

Food is becoming a more important component at c-stores of all sizes, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. Last year, nearly a quarter of all in-store sales involved food.

Locally, Stewart’s Shops, with more than 300 stores in New York and Vermont, has spent the last few years – and millions of dollars – upgrading stores to accommodate more fresh-food choices.

Asked how Global Partners would distinguish itself in our competitive marketplace, spokeswoman Catie Kerns emailed: “We believe that with the addition of fresh, healthy options, we are providing an additional service to the community, rather than an alternative.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

Categories: Business, Opinion

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