Norwegian C-Stores: They’re Just Like Ours! (Except When They’re Not)
Most people do not make a fall getaway to Scandinavia, where it’s likely colder than at home. Even fewer people make it a point to visit as many convenience stores as possible when on vacation. But when you’re a c-store reporter already used to the cold confines of Minnesota, this sounds like a pretty good time.
That’s how I found myself milling about the capital of Norway last week, snapping pictures here and there (see slideshow below) and sampling myriad items both exotic and familiar.
I was first struck by the sheer number of c-stores dotting the streets of Oslo—seemingly one on every corner, and primarily 7-Eleven or Deli de Luca stores. After that, it was the variety of foodservice items that caught me by surprise. Most stores have a broad array of prepared foods, from baguette sandwiches to calzones and salads. Both chains also spotlight the roller grill—always positioned at the checkout counter for crew service—with regular hot dogs and bacon-wrapped dogs along with a bounty of toppings. Deli de Luca’s offerings include a German dog topped with potato salad and sweet mustard. Why not? 7-Eleven was promoting a limited-time offer around a taco baguette. Pretty sure the French wouldn’t approve of that.
Besides the hot dogs, all the prepared foods are held in cold display cases until purchase, at which time any heat-and-eat foods take a trip to the omnipresent Merrychef oven, found behind every counter regardless of chain. Cold grab-and-go cases included ready-made smoothies that had the appearance of being blended earlier that day, quinoa bowls, sushi and salads.
The center of the store felt a bit more familiar, with sweet and salty snacks and candy that rotated between the familiar (Doritos), the somewhat familiar (chocolate bars embedded with miniature Ritz crackers from Mondelez) to the wholly foreign (crème fraiche potato chips, salty licorice gum from Extra).
But their endcap strategy was one that’s wholly familiar: an emphasis on better-for-you items including bananas and energy and protein bars. Likewise, the cold vault reflected trends from back home, with traditional carbonated soft drinks balanced by a stand-alone cooler of buzzy items such as aloe juice, coconut waters and cold-pressed juices.
In fact, the total in-store experience, from the signage to merchandising, strongly reflected the aspirations of our own c-stores today: proving you’re a modern destination to be trusted for high-quality and craveable items, be they healthy or indulgent.
Yes, I was in the middle of a major metropolitan city in a very wealthy, cosmopolitan part of the world (I counted at least 15 Teslas gliding past me throughout the week—they are hugely subsidized in oil-wealthy Norway, which is a fascinating story for another time). But that doesn’t trump the strong impression I was left with: that Oslo c-stores are on point.
I asked my Norwegian friend if people like her— a female Oslo native in her late 20s—actually ate the prepared-food items at c-stores. When they’re in a hurry, sure, she said, but that wasn’t always the case. She told me that when Deli de Luca first formed, it brought a new level of quality to c-store foodservice that forced everyone else to improve their game. The twist: Deli de Luca was founded by former 7-Eleven Norway leaders who wanted to create a new kind of c-store experience.
While 7-Eleven’s branding is strong in Oslo, Deli de Luca’s is incredibly specific in the sentiments it attempts to evoke. My friend said many people assumed it was an exotic foreign chain: “Finally, they’ve come to Norway!” Even my husband commented that he thought it must be the “Norwegian Pret A Manger,” and you can’t ignore that the name has a cadence similar to the New York-based specialty food story Dean & Deluca. But it’s still a c-store—you get your bus passes, Red Bull and in-a-pinch toiletries there, and you ask for your cigarettes and snus from the jarringly stark tobacco display boxes behind the counter.
So what did I learn from my Oslo c-store immersion? That aspirational can work, competitive threats can indeed raise all boats, the world’s palate is smaller than we think, and that Extra salty licorice gum is actually quite good. Wrigley, would you consider selling it here?