For those of us that are old enough to remember, the iconic Australian Corner Store once dominated the residential landscape of Australia’s towns and cities.

These were places where local kids congregated in front of gumball machines, keenly returning empty glass drink bottles to fund their weekly purchase of mixed lollies.

They were also the places where households could conveniently purchase small grocery items, cakes, smokes and an eclectic mix of other items.

The growing prominence of supermarkets – and the Australian consumer’s desire for one-stop shopping – largely contributed to the demise of these outlets through the 1970’s and 1980’s.

But in an age of time-poor consumer behaviours, on-line shopping and sharp changes in the social structures of Australian households, there are signs that the ‘corner store’ may be making a return to Australian local communities.

“When you think about it, the fundamentals for the return of the corner store are already in place, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.

Changes in the structure of Australian households – with many being single person or couples with no kids – means that people are eating out more and only need to visit a store to purchase basic food and grocery items.

A dramatic increase in two working parent households and single parent households means that less time is available for the traditional weekly shop – and so these households are tending to shop in small lots on a frequent basis.

“Growing community consciousness of the need to eat healthy is also generating increased demand for prepared food that is both convenient and healthy’, said Mark.

But the historical closure of the nation’s corner stores – and subsequent sale of this land for redevelopment – has meant that the opportunity for small-format stores to be conveniently located to residential communities has essentially been lost.

Or has it?

“We believe that changing societal and consumer factors are driving a revolution in the petrol-convenience industry in Australia”, said Mark.

With 6700 sites strategically located in almost every local community, service stations are perfectly positioned to take advantage of these changes in consumer behaviours.

“And many fuel retail businesses are doing so with the launch of new convenience style formats that include prepared food, deli items and café style cakes and coffee”, said Mark.

Some of the larger fuel retail chains have launched exciting new convenience store formats in recent years, including; BP Australia, Coles Express, Puma Energy, Caltex and 7-Eleven.

Many medium and small retailers have also made the transition from the traditional ‘chips chocs and drinks’ outlet, to innovative formats that appear to take account of the specific demands of their local market.

As a result, many of these sites are fast becoming the place of choice for a quick café stop after school drop-off, or the preferred morning breakfast stop for tradies heading out for the day.

“The changes beg the question of whether the Australian consumer’s choice of a service station outlet will remain solely about price and location – or whether we are in the midst of a quiet consumer revolution where consumer decisions will more likely be made on the value of the total petrol and convenience offering”, said Mark.

In a bid to better understand the potential impacts of these trends on future motorist behaviours, ACAPMA has recently commissioned the 2017 Monitor of Consumer Attitudes with a specific focus on the changing needs of petrol-convenience customers.

This work is being undertaken by independent survey firm Survey Matters and will canvass quantitative responses from 1,000 respondents on specific purchase behaviours, as well as collecting qualitative commentary from discrete consumer segments.

The results of this work will be released at the 2017 Asia Pacific Fuel Industry Forum to be held in Melbourne on 13 and 14 September 2017, with all delegates will be provided with a copy of the survey findings.

“The findings of the research will also inform ACAPMA’s annual public policy review and guide future responses to public debates on the net value that is being delivered to the Australian community by the nation’s fuel retail industry”, said Mark.