Fresh Market in La Ribera de Belen, Heredia
Fresh Market in La Ribera de Belen, Heredia

(QCOSTARICA) Why head to the supermarket when you can get most of everything you need at a nearby convenience store. In the last five years, names like Fresh Market, AM PM, Circle K, Dia Express, Proximart, Super Mini Musmanni and Vindi have cropped up all around the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM).

According to data by Euromonitor International, 108 new convenience stores cropped up in the last five years, going from 33 in 2010 to 141 at the end of last year.

And the numbers grow rapidly, in particular in upper end neighbourhoods like Santa Ana, where, for example, in a two kilometre stretch between La Cruz de Santa Ana and Rio Oro de Santa there are now two Fresh Markets and an AM PM. A couple of blocks a way, in the centre of Santa Ana there is Proximart.

This is not counting the half-dozen or so “pulperias”, small locally run stores, as compared to the convenience store chain operations considered a convenience store if less than 400 square metres (4,300 square feet) in floor space.

According to Euromonitor, convenience stores recorded sales of US$44.3 million dollars in 2010, quadrupling to US$178.7 million in 2015.

AM PM was one of the first, opening stores in 1987 and followed by Fresh Market in 2005. These two employe some 1,200 people.

Musmanni, now owned by the Florida Ice and Farm (Fifco), the same company that owns the Cerveceria (brewery) and distributor of Cristal water and Pepsi products, among others, has converted 70 outlets from being a local bakery to a convenience store.

In the expansion of this niche market there is one casualty. The supermarket chain Automercado entered the market with its Vindi brand, that has now been converted to a (mini) supermarket instead of being a convenience store. The company said it saw its customers doing buying large number of items instead of just buying a few items, the basis of the convenience store.

Vindi has abandoned the convenience store concept and turned its locations into mini supermarkets
Vindi has abandoned the convenience store concept and turned its locations into mini supermarkets

Day Express is owned by the Grupo Empresarial de Supermercados (Gessa) which owns the Perimercado supermarkets, among others.

What about the prices?

The Q, in preparation of this article, went shopping. In general, prices on many items can be up to ¢100 colones, in cases like bread, milk and water drinks, at a couple of locations the prices were below the supermarkets.

At Proximart in Santa Ana, for example, you can purchase one or a small quantity of products sold only at Pricesmart. Frank’s Red Hot sauce comes in a two-pack (large bottles) at Pricesmart, at Proximart you can buy one. At Automercado, the only other place we found Frank’s, there is only the small bottle.

And why shop at a convenience store?

Convenience. You park your car at the front door. Go in. Make your purchase, usually no line. Leave. The convenience stores are located in neighbourhoods, close to residential developments. In many cases, you can walk to the convenience store.

What’s your opinion on convenience stores? Do you shop there? Share your experience. Use the comment section below or post to our Facebook page.