The Americanization of Famima

West Coast chain opening new stores; adding, broadening product lines

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

TORRANCE, Calif. -- Japanese convenience store store operator FamilyMart Co. is in the process of making its U.S. West Coast-based Famimastores "more Americanized." The company initially aimed to attract American consumers with Japanese products, including "bento" boxed meals and "onigiri" rice balls. But the company has come to realize that it has to offer a wider variety of more familiar, traditional U.S. fare.

"It looks as though we introduced too much of the Japanese-oriented products. But that's not what we're trying to change," HidenariSato, executive [image-nocss] vice president of Famima Corp., told CSP Daily News. "When we started out, our target demographic was upper-middle [class]. When we tried to expand our locations, we've had to broaden our target at the same time. So we wanted to carry more of the popular brands. At first, we just carried organics, like you would see at Whole Foods. But we have gotten more familiar with the American consumer, so you will see more of a lineup of [brands such as] Milky Way or Reese's. Frito-Lay, was well. At a typical convenience store, you will see at least three gondolas of Frito-Lay. We only used to carry one or 1-1/2. But we have expanded to at least two or three. And we didn't used to carry Hostess or Bimbos. We carry those brands now."

He added, "But in order to differentiate ourselves from other convenience stores, we still carry the high-end products, such as Godiva. We didn't used to carry doughnuts, fountain drinks or [slush-type] drinks. Now we carry all of that in all of our new stores. Even in our existing stores, we're now carrying hot dogs. We've had to become a more typical convenience store, but we have a lot of deli products, sandwiches, pastas and paninis."

Sato said that Famima is riding the current wave of transforming c-store/gas station foodservice to a more upscale offering from what it once was, with better food and more packaged fresh products. "That's a very good direction. And [Famima] is in the right era to do this. That's why we came [to America]."

But he said that Famima does not compete directly with Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, which has a similar offering. He added that the difference is sizeFamima stores are more like traditional c-stores in terms of size, compared to Famima's much-larger, small-supermarket-sized 10,000 square feet.

"We have been here for three years, and we have been struggling to get where our locations are," he said. "It is so difficult to define 'convenience store' here in the U.S. We're differentand we didn't want to use the word 'convenience store'but everybody is comparing us to 7-Eleven. So we're now using the word 'convenience store.' But we're trying to redefine what convenience stores are."The chain currently has a total of 13 locations, including a new one opening today in downtown Los Angeles, the fourth site there. The company is doing a four-day marketing campaign with mobile banners (on a wrapped truck) and "a street team of eight girls running around downtown promoting Famima, wearing green Famima t-shirts and caps and handing out coupons, flyers and samples from vendors."In early July, Famima will open its first store in Orange County, Sato said.Torrance, Calf.-based Famima, founded in 2004, is operated by FamilyMart Co. Ltd. Backed by ITOCHU Group, FamilyMart's core business is operating a network of 13,122 c-stores throughout Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and the United States.