Convenience stores have gradually shifted from stocking essential items to a wide range of F&B items, including ready meals to be consumed in the premises’ food service areas.
Being a university student when Family market was new to the country, I remembered the excitement of my peers rushing to grab oden, onigiri, and sando as a quick snack between classes.
That was in 2016. Since then, local convenience brand MyNEWS has also expanded to offer soft serve ice cream and freshly brewed coffee in its stores.
It also introduced Korean convenience store CU in Malaysia in 2021. With Korean ready-to-eat snacks like bingsucorndog, tteokbokkikorean fried chicken, and more, the long lines seemed endless, even months after its launch.
In the same year, emart24, another Korean convenience store, joined the market. Its first outlet in Bangsar South even has a second floor, specifically for its food court. The retail section is segmented downstairs, presumably to provide more privacy for its diners.
While this may be one of the first international convenience store brands to hit Malaysian shores, it could be said that out of all the enticing offerings from the stores above, 7-Eleven Malaysia seemed to become obsolete.
A few months ago though, he rolled out his own mini-café across several stores in the Klang Valley, aptly named 7 Café.
This begs the question, is 7-Eleven Malaysia now catching up with this new convenience store trend?
A look at 7-Eleven’s growth in Malaysia
Hailing from Dallas, Texas, 7-Eleven stores in Malaysia are wholly owned and operated by 7-Eleven Malaysia Holdings Berhad through its subsidiary, 7-Eleven Malaysia Sdn Bhd.
Locally incorporated in June 1984, 7-Eleven Malaysia claims to be the pioneer and greatest 24 hour convenience store operator in Malaysia. Besides retailing snacks and necessities, 7-Eleven also offered bill payment services, prepaid top-ups, Touch ‘n Go top-ups, photocopying services, and more.
7-Eleven Malaysia launched its franchise program after opening its 1,000th outlet in 2009 to offer franchisees existing for-profit stores.
That same year, the brand introduced hot beverages as well as pre-packaged frozen foods and a small bakery section for the convenience of customers looking for ready-to-eat snacks.
Now that 7 Café is entering 2022, the brand has expanded its takeout dining options. Some add-ons you may find include freshly brewed coffee, affogato and soft serve ice cream, thick fries, and ready-to-eat dishes including rice dishes, onigiriand more.
Depending on the outlets, dedicated catering areas also allow customers to take their meals without leaving the premises, for greater convenience.
Convenience store culture
The concept of these convenience stores is not new, especially in countries like Japan.
The Land of the Rising Sun has perfected the convenience store ideaso much so that the Japanese word, konbini took on its own meaning.
A konbini is more than just a convenience store. It’s a place people have become addicted to in a fast moving world, with the aim of offering something for everyone where you can buy snacks, ice cream and soft drinks, or even beer.
But konbinis were originally intended for Japanese businessmen in its early days, young consumers seem to be the biggest crowd for convenience stores in the world.
On-demand cultivation seems to be the culprit, according to an article by Forbes. He proposed that millennials and Gen Z have grown up with services available at the push of a button, anytime, anywhere.
My colleague fits into the target market. Frequenting emart24, she described the appeal of their hot meals as “budget Korean food”. Since the made-to-order snacks are served in small portions, it gives her the opportunity to try the variety of their menu items in one sitting.
While there, she can shop and browse the skincare options on the shelves. Arguably the same is made available by other convenience stores like CU and Family Mart.
Visiting a 7 Café branch in downtown Damansara myself, it seems the convenience store giant lives up to its competition.
With a large table at the front of the store for dining, you’ll be greeted by well-stocked shelves of baked goods, sandwiches, desserts, ready-to-go meals, and made-to-order snacks and beverages at the counter.
By browsing the assortment of grocery items in the store, you can even find more upscale imported products like Oatly’s oat milk or Reese’s Puffs cereal that are less common in local superstores.
After trying some of the dishes at 7 Café, like its Spicy Cheese Nachos, Mac and Cheese, Honey Mustard Sausage, and Mango Sticky Rice, a few of my co-workers and I decided that the quality of the food was good enough to revisit, especially for convenience.
Not to mention all the items were priced within the expected range, such as loaded cheese nachos for RM6.90, honey mustard sausage croffle also for RM6.90, affogato for 5, RM90 and various coffees for around RM4. 90-RM6.90.
Overall we agreed they were quite affordable for a quick meal.
A little late to the party
Overseas, 7-Eleven had already made additions to its offerings that put it above ordinary convenience stores.
For example, in 2019, 7-Eleven opened a sit test store in Dallas, Texas, which offered high-end treats such as wine and draft beer, kombucha, smoothies, and even an in-store taco restaurant.
Meanwhile, in Pattaya, Thailand, there’s a two-story 7-Eleven with a convenience store downstairs and an on-site cafe serving all meals of the day upstairs.
So back to the previous question: is 7-Eleven Malaysia just playing catch-up?
It feels like it, considering it took a few years for his in-house cafe/sit-down concept to reach our shores despite overseas plans.
To add, 7 Café comes after other major convenience store brands have already proven the demand for such services in Malaysia.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be able to compete against the rest. From what we saw, it already offers substantial ready meals as well as a variety of hot and iced drinks.
Interestingly though, there’s no official webpage that we can find on the 7-Eleven site that lists specific outlets with 7 Cafes, so it almost feels like the concept hasn’t was officially launched here.
Perhaps there’s more 7-Eleven is planning for the concept before making it a central part of its identity here?
Ultimately, there is great potential for growth for 7 Café and for the entire convenience store industry in Malaysia.
What it has is a good start, but it may need to find a niche that helps it stand out if we’re talking about maintaining brand relevance.
As of now, its offerings can be described as an ambiguous mix of Western and Asian. Compare that to the strong Japanese identity of Family Mart and the Korean offerings of CU and emart24, and you’ll see why anyone would prefer them to the slightly more generic offerings of 7 Café.
Once it has found its niche, 7 Café can further improve the customer experience by integrating more technologies such as self-service touchscreen kiosks for ordering and payment, among others.
Until then, we’ll keep an eye on the development of 7 Café.
- Learn more about 7-Eleven here.
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