Circle K is aiming for a premier position in European emobility and has the valuable differentiators required to reach that goal.

That’s according to Christian Ellneby, director and head of finance & strategy for global emobility at Circle K. 

Ellneby spoke to Global Convenience Store Focus ahead of a Shop Talk LIVE episode focused on the future of e-mobility. 

Ellneby joined Circle K e-mobility two years ago having previously held the CFO position in the company’s Danish business.

With a strategic and M&A background, he was also leading the deal team in the recent acquisition of TotalEnergies in four European countries on behalf of Circle K parent, Alimentation Couche-Tard. 

Together with his colleagues in the eMobility management team, he leads 60 employees focused on emobility in Oslo, who are supported by a team of 70 employees dedicated to IT development for emobility in Warsaw. 

To date, Circle K operates 1,600 EV chargers in Scandinavia “and we are just getting started”, Ellneby said. 

Ellneby shared a snapshot of the Alimentation Couche-Tard business, which was founded by Alain Bouchard with its first store in 1980. 

In 2003, the company made its first major acquisition by buying Circle K from ConocoPhillips. 

In 2012 the company entered Europe and it rebranded to Circle K globally, starting in 2015. Today, the company has a global convenience network serving nine million daily customers. 

It has a presence in 47 out of 50 US states and is the market leader in six out of the eight European markets in which it operates and is one of the leaders in EV charging. 

Alimentation Couche-Tard has 14,468 stores across the globe with half of them in the US and 3,101 in Europe. The company’s European network is being expanded by 80% following its March offer to buy TotalEnergies’ retail operations in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

According to Ellneby, that move will be “transformative for Circle K Europe and for e-mobility”. 

Ellneby presented the EV market in general and specifically across the Nordics, which alongside China, leads in EV development globally. 

According to Circle K, there are three main drivers of EV adoption: 

  1. Regulation on OEM CO2 emissions, which are expected to increase the cost OF ICEs and drive BEV adoption in the short term. There are no taxes on the acquisition of EVs in Norway, for example; while further incentives include being able to drive for free or with significant discounts on toll roads and park in manyplaces. 
  1. Development of BEVs with the driving range increasing to 250 miles, while OEMs are also expanding their EV product offerings where a customer now has more than 100 different models to choose from. 
  1. The economics of having an EV – BEVs are already total cost of ownership-competitive. 

In Scandinavia, charging at home is the most common method of charging and is driven by those people who are buying an EV having access to a private car parking space. 

Uptime, the functional availability of chargers, is a key industry concern but Ellneby revealed Circle K’s uptime across Scandinavian chargers in the year-to-date is above 96%, which we believe is above industry average. 

Targeting high uptime is key to developing brand loyalty, Ellneby agreed. 

As our industry is quite young, the differentiating factors are still quite basic.

“Today, people are happy if they can arrive and charge at a destination and pay without material difficulties and without having to queue for a long time.

However, soon this will be table stakes so we need to consider what the differentiators will be going forward – it is for certain that the customers will require something more,” he said. 

Price is yet not top of mind for the EV customer, Ellneby said. “The ability to charge and pay are still the key factors for an EV customer.

Once the market becomes more mature, price will become a more important factor.

Then, the participants will choose its differentiators, like we see on traditional fuel today, where you have low price operators where price is their key customer promise while other players are focusing on presenting a more comprehensive customer offer. 

That said, operational efficiency will become key for all as the market matures, and here we will benefit from our extensive legacy in fuel retailing where every Euro cent counts. 

Ellneby presented Circle K’s emobility journey and the company’s competitive edge. 
We are confident that “Circle K has the valuable differentiators required to capture a premier position in European mobility,” he said.

“The transition from fossil fuels to electric mobility is not the end of mobility,” he added. |

The differentiators include: 

  • Circle K has strong positions in all markets with highly valuable locations, they are the market leader in 6 of 8 markets 
  • A leading convenience and wash offering – providing strong value beyond charging alone 
  • The company has strong and proven track record in operational excellence and cost discipline, which enables the company to operate with industry leading profitability 
  • With 3.4m active users in its loyalty program EXTRA, Circle K is in a unique position to use insights on the EV customer to buildtailored offers 
  • The company’s European podium position in B2B will generate significant value as EV adoption increases in the European B2B segment

Circle K’s mobility strategy started as a project in Norway in 2017 and the company launched its first proposition in 2019 before building out its position in Scandinavia in 2020.

“Now we are ready to scale that into the rest of Europe,” Ellneby told us. 

“Building a leading European EV charging network, featuring both Circle K and partner chargers, is delivering stellar growth,” he added. 

In North America, where the company doesn’t have the same market leading positions as it enjoys in Europe, Circle K is starting to install chargers in key markets so, that when EV adoption starts growing, it will be present and ready to take positions. 

Ellneby showcased the ecosystem the business is targeting in EV. It comprises B2B home charging, workplace charging and on-the-go charging. 

“For the B2C home customer, we will seek to target this customer together through partners,” he added. 

Circle K’s customer promise at its EV sites comprises great locations, onsite parking with capacity and scalability for EV charging, store offerings and amenities including food and beverage, restrooms and car wash; and providing a safe and secure setting especially for female customers. 

In Norway, around 40% of the Circle K network is now electrified and the company has grown on-the-go charging in Scandinavia by 95% versus the same period last year.

On-the-go transactions are up by 70%, while the uptime is an impressive 96% and customer numbers are up 52% year-to-date. 

These EV trends are also adding significant value to convenience- and carwash sales, where we are seeing an increase in traffic to our sites in Norway of more than 8% after installing EV chargers. 

Even more interesting is though the results we are seeing when we compare the shopping behavior of our EV- and ICE Extra club members.

The EV customer is an 11% more frequent store visitor vs the ICE customer with a basket size which is an impressive 15% higher.

When we are adding carwash traffic to this comparison, we are experiencing an uplift of 27% in gross profit versus the ICE customer. 

These are highly promising numbers and a very strong signal to that our belief of providing a combined store and charge offer is holding water.

Also, this added value from the EV customers is mitigating the loss in fuel traffic we will face in the years to come as the transition to electric mobility continues. 

Further growth looks assured following the TotalEnergies acquisition.

“The TotalEnergies network is an attractive platform for growing EV further in Europe in the most attractive markets for emobility in Continental Europe.

The adoption rates in Germany and Benelux are very attractive,” Ellneby said

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