The Deli-cious Arcadia

One of the oldest stores in the trendiest part of Belfast, Arcadia is frequented by fanatical foodies and salubrious celebrities – Neighbourhood Retail gets a taste for its formidable fayre

Mark and Laura Brown

Mark and Laura Brown

The Lisburn Road in Belfast’s south is seen by some as a preened promenade for the city’s awfully well-to-do.

Over-priced coffee is sipped in understated cafes, as oversized cars wait awkwardly outside, parked with a devil-may-care eccentricity.

But it’s also where the city’s best boutiques and sumptuous specialist stores take refuge from the perceived thuggery of the town centre.

Arcadia has been the epicentre of the Lisburn Road’s epicurean enticement for some 80 years, beginning life as a bakery and general store before evolving into the fine food emporium of today.

The store is now run by third generation owners Mark and Laura Brown who have led it to award-winning success, including a Neighbourhood Retailer award, and regular recognition in the Observer Food Monthly’s annual awards, which has described the store as a “perennial favourite” and “Belfast’s signature delicatessen”.

Penton Archadia-0035Its reputation attracts a diverse and interesting clientele, and speaking to Neighbourhood Retailer, Laura gave us a flavour of the type of regulars she sees every day.

“We have an extremely diverse clientele – from the weekday Paul Stafford hairdressers and the gym regulars who call in for their daily lunch, to the company MDs and politicians who come for their weekend foodie fix,” she said.

“Over the past few years, we believe helped by social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, we have seen a growth in the 25 to 45 age demographic who are fashion-conscious and increasingly food-conscious.

“They enjoy the personal touch of a counter service and building a relationship with staff to the point that we know their name and their tastes and can suggest new products to them. This is a revelation to the supermarket generation.”

Penton Archadia-0041Another revelation to those raised on Tesco 3 for 2s is the incredible range of exotic products on offer, and Neighbourhood Retailer wondered how much time is devoted by Arcadia to product research.

“It’s an ongoing process that’s just in the DNA,” Laura explained. “We’re constantly on the lookout for new products and with the burgeoning local artisan food market many of them now come to us as well-known supporters of NI producers.”

While on the lookout for new items, Laura believes the store has an important role in ‘curating’ the modern palette, but both her and Mark still have an ear firmly to the ground.

“Customers are now more informed about food than ever before,” she said. “We’ve found that high-profile chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi and Ella Woodward often create the demand for particular ingredients from time-to-time. We’re selling lots of jars of coconut oil and spices such as Zaatar on the back of their success.”

Penton Archadia-0025The new influx of younger customers has also inspired Arcadia to invest in its online presence.

“We launched a brand-spanking-new website in recent months and invested quite a bit in it with a view to growing our online business,” Laura said. “We have the website divided into two elements – grocery and hampers. As we expected, the hamper side of the business is flourishing with good sales growth, the grocery side less so.

“We are working hard to inform consumers about our year-round hamper offering and that hampers are not just for Christmas and make a wonderful retirement, housewarming, wedding, thank you, or birthday gifts. Sales have a huge spike at Christmas, obviously, but we’re making great progress to ensure further hamper sales growth year round.”

The advance of new technology is not, however, without its challenges.

Penton Archadia-0050Laura explained: “Years ago, a shop owner could simply stand behind the counter and sell. Nowadays, we have to be so savvy about marketing, PR, social media, maintaining a website, as well as keeping up-to-date with an increasing level of administration and red tape related to running a business. We have to wear many hats – sales and marketing, human resources, health and safety; these are just a few.”

However, Arcadia continues to boost sales, and one way this is achieved is through their expert staff. Arcadia’s dedicated team are armed with hundreds of recipes and pairings for those finding themselves a little lost among the eclectic and esoteric choices.

“We are extremely lucky to have a number of staff who have been with us for over 20 years,” Laura said. “We have low staff turnover and therefore they are extremely knowledgeable on our product offering. Our staff have a genuine interest in food which shines through. Passion and knowledge combine for the perfect recipe. We learn from our close relationships with suppliers also – many of whom make, package and deliver their own products. The personal touch works so well to enthuse everyone about getting to know individual products.”

Penton Archadia-0010Staff expertise has helped Arcadia excel given the new emphasis on scratch cooking among customers – a trend that has also been latched onto by convenience brands across NI. However, the focus on fresh food by supermarkets and convenience stores has not hindered Arcadia’s efforts, according to Laura.

“We were always a destination for those who like to cook, so the move back to cooking from scratch has only benefitted us,” she said. “We tend to stock lots of the unusual ingredients that people cannot get elsewhere so customers do come back as they know they’ll get what they need.”

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