Passing the baton to the next generation

Gavin Emerson

Food Force Ireland chairman, Henry Emerson is stepping down after 25 years of leading the organisation. Here his son Gavin Emerson tells NR how the group has been such a big part of Emerson trade for so long.

Last year Food Force Ireland (FFI) celebrated 25 years as the independent body behind Nisa retailers in Northern Ireland. Now, after two and a half decades of voluntary service, the expert retailer, who led the organisation through both challenging and prolific trading periods, has decided to step down, making way for a new cohort of FFI members.

“My father likes to think of it as passing the baton onto the next generation of FFI members,” Gavin Emerson explains. “We are a fourth generation business of retailers ourselves and this is the natural progression.”

A far cry from a quiet retirement, Gavin reveals that the former FFI chairman can be found regularly in the family’s Armagh-based supermarket helping out with the business.

“He isn’t quite sitting in the Caribbean yet but when you’re booking more holidays than you are attending meetings; it’s nice to have the pressure taken off.

“Over the years there has always been something to keep him there and that’s why he’s stayed for so long. My father’s had great enjoyment from working with all his FFI colleagues, in particular trading controller Debra Johnston and incoming chairman Jonathan Crawford. There have been some really strong relationships formed over the years.”

A number of new members will be joining the FFI board this year, including Gavin himself, who will be taking up the role of vice chairman. Having grown up in the retail trade and mentored by his father since he started working in the shop, Gavin will bring a fresh perspective to the team.

“FFI has been a big part of our business since it began. I was still in school in those days but was aware of the valuable work my father was doing within the organisation,” says Gavin. “The group is the envy of the trade and so important for independent retailing in Northern Ireland.”

Gavin Emerson 2

(L-R): Former FFI chairman Henry Emerson with FFI trading controller Debra Johnston, PRM managing director; Philip Morrow, and Gavin Emerson; owner Emerson’s of Armagh

Gavin explains that what makes FFI so unique is that it works for its members collectively and is beneficial to every member and not a select few.

“Being an independent retailer we would pride ourselves on offering a range of services the multiples wouldn’t be able to provide including a local butchery counter, deli, in-house post office, off licence, and restaurant. All of this has been possible through the support of FFI.”

Finding a point of difference for customers is always easy when you have Northern Ireland’s top suppliers in one room. FFI’s Direct Supply Trade Exhibition taking place in the Culloden Hotel & Spa on September 24 is an event the Emerson family look forward to every year.

“We always bring quite a few from the business down because it’s a great opportunity to meet all the suppliers. FFI members are so unique within the marketplace because of our direct supply links with local suppliers and we’re very lucky to have a close working relationship with many of them. If retailers from another symbol group in Northern Ireland attended an event like FFI Direct Supply Trade Show they wouldn’t know anybody because they don’t have that link.

“Likewise, it’s always interesting to catch up with fellow retailers and find out what they are doing and how they are reacting to challenges.”

There will also be the opportunity to reflect on Henry’s tenure on the day.

“As a family we’re very proud of everything my father has achieved both in our business and for FFI says Gavin. “I know from speaking to other members that he will be sorely missed but I am delighted to continue his legacy on the board as vice president. Here’s to another 25 years of FFI!”

Featured image caption: Former FFI chairman Henry Emerson is pictured with incoming vice-chairman, son, Gavin Emerson.

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