Creating stores of the future with Musgrave
Musgrave’s Northern Ireland managing director, Michael McCormack tells Neighbourhood Retailer how the launch of the Mace Store of the Future concept into the NI market is only the beginning of Musgrave’s commitment to dominate within the food-to-go market
While 2018 was a challenging year for many, Musgrave – Ireland’s largest symbol group – enjoyed continued growth in Northern Ireland adding new stores and redeveloping others.
As an all-island symbol operator, wholesaler, and food service supplier, Musgrave retails north of the border under its convenience brands SuperValu, Centra and Mace, alongside its Musgrave MarketPlace outlets in Derry/Londonderry, Lurgan, and Belfast.
Having invested over £1m in its Belfast-based cash and carry, Duncrue Food Emporium, upgrading the environment and bringing in additional expertise, in 2018 Musgrave was able to see returns in the form of increased sales and customers.
In addition to the cash and carry business, over the course of the last 12 months, the group has continued to develop each of its brands, creating a strong identity for each retail strand within the market.
SuperValu – Musgrave’s larger store format – experienced successful like-for-like sales, having continued to roll out its store refurbs and relaunching its premium own-brand Signature Tastes range which has been well received by consumers. Centra, which was subject to considerable investment by the group in 2017, opened over 10 new sites this year and reported strong sales increases across both its food market and high convenience stores while further establishing its instore footprint to meet consumer demand for a healthier product offering on the go.
January 2019 marks a year since the first Mace Store of the Future concept was launched in the Caffrey Court area of Belfast. Bringing together a sleek new design for the brand alongside a renewed spotlight on food-to-go, the new-look Mace stores are a striking addition to the region’s retail landscape. Since Musgrave’s unveiling of its first Store of the Future concept, further Mace shops have undergone a refurbishment such as Toomebridge, Newmills, Armagh, and Castle Street, Belfast.
“The response has been unbelievable,” Michael McCormack, managing director of Musgrave NI told Neighbourhood Retailer. “There are two ways to assess the performance of our stores and that is to look at the sales and also the reactions of the consumers and retailers. Any retailer that has taken on the Mace Store of the Future branding has seen astronomical growth in sales and has had an overwhelmingly positive response from their customers.”
All new Mace stores boast a Munch & Co deli featuring a healthy salad bar alongside a more traditional hot food counter. Describing fresh, food-to-go and meal solutions as the future of convenience, Michael reveals that this category is where Musgrave is consolidating its energy for future developments.
“The health category is no longer a trend, it’s the way our customers are living their lives and we view this area as having huge growth opportunities both now and in the future,” he said.
“We are constantly looking at improving our offer across SuperValu, Centra and Mace. The reality is that people are shopping little and often for all eating occasions and we are well placed to take advantage of that.”
Since launching in 2016, Musgrave’s own Frank & Honest coffee has grown to be the biggest selling on-the-go coffee brand in Ireland. There are now 100 Frank & Honest coffee concessions in Northern Ireland, with a further 700 in the Republic of Ireland.
“If you talk to some of our retailers they will tell you that they serve customers who drive past our competitors for Frank & Honest coffee because they prefer the brand,” Michael says. “In essence I think the popularity of Frank & Honest stems from the quality of the coffee.”
Last year, Frank & Honest replaced all non-recyclable single-use coffee cups with new compostable cups and lids making Musgrave one of the first food service companies in Northern Ireland to divert millions of coffee cups from landfill annually.
The coffee brand has also been extended to cover customers who have their own coffee machines at home via a range of take-home products including a coffee pod, coffee beans, and ground coffee carrying Frank & Honest into the marketplace.
With the brand now rolled out across Musgrave’s all-Ireland store portfolio, customers can be guaranteed a great cup of coffee anywhere in the country.
Other concessions set to cross the border in 2019 are a new ice cream brand, Moo’d, and an Italian pizza concept currently being trialled in RoI called Caramico.
“There are a lot of similarities between the two markets,” adds Michael. “NI is slightly different in that consumers are more value-conscious – they still want healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners available in the convenience store but with great quality and at a great price. We’ve taken some of the learnings from the RoI market including what worked and what didn’t work and have brought that to the Northern Irish market.”
And while continuing to extend its offer remains a priority for Musgrave, in 2019 the group will focus on refreshing its current network to the most up-to-date store standards, as well as recruiting and converting new retailers and supporting established retailers with their succession planning.
“We are really committed to working with independent retailers,” Michael adds. “Unlike some of our competitors who are more concerned with company-owned sites, the reality is we are a local, family business and a core part of our brand is working with local retailers and producers. We are invested in continually improving our company operated site but ultimately our main concern is to help independent retailers drive their businesses forward.”