Fayre thee well: Inside the new Fayre at Corries food hall in Belfast’s Cherryvalley.
If you thought Corries was a traditional butchers – think again. The chain may have started off that way, with farm butcher’s shops across Belfast and north Down, but it’s fast becoming a mecca for all things artisan.
In recent weeks the business announced that it had acquired the three branches of Knotts Bakery in Newtownards and following on from the success of its online offer, launched during the pandemic, it has just launched its groundbreaking new food hall, Fayre at Corries.
That new launch has come about after Corries acquired Four Seasons Greengrocers and Delicatessen in Cherryvalley, which has provided an extensive range of in-house ready meals and delivery services for fruit and vegetables and other foods, especially cheese and charcuterie, over many years to the people of east Belfast.
Corries Farm Butchers already had a branch in Cherryvalley in the same row of shops as the new premises, as Stock and Compliance Manager Julie Hope explains.
“Our shop in Cherryvalley was established in 2008 and it’s a great area, with a lovely customer base, most visiting us every day so the staff would know them quite well – it’s a great community,” she says.
“So Gary McNally, the owner of Four Seasons Deli and Greengrocers, had approached my brother William Corrie in early 2021 about purchasing the property as he was considering early retirement.”
With bigger premises, this triggered the concept of a new style of shop, keeping the fruit and veg/ deli alongside the butcher.
“The purchase of Knotts – meant we had a a baker, which would sit nicely with the rest.”
Julie says her grandfather Willie Corrie had moved from Monaghan to the Ards Peninsula in 1947 and set up Drumhilla Farm – the family farm that is still at the root of the business.
“He was approached by a neighbour on the road and asked if he could butcher one of his cattle.
“And that was the first customer and then it led from there – now we have seven retail shops and an online delivery service.”
In 1977, Willie and his son Will Corrie launched the first retail shop on the farm itself, but it wasn’t until 2000 that the first town shop was opened by Will’s eldest son Gareth in Regent Street in Newtownards.
“Early on was a lot of bulk buys, such as hindquarters or forequarters. But the nature of shopping has changed so much – a lot of people just buy from day to day. So we knew there was a drive at that stage for Gareth to open the town shop, providing the convenience of location.
“We still offer the bulk buy aspect at the farm but it’s not as popular as it used to be.
“From there, Will’s youngest son William Corrie came on board and he opened a shop in Ballyhackamore. After that came Holywood, then Cherryvalley, then Ormeau Road, then Comber Road in Dundonald.”
During the pandemic, the family began to notice a growing appreciation for artisan local foods which prompted the launch of their online shop, which in turn allowed them to offer a wider range.
“Over lockdown, demand soared for fresh local produce, and Brexit highlighted how much was being imported and how much we have on our doorstep,” Julie says.
“People also realised how much better local produce was. Also supermarket delivery slots filled up so quickly that we were able to step into the gap and deliver.
“We also had the opportunity to access a large range of produce and not be restricted by shop shelves with our online service. It also gave us the opportunity to work much more with our fantastic local producers.
“We were able to be that medium for those suppliers to be able to sell their products through to our audience. It was a great opportunity and we forged relationships with a lot of suppliers and we realised how much extra produce there was out there.
“We started throughout existing app and then in autumn 2021 with the help of Eyekiller we launched our new ecommerce website, offering both home delivery and click and collect at any of our stores. We are constantly looking at the demand, changing how we are serving the community,” she says.
The next step is now that Corries can showcase those products in their new larger food hall at Fayre at Corries in Cherryvalley..
“Now that we have these shelves we will be able to make it available for walking in and purchasing, not restricting it to online,” Julie says.
“There are lovely cheeses, crackers, charcuterie, apple juice from Armagh and lots more.”
The main department in the new food hall will still be Corries meat, Julie says.
“There’ll be the main counter that you can go and get your roast or your cuts to your liking, because that’s the great thing about your local butcher, you can get it exactly as you want it.
“We will have an extensive prepack range, and then we will also be using the Four Seasons fruit and veg range to be able to offer meal pairings. Through this you can get your roast veg to go and your potato to go with the roast that you’ve got.
“Or if you’re going for a steak night you can go and get your mushrooms or your crispy onions or your pepper sauce, you can lift from all areas of the shop. That’s what we’re excited about, being able to offer a full meal plan and not having to go down the road for the next bit and so on.
“Then of course, through Knotts we’ll be able to offer the dessert option too, and then there will be a wider range of cakes and traybakes and scones.
“We’re going to have an oven in the shop so we’re going to be freshly baking croissants and cookies every day. And for those people just wanting sheer convenience, there will be pies, there’ll be bakes, there’ll be things for you to grab and pop in the oven.
“There’ll be everything from your roast dinners to your lasagne, garlic potatoes and coleslaw – the range is huge. It could be chicken curry and rice, it could be a big portion of stew, chicken and broccoli pasta bake – whatever you fancy, it will hopefully be there for you.”
To accommodate that expansion, Corrie’s will be growing their kitchen production at the farm, but also via Knotts.
“Now with having Knotts, we have the option of production across both sites,” Julie says.
“Then of course, you’ve got the wealth of knowledge from the chefs within Knotts, so all the recipe development across both businesses are very exciting.
“We’re looking to offer that little bit more because we want to be more than just your standard local convenience store, we want to be able to offer something a wee bit more than just your sausages in a prepack and your chicken goujons in a prepack. We’ve a lot of exciting new products coming in over the next while so watch this space.
“This gives us an opportunity now to be able to research what else we can offer the customer, so that convenience doesn’t mean that you’re just going to be getting that bog standard range. We’ll be looking at the presentation of it, and just upping that standard, so that people are still getting that gourmet option but with the convenience of a prepack.
“We value our customer feedback and will be keen to hear from everyone.”
The premises have undergone considerable renovation since they were acquired by Corries, Julie says.
“We’ve added an upstairs for improved storage and an office space, and then that frees up more space down on the ground floor. We’ve pretty much gutted it, we took the roof off, we added another layer,” she says.
“We’re putting in the oven which can bake croissants and the cookies and different things fresh every day, several times a day. It’s basically a blank canvas, and it’s exciting to see the design grow. Even as the purchase of Knotts came in we allocated a bigger area for them, whereas before we were just looking for a baker to come on board for just a small part of it.
“We’ve tried to make each area slightly different with the colours being used and there are lovely tiles in place. So it’s a mix of a modern store but still a lovely aspect of tiles and not just all PVC printed.”
Even after the launch, there will still more ways of developing Fayre at Corries, Julie says.
“There’s so much potential – we’ve got our fresh orange juice machine coming in, we’ve got the freshly baked bread, so those things could lead to other things. We’re trying to look at our sustainability aspect, so we’re looking at those dispensers for your granola, your seeds and those things in and around your fresh produce.
“We’re looking at reducing our packaging, and we’d love just to be that lighter carbon footprint within the store.
“We’ll have maybe sampling, maybe demos, maybe a night where people could come in, maybe looking at Christmas. There’s so much you could possibly do but at the moment we’ll get up and running first. We’’ll be quite keen to get the feedback from the customers to see what they are looking for within the community, so watch this space.
“At the minute it’s such a different business – going from a butchery to a bakery and cafe and whatnot – that we’re really taking our time to get our heads around that business first and then look at it. But obviously there’s such potential when you’ve got a restaurant, catering staff and a bakery – there’s lots of exciting plans!”