Innovation and resilience, the key to post-Covid come back, says Newell’s MD Colin Conway

Innovation and resilience, the key to post-Covid come back, says Newell’s MD Colin Conway

The past 14 months have thrown up numerous challenges to grocery retailers across Northern Ireland, but our leading independent retailers are trailblazers when it comes to managing the crisis, and making their businesses thrive through it all. One such example is Newells – one of the largest Nisa independents, with two large stores – in Dungannon and Coalisland.

Managing director Colin Conway told Neighbourhood Retailer that resilience, being innovative – and having the support of a strong staff team is the key to bouncing back stronger than ever.

Newells in Coalisland has reaped the benefits of the new Post Office and Off Licence – both of which have helped the rural outreach across the area, while proving local services to a community not keen to travel too far in the midst of the pandemic.

Paul Fearon – Head Butcher in Newells Dungannon

Swiftly adapt and innovate

Newells had to swiftly adapt – with the hot food counter taking the brunt of the Covid crisis.

Independent retailers are now seeing their hot food and deli counters bounce back – the Newells is a strong example of that.

“Hot food has bounced back to 85 or 90% of what it was. We don’t expect to see it make a full return to normality until people start to move around with confidence again” said Colin.

As an independent grocery retailer, Colin was simply grateful that they could remain open and serve the communities of Coalisland and Dungannon.

“I’m thankful that we are in an industry that was allowed to stay open – although it was difficult at the start,” said Colin. “There wasn’t a lot of guidance from government so we made the call at the beginning to do the right thing for the right reasons.

“We had to shut some counters down at the end of March – then section by section we were able to open again by the end of June – the deli, hot food, butchery, bakery and pre-packed.”

Dylan Cushley, Newell’s creative chef

Grocery sales remained solid.

“There was a panic-buying element at the beginning – the media was driving that rather than supply issues, but once customers had a better understanding, it settled down again.

“People were finding the time to cook again – rather than their meals being quick and rushed. For many families that was actually a positive thing – and as an individual, I hope that remains the way.

“We can learn a lot from this and try to maintain new habit, rather than get back on the hamster wheel again. For some people there will be a bit more freedom of choice – and a chance to strike a balance, while still having a thriving economy.”

Look out for the full interview with Newell’s MD Colin Conway in the next issues of Neighbourhood Retailer – out next week.