Corries Farm Butcher, Holywood
The Corrie family has been farming substantial land at Drumahilla on the Crossnamuckly Road in Newtownards since the early 70s.
It was William Corrie – grandfather to the current generation of the family – who first kept beef cattle at the family home and these days, the multi-award-winning farm houses around 1200 beef and 800 dairy cattle from the Corries’ own breeding programme.
Like many of their colleagues across Northern Ireland, however, the Corries have lately recognised that amid recurring food scares and ongoing public concern over the fat and salt content of processed food, the public’s growing fascination with the provenance and traceability of the food they eat represents a valuable retail opportunity for the farm.
The family has had a thriving farm shop operation at Drumahilla since the earliest days of the business. In 2000, it opened a store in Regent Street in Newtownards. A third store followed at Ballyhackamore in Belfast seven years later and another at the Gilnahirk Road in Cherry Valley two years after that.
In tandem with its burgeoning chain of retail shops, the farm has also spawned an extensive wholesale business for the Corries, who supply their produce to hotels and restaurants in the Greater Belfast, Carrickfergus and Ballymena regions.
Now, however, the family has diversified further following the unveiling of its latest venture – a high-end butchery, farm shop and deli counter on Main Street in Holywood.
As the photographs reveal, the store is a complete departure from anything that the Corries have done before. Located in premises formerly occupied by Tesco, the concept for the new store came from the Corries themselves in collaboration with Lee Austin Design in Belfast. Interior and exterior fit-out was undertaken by Johnny Neill Building and Joinery of Killinchy.
“Our aim here was really to go completely old school,” William Corrie (jnr) tells Neighbourhood Retailer. “We wanted the store to look like it would have done years ago because we want to give customers back some confidence in their shopping experience.”
The Holywood shop has a definite Victorian ambience. Black-and-white floor tiles and clean, tiled walls convey the impression of a bygone age when customer service was paramount and food scares unheard of.
Three elaborate brass light fittings – sourced from a Dutch supplier by Lee Austin Design – have been mounted above the front window and lend the shop an air of grandness that hints at the quality of its offering.
“We want people to walk in here and know straight away that this is going to be something special,” says William.
Completed on schedule within eight weeks, the new store employs seven full-time staff and William reports that business since it opened at the start of July has been “a bit better than we expected”. He hopes that once the summer is over, the level of trade at the store will rise “well above expectation levels”.
“The store represents a significant investment for us,” he confirms. “I think Holywood is probably one of the few places in Northern Ireland that would really suit this type of shop. We’re selling to a clientele here that is looking for that bit extra in terms of their shopping experience.”
The eye-catching deli-counter at the Main Street shop is a complete departure for the Corrie’s chain. A wide range of salads, cold meats and cheeses are immaculately displayed in glass-fronted, chilled cabinets and while William admits that staff are still “finding their feet to some extent” with that, he reveals plans to introduce a ‘grab and go’ lunch service for local workers and says that staff will also be able to cook lunches for those customers who want the service.
Recession wasn’t a primary consideration for the family when they opened the new shop. William says that rather than going out for “a wee treat” these days, many customers will decide to buy a quality cut of meat from an outlet such as Corries and spend their time at home instead. The recession, he adds, has been much more noticeable in the wholesale end of the business, which is still where the core of the Corries’ trade can be found:
“We’re supplying product to the likes of the La Mon Hotel, the Asia Supermarket in Belfast and a string of Chinese restaurants,” says William. “And it’s very difficult to pass on price increases on the wholesale side. If you raise prices, then hoteliers and restaurant owners will be the first people to voice their concerns, it’s not an easy decision. We don’t like passing on increases to our retail customers either, but sometimes we are left with no choice.”
Going forward, William says that the family plans to develop its ‘grab and go’ lunch service, rolling it out into all of its shops. It will also install a central kitchen into the main farm at Newtownards which will then mass-produce product to be sold in all the shops. There are also plans to extend the ready meal range.