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The fresher the better!

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Convenience operators latched onto fresh food’s retail potential years ago, but that doesn’t mean that innovation has stopped.

Despite inflationary pressures impacting on consumer spend, fresh foods are still contributing healthy amounts at retail, in fact, according to Nielsen, it’s a category than can account for up to 60 per cent of consumers’ total spend on food, grocery and personal care.

They’re a staple to a healthy diet, says Nielsen, and people are shopping for them often.

It’s a trend that the convenience retail sector in Ireland picked up on many years ago when they began re-formatting their in-store offerings to focus more noticeably on the fruit and veg shelves – and that innovative thinking has been a factor in store design ever since.

Just recently, forecourt operator Applegreen underlined this widespread commitment to fresh, health-conscious options when it partnered with global fast-casual brand, Freshii, which offers customisable and healthy menus in eco-friendly surroundings.

Freshii already has two outlets in Ireland – one at the IFSC in the Dublin Docklands and the other at Mespil Road in the city. Its third store – and the first to come from its collaboration with Applegreen – opens this summer at Baldrumman in Lusk.

Joe Barrett of Applegreen says that the term ‘fast food’ is no longer synonymous with unhealthy eating:

“We’re working hard to cater for all our customers’ needs and help them make smart, healthy food choices while on the go,” he remarked recently. “This exciting and innovative partnership with Freshii highlights our dedication to ensure we stay true to that ethos.”

Also keen to continue developing the focus on fresh is Ireland’s leading forecourt convenience retailer, Maxol, who announced in April that Irish healthy food company, Chopped, would be among those franchises opening a branch at the new Mulhuddart M3 services development. Again, healthy fast food for consumers on-the-go is the objective. Chopped has been trading since 2012 and operates five other outlets in Dublin.

Of course, fresh foods are a big traffic builder for the multiples, which is where most consumers go to buy their produce, but convenience stores account for a sizeable slice of that market too, particularly in the fish and seafood and fruit and vegetable categories.

As for what people are buying, 2013 figures from Nielsen indicate that in Ireland, the share of consumer expenditure which is spent on fresh food is around 21 per cent for meat, poultry and fish; 21 per cent for fruit and veg; 38 per cent for chilled; 15 per cent for bakery and five per cent for deli.

Ian Elliott manages McCool’s SuperValu in Ballymoney where, as part of extensive refurbishment last July, a 30-foot fresh food aisle was installed at the front of the store along with 12 spider fridges and around 18 bread and cake tables.

“People buy with their eyes and they buy the displays so we want them to be as attractive as possible,” says Ian. “Our shopper participation in the fresh food category has gone from about 44 per cent to 51 per cent since the changes, so that’s a seven per cent increase and more margin for us,” adds Ian.

“People aren’t doing a weekly shop any more, they are shopping little and moer often and it’s the convenience element that matters to them, so we need to provide them with attractive, fresh food options that are quick and easy to use.”

And Dan Ciapelli, who has been managing independent fruit and veg retailer, Homegrown, in Newtownards for the last couple of years, says that the shop is busier than it’s ever been:

“Just from talking to people across the counter, it’s clear that they’re keen to get more fruit and veg into their diets,” he told IF&CR. “There’s much more awareness of this whole side of things now and people are very interested in what is in their food and where it came from.”

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