Glorious food: Moran’s Retail Ltd delivers another leap forward for food-to-go

Glorious food: Moran’s Retail Ltd delivers another leap forward for food-to-go

Donna Moran reveals how her family’s three forecourts in the northwest are going from strength to strength – and how completing the latest phase of their production kitchen will cement their reputation for food to go.

Husband and wife retail team John and Donna Moran spotted early on that food to go was the way forward when it comes to forecourts.

After buying and establishing their three forecourts in the late 90s and early 2000s, their top priority was to develop their food to go range.

Point of difference

“We’ve been doing that now for the 20 plus years,” Donna explains.

“What we felt we needed to do was make it a point of difference. A lot of people were doing what we were doing as far as forecourt retailing was concerned, but we wanted to make a point of difference and we felt this was an opportunity to go down the road to producing our own homemade food.

“We’d been making our own sandwiches in-store since we opened the stores, but we were always wanting to improve our range and our product.

“Now we put our product – our sandwiches and our salads – on the shelves and we say ‘Made today – gone today’, in that they’re going to be sold within 24 hours, because we want to retain that quality.”

Next step forward

The couple have just completed the third stage of their production kitchen and are looking forward to developing their range even further.

“We had been making our sandwiches and salads in the shops and then we decided that the best way for us to retain our quality was to have one central distribution hub. So we built the first stage of our production kitchen in Ballykelly and now we have just completed the third stage of our production kitchen,” Donna says.

“It employs about 15 people for the production alone and we call it Bring Good Food Home – ‘From our Kitchen to Your Kitchen’ It produces our ready meals. ‘Moran’s Makes its Own’ is our mantra. We do all our own sandwiches, make all our own mixes, make all the food for the deli, so our production kitchen can supply each store with all our deli food and with all the sandwiches that we sell off the shelf as well as salad ranges and the likes of stews and curries.

“We make all our Sunday roast dinners for deli customers to come and buy from the deli on a Sunday and we also have them to take home as well, which means we have the spider fridges filled, so you can just lift your dinner, bring it home and heat it.”

Family of retailers

Donna grew up in a family retail background, as her parents owned a forecourt, and that has stood her in good stead in developing the business.

“My husband and I owned a tyre and exhaust centre and forecourt in the early ‘80s and in 1997 we took on our store on Strand Road in Derry under the umbrella of Musgrave SuperValu Centra,” she says.

“Centra was a new brand into Northern Ireland and we were the third store in Northern Ireland to open a Centra store and we have never looked back since.

“We had a small shop in our forecourt where we sold tyres and exhausts before, so we wanted to expand into the new concept of forecourt retailing. We could see that there was a vision there to expand our business.

“Then in 2002 we purchased our Centra in Coleraine and in 2004 we purchased our SuperValu in Ballykelly – the three of them are forecourts.

Location is key

“The Strand Road store is on the main road into Derry/Londonderry, and the Coleraine one is on the outskirts of Coleraine on the main thoroughfare to the north coast, so it gets a lot of passing trade. The Ballykelly store is in a rural village in the north west but it’s on a main road going to the north coast as well.”

Word of mouth as well as digital marketing in-store has played a major role in the development of the food to go offer, Donna says.

“We call it Kitchen to Kitchen, from our kitchen to your kitchen. We would do a lot of curries, stew, dinners, we do a lovely boeuf bourguignon, we do a huge range,” she says.

“We have chefs there constantly developing new lines and developing the third stage of our production kitchen has led us to be able to expand our equipment and be able to produce more new lines.

Healthy options

“So we’ve a new healthy option coming out now, with four new products coming in our salad range. There are going to be a lot of different salads – it will go according to what the season is.

“We like to think that we’re taking the hassle out of mealtimes and promoting no pots, no pans, no washing – because all our dishes are all overproof and microwave proof.

“We do our Christmas in a box, which means you can get your Christmas in a box delivered to you, from your starter to your dessert. You can have your entire Christmas dinner cooked for you, or you can have it uncooked – it takes all the stress out of Christmas because all the dishes are oven-proof and you just put them in the oven and just dump them into the black bag when you’re finished and serve your dinner.

“We actually tried it out on our family ourselves first to see how it would work and I mean it was unbelievable. We had to turn people away because we hadn’t got the capacity to cover the amount of people looking for it, but now that we’ve brought on our new phase, hopefully in 2022 we’ll be able to do more.”

Fresh ideas

The business also came up with some new food to go ideas to support customers during the pandemic restrictions, Donna says.

“We do a lot of stuff for barbecues, so because the weather was so good during the pandemic we sold a lot of burgers and barbecue products. We also have our outside catering business as well which did very well during the pandemic,” she says.

“We had afternoon teas where we had people who lived across the world booking afternoon teas, especially for Mother’s Day for their mothers. There were people who rang me from America, placing an order to send their mum afternoon tea if they lived here locally in the city – cakes, traybakes, a complete afternoon tea.

“We also did the cheese platters as well, and they also had the choice of getting Prosecco or white or red wine. They also delivered for Valentine’s Day, and we had a huge range of flowers for Valentine’s Day.

Hampers for occasions

“In our Ballykelly store we have an off licence so we were able to provide people what they wanted, Prosecco, wine or gin, to make hampers. We’re now in the process of doing the drink hampers for Father’s Day which is coming up next, and we’re gearing up now for the summer and the barbecue weather.”

Just before the pandemic reached Northern Ireland, the couple had just reopened their Strand Road stop in April 2019 as a new state-of-the-art store.

“We were just going to celebrate our first year in business with our new store and then the pandemic came along in March and that really changed our whole lives,” Donna says.

“But our staff were amazing – 95% of our staff were standing with us. Some ran for the hills as they say, because they didn’t know what was ahead of them: others were vulnerable so they had to stay at home. But we followed all the restrictions and guidelines, and put up all the safety measures that had to be put in place.

Delivery service

“We offered a home delivery service for our elderly and vulnerable customers – we told them just to ring us in from their car and we would bring out their groceries to them in the forecourts.

“Some of our customers are elderly and they always loved coming in for their newspapers, so some of our staff went out and delivered their newspapers in the morning.

“But they loved coming into the forecourt, even sitting in the forecourt. We would have brought them out their coffee – some of the husbands and wives would literally have sat in the forecourt in the car and had their wee traybake.

“Our staff were amazing and we all pulled together and stayed united, so I suppose we were like frontline workers as well when you think about it.”

Pandemic boost

Sales of ready meals and food-to-go increased over the pandemic because other shops and hospitality businesses were closed.

“The other thing during the pandemic was the Christmas dinners as well – that did take a lot of hassle out of people’s lives, getting their dinners delivered to the door. The deliveries would only go to a 10-mile radius of the town, but we offered click and collect,” Donna says.

“We extended our opening hours from 5.30am to 2am, so we were able to serve the emergency services with their fuel as well and they were able to get their lunch breaks or any food that they needed.”

All three forecourts are Go forecourts and Donna says they get a lot of support from the company.

Forecourt revamp

The Strand Road forecourt and store was completely demolished and a new 4,000 sq. foot shop, offices, forecourt with extra parking, new canopy, fuel pumps and storage tanks were added during the redevelopment.

“We’ve also invested in the Coleraine forecourt. We completely redeveloped the 3 sq. foot shop and deli including seating area. We put in all new pumps, incorporating pay at pump terminals, a brand new state of the art drive-through car wash, new jet washes, air & water towers and rebranded to Go. It’s all really popular, it never stops,” Donna says.

“We are also looking into putting electric charging into some of our forecourts as well because that’s going to be the future.”

Supply chain issues haven’t been as much of a problem as elsewhere, because the stores come under the umbrella of Musgrave SuperValu Centra which sources a lot of local products and have been brilliant throughout.

Turbulent times

“At the same time it’s been challenging through Brexit and a huge challenge now with the price increases. All our costs have gone sky high and then the fuel price has gone sky’s the limit as well. The fuel price is changing every day and going up every day,” Donna says.

“Everybody needs fuel to travel so they are very conscious of the price.

As for her wish list for the future, Donna says three adult children have now become involved in the business.

“We hope they will be able to take over and I will be able to retire some time,” she laughs.

“I would say that our wish list would be to keep going and be able to survive in this market. Once we have our production kitchen updated to full capacity – we’re waiting on planning permission for another phase of it – that’s the future for us.

“Of course we would like to expand the business and with our family involved it’s a great opportunity.”