Quality food to go off-erings are providing a way for independent retailers to escape from margin pressure in the convenience channel, a study tour in Ireland has shown.

The Independent Retail Owners Forum visit, organised by founder Scott Annan, covered seven outlets in a little over 24 hours north and south of the Irish border.

“Everyone eats and drinks, which is a thousand food-selling opportunities every year,” said Mr Annan. “Food-for-now and food-for-tonight have potential for every convenience store.”

In four of the outlets in Dublin, owned by Thomas Ennis, sales of beverages, adult snacks and confectionery remain strong, but core grocery is being squeezed out to make the store a destination based on a high-quality food offer. 

By reducing packaged goods and shelving to make way for a meal-time seating area, turnover at Mr Ennis’s city centre flagship Spar has continued to grow, up by 7% year-on-year. He has also introduced a sandwich loyalty card, where shoppers buy nine sandwiches and get the 10th one free. The packaging features Spar branding and Mr Ennis has developed his own brand look with the ‘Made Right Here’ sticker.

The picture is even starker at Mr Ennis’s Spar Gourmet store, where grocery has given way to a build-your-own burger and pizza counter – a concept developed by foodservice supplier Arytza.

To deliver food to go from a smaller footprint, Mr Ennis has an even tighter packaged goods range in his Fudi chain, which has moved so far from retail, most shoppers would compare it to a Pret A Manger.

The fourth Ennis business was his Maxol Long Mile forecourt, where many of the lunch-time customers parked up without buying petrol.

A Mace shop is complemented by Insomnia coffee, a Chopped concession and the oil company’s Moreish deli offering. There is plenty of space to encourage shoppers to dwell, including charging points for phones or laptops.

There is a similar picture in Northern Ireland where, 56 miles outside of Dublin, a focus on food has also been successful for retailer Tom McAvoy.

His Nisa Milestone shop in Rathfriland, a town of fewer than 3,000 people, has grown from 400sq ft to 15,000sq ft in a number of stages as its reputation for quality food has grown.

In developing the Milestone brand, which attracts customers from 30 miles away for a weekly shop, roughly a third of its space has been given over to selling food made on site.

The McAvoy family offer everything from cooked meals to fully-prepared meal ingredients to quality fresh produce. It is currently taking orders for full Christmas dinners.

 “The trip showed that there is demand for good food in local shops and those retailers who organise themselves to take advantage of this can be successful,” said Scott Annan.