Gareth McAnlis is creating a pathway he hopes will support artisan and smaller food producers on a journey to profitable growth here and in other competitive markets including Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Fresh foods manager at the Newtownabbey-based Henderson Group, the leading local grocery retailer and wholesaler, Gareth is spearheading a new scheme by the locally owned retailer, which owns household shopping brands such as Spar, Eurospar and Vivo, to help artisan and smaller firms with potential to grow faster through the experience gained working closely with the supportive retail giant.
It’s an important initiative which could help boost profits for smaller enterprises and lead to new jobs in a £5 billion industry which is making a huge contribution to the local economy and especially in rural communities. And it could give the companies confidence and funds to explore exports.
“While we already spend millions on sourcing local food from bigger producers we’ve long been aware of some interesting and novel products with potential being developed by sole traders and other artisan enterprises,” Gareth says. “Such businesses generally don’t know much about selling into major retailers and can be a bit apprehensive about business processes such as pricing, billing, point of sale, production capacity and the delivering of products. So, they tend to be a bit reluctant to approach supermarkets,” he adds.
The scheme is the outcome of discussions and research with many smaller companies here over two years. Many were first approached in the big Food NI Food Pavilion at the RUAS show in Balmoral Park, in 2018, according to Mr McAnlis. Interested smaller companies were then visited by Mr McAnlis and their products sampled by the team at Henderson’s.
“We believe we’ve found a number of ‘hidden gems’ which shoppers in our stores haven’t seen before. Our approach was also influenced by the popularity with shoppers of many of the first tranche of 13 companies at Balmoral,” he continues. “Many of the products at Balmoral were not readily available to shoppers around the province at other times of the year. What our initiative does is to provide a gateway for an initial 13 businesses to reach shoppers in 28 of our Eurospar community supermarkets, in particular, across Northern Ireland. It provides them with an opportunity for business growth by supplying to dozens of stores and supermarkets across the country by means of our vast distribution network. For most it will be their first listing from one of Ireland’s leading food distributors. We’ll take time to work with to help them maximise this opportunity.”
Some 50 products are included in the scheme and range from the only yoghurt produced here to rapeseed oil, smoked meats, savoury spreads, granola and dry cured bacon. Endorsements in national competitions such as the UK’s prestigious Great Taste Awards also influenced the retailer’s choice of smaller producers.
The new scheme for smaller, innovative, artisan suppliers is the latest support from the Henderson Group which already buys more than 75 percent of its fresh food from local farmers, growers and producers. There are plans to add another group of artisan businesses in time.
Mr McAnlis says the group had initially considered setting up separate sections for the new products in its stores but instead decided to include them among existing products.
While the group plans to support the scheme with an integrated marketing roll out and to offer its retailers their first taste of the range at its annual conference this month, newly listed companies are being encouraged to step up their own promotional activities including through digital platforms.
An experienced manager in the food industry, Mr McAnlis joined Henderson Group two years ago to help in developing the important scheme for smaller producers and for the company.
“It’s well-known that we have some of the world’s best food crafters in Northern Ireland, and it is important that wholesalers such as ourselves draw on our local roots and ensure we’re helping smaller companies succeed in a busy and fiercely competitive marketplace. As a local wholesaler and retailer, we have the operations and logistics in place to make it happen for artisan businesses.
“We know from our success that shopping is all about choice, so instead of a shopper having to go to several places to get their everyday essentials or a unique product, we’re bringing everything under one roof. We’re continuing to listen to our shoppers and increasing demand for niche products from local artisans that deliver on taste and quality.”