Symbol pleasures

A retailer’s partnership with their symbol group plays a massive role in the success of their store. With that in mind, ShelfLife spoke to representatives from Ireland’s major symbol group brands to discover how they differ from one another, in order to help you find the right symbol group to fulfil your specific needs


Brand Central

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13 August 2015

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Colin Donnelly, Spar national sales manager

Colin Donnelly, Spar national sales manager

Fact file

Name of symbol group: Spar

Head office:  BWG Foods, Greenhills Road, Tallaght, Dublin 24

Type of distribution network:  Award-winning national distribution centre servicing fresh, ambient and alcohol to stores nationwide

Number of stores nationwide: Over 400

Colours: Red, white and green

Tagline: ‘Under the tree at Spar’

Average store size: 204 square metres


Brand history

140917_NCP1_011Spar is one of the country’s largest convenience retail groups, bringing consumers the most innovative in-store offering and award-winning shopping experience for over 50 years. The Spar group was founded in Ireland in 1963 and operates Spar stores for convenience and neighbourhood shopping and Spar Express for forecourt shopping. Spar works in partnership with independent retailers across every county in Ireland and through its network of stores provides employment for over 14,000 people locally.

The Spar brand was founded in The Netherlands in 1932, and is the world’s largest grocery chain. Through its membership of the Spar International network, Spar Ireland has unique access to some of the best-practice in retail from around the world.

Main benefits and point of difference

140917_NCP1_042Spar has a strong heritage in Ireland and is a well-established and trusted convenience brand in communities all over the country. Spar has won many national and international awards for innovation in its retail offering, store design and marketing.

Spar continues to invest in the Spar own brand range and in 2014 unveiled a new addition to this range, Spar Select. The Spar Select range is a premium range of own brand products that combine quality, local Irish and international produce. It’s a delicious range of premium food, with one thought in mind – ‘for the love of food’.

Spar’s exclusive, premium coffee offering has made Spar a destination for great quality coffee, with Insomnia, Tim Hortons and most recently, Seattle’s Best Coffee.

Spar has a particularly strong sponsorship strategy in TV and sports sponsorship, including Kitchen Hero with Donal Skehan and the Spar Great Ireland Run plus an industry first in product placement with the introduction of Spar on RTÉ’s Fair City. This year Spar has partnered with the FAI to become the ‘Official Convenience Retail Partner of the FAI’ and title sponsor of the Spar FAI Primary School 5s programme. This sponsorship gives Spar a connection with an immensely passionate team sport both at a grassroots level, reaching local communities and families all around Ireland and at a national level through the Irish International soccer team. The Spar brand is synonymous with its iconic fir tree and strapline ‘Under the tree at Spar’.

Above all else, Spar is fortunate to partner with retailers who share a common vision for the Spar brand and who collaborate with the group in continuing to ensure that Spar remains an innovator and leader in Irish retailing.

Values synonymous with Spar

The Spar group values are based on People, Partnership, Respect and Innovation.

People –Spar’s people are passionate about what they do and work together with integrity for the benefit of partners and customers.

Partnership –The business is a partnership with independent retailers. Spar always strives for excellent customer service and recognises the value of two-way communication.

Respect – Spar treats colleagues, retail partners and customers, with dignity and respect. Spar acts professionally and takes accountability for its actions.

Innovation – Spar encourages innovation in every aspect of the business, constantly challenging themselves to exceed customer expectations and meet their future needs.

Changes implemented over past year to improve service for retailers

140924_NCP1_071In November 2014, an innovative new look store concept was launched for Spar. Spar Millennium Walkway, Dublin 1 led the way and was the flagship store for the new Spar store design. The new store design concentrates on each department and puts the product at the forefront. This new store design is rolling out in Spar stores all over Ireland. Stores that have changed over to the new look have seen an increase in trade of up to 20%.

BWG has also invested significantly in its award-winning national distribution centre, most recently in 2015 to incorporate fresh and chilled product ranges to further enhance its service to retailers. The state-of-the-art facility opened in 2012 now caters for BWG Foods’ ambient, fresh and alcohol distribution nationwide.

Growth predictions for the year ahead

The Spar brand is predicted to grow in the year ahead with a strong investment programme in place to drive business in existing Spar and Spar Express stores and to recruit new retailers to the group.

Fact file

Colm Fitzsimons, national XL business development manager

Colm Fitzsimons, national XL business development manager

Name of group:   XL

Head office: BWG House, Greenhills Road, Tallaght, Dublin 24

Type of distribution network: 22 Values Centres nationwide and chill distribution

Number of stores nationwide: Over 230

Colours: Green, blue, silver

Tagline: ‘A great deal more at your local store’

Average store size: 110 sq metres

Wholesale partner: Value Centre

Brand history

Deli PicEstablished by BWG Foods in 1997, XL was set up by the wholesale division in response to a demand for a local retail concept that offered support whilst allowing retailers to retain their independence and community identity. Known originally as XL Stop & Shop, in 2009 the group rolled out a new brand identity, shortening the name to simply ‘XL’ as well as upgrading the overall brand and store image. XL is now one of the fastest-growing symbol groups in Ireland with more than 230 stores nationwide. Backed by the buying power of BWG Foods and the convenience of 22 Value Centres nationwide, XL is a truly progressive neighbourhood store format.

Main benefits and point of difference

Summer Promo 2015XL offers retailers the opportunity to retain their independence and local identity while benefitting from the many advantages of symbol group membership. XL offers a flexible, market leading package which enables retailers to tailor their shop to consumer needs and react quickly to changing market conditions to help grow their business. XL’s affordable fit-out cost is one of the many attractions, with access to competitively priced products and innovative offerings via BWG Foods another major advantage. The symbol group’s consumer competitions that run up to five times a year give XL a point of difference from competitors and it typically gives away over 1,000 prizes or “goodies” each year. For example, last Christmas XL held a bicycle giveaway competition with one bike per store up for grabs. The group has just announced the winner of its summer competition giving one lucky person €5,000 to makeover their garden. XL had a fantastic response and competitions like these aim to celebrate consumer loyalty as well as encourage it.

Values synonymous with XL

BWG Tuam 1As a group of neighbourhood stores run by independent retailers, XL’s ethos is underpinned by a dedication to community retailing, and price and value. The group’s ongoing aim is to improve the shopping experience for customers and ultimately drive footfall and sales for XL’s retail partners. That means delivering a more customer-centric category management system, coupled with innovation and expansion in popular categories such as coffee, fresh food and wine.

Changes implemented over past year to improve service for retailers

XL’s new chilled distribution centre allows the group to deliver many new benefits such as the consolidation of all fresh orders including fruit and veg as well as flowers and plants in one delivery. The XL brand has improved availability and offers an extensive range, all at competitive prices.

XL is also offering retailers even more value with exclusive XL promotions. Every three weeks, the group has exclusive offers available from Value Centre at great prices, helping stores to compete in their local area. With the roll out of “eOrder”, the group’s new online ordering platform, XL is helping retailers gain greater control, offering them access to planograms, best sellers and promotions 24 hours a day.

Growth predictions for the year ahead

XL has been a high performing brand in the Irish convenience sector and overall store numbers are projected to increase in the coming year. The success of XL is largely down to the fact that its model is fit-for-purpose in all economic conditions; XL provides affordable membership to independent retailers who want the support of a group structure and experienced retail operators. In recent years XL has focused more than ever on delivering value through everyday price reductions and ongoing special offers and promotions, making XL appealing and relevant to retailers and their local shoppers.

Fact file

Alex Banahan, Mace sales director

Alex Banahan, Mace sales director

Name of group: Mace

Head office: BWG Foods, Greenhills Road, Tallaght, Dublin 24

Type of distribution network: Award-winning national distribution centre servicing fresh, ambient and alcohol to stores nationwide

Number of stores nationwide: Over 230

Colours: Turquoise and orange

Tagline: ‘Going the extra smile’

Average store size: 135 sq metres

Wholesale partner: BWG Foods

Forecourt partner: Strategic partnership with Maxol and operates forecourt locations with a broad variety of fuel partners

Brand history

D15405-0008Founded in 1960, Mace is Ireland’s longest established convenience shopping brand. Mace’s stores are operated by independent retailers. There are currently over 230 stores nationwide in both forecourt and neighbourhood locations. Mace retailers have been members of their local communities for many years, and in many cases the stores have passed from generation to generation.

BWG Foods is the parent company of Mace in the Republic of Ireland, as owner and operator of the Mace brand. Together with its retail partners, who are both owner operators and franchisees, more than 15,000 people are currently employed by the group.

Main benefits and point of difference 

D15405-0031Through a strong shopper offering, focused on both neighbourhood and forecourt retailing, comprehensive national and local marketing programmes and unrivalled retailer support, Mace sets itself apart from its competitors. Mace prides itself on “going the extra smile” and through the Mace Excellence Awards Programme, run in conjunction with EIQA, Mace ensures that its stores provide best practice retailing to shoppers. Mace has launched a unique shopper feedback programme throughout its network to ensure that measurement of performance in this area is consistently a focus for retailers and for the Mace management team. The value offering is tailored for the two sets of store types and shopper types that exist within the group with promotional activity focused on forecourt shoppers and on neighbourhood store shoppers. Exclusive Fairtrade coffee offerings, a Mace own brand range, a high quality Irish sourced Glenmór meat range combined with exclusive wines, beers and spirits ensure that Mace shoppers are fully serviced across each store type as appropriate for their needs.

Values synonymous with Mace

The Mace brand is rooted in the community with many of its retailers being involved with the business from one generation to another. The values of Mace, namely local, Irish, and friendliness surpass customer expectations and treat everyone as a valued customer, reflecting its heritage and background.

Changes implemented over past year to improve service for retailers

MaceOpen425JCThere has been significant investment in two areas for the brand which is benefitting Mace retailers – one is store design and development and the second is the launch of a leadership development programme for Mace retailers.

The new store design was rolled out in Mace Blackrock, Co. Louth at the end of 2014 and this year has been a busy one in terms of the roll-out of the new look. The new design retains the best features of the previous look and has been enhanced for a more contemporary feel. The introduction of wooden features into the design provides added warmth which is important to the group’s local community retailers. Key areas of departmental focus are the Mace Deli and the Beer Cave as well as a strong feature being made of bakery and fresh produce.

The Mace Leadership Development programme is specifically designed to provide the group’s retailers and their staff with the opportunity to consider their leadership style and it provides participants with creative insights into how business leaders have driven success through harnessing their own strengths as leaders. It is a highly participative programme which is facilitated by an experienced coaching consultant and facilitator. The programme dovetails into the Mace positioning of ‘going the extra smile’ and the focus on delivering top-class customer service.

Growth predictions for the year ahead

The Mace brand goes from strength to strength in both forecourt and neighbourhood retailing and Mace has a strong programme of activity and investment to ensure that this continues in the year ahead.

Fact file

Jim Barry, managing director, Barry Group

Jim Barry, managing director, Barry Group

Name of group: Costcutter

Head office: Upper Quartertown Mallow, Co Cork

Type of distribution network: Wholesale distribution

Number of stores nationwide: 120

Tagline: ‘Proud to be local’

Wholesale partner: Barry Group

Brand history

Jim Barry is the managing director of Barry Group, one of the leading wholesale groups in Ireland. The company was founded in 1955 by Jim’s father, James A Barry. Today it operates from a state of the art headquarters in Mallow where over 230 people are employed.

L1001131Under Jim’s leadership and vision, Barry Group has grown from a once local business to a leading wholesale distribution company that trades both nationally and internationally and supplies over 1,000 customers. The Costcutter, Carry Out and Quik pick symbols groups are owned and operated by Barry Group.

The Costcutter retail group launched in Ireland in 2000 and since that point, it has established itself as one of the most respected retail groups in Ireland, with more than 120 locations throughout the country.

Main benefits and point of difference

Costcutter is very much a family orientated brand. Its parent company Barry Group is in its second generation of family ownership and celebrates 60 years in business this year. The family ethos feeds into everything Costcutter does and places it in a unique position to understand the needs of other family based stores.

Costcutter is very much a partnership between symbol group and retailer and focuses on establishing a meaningful and lasting relationship with every retailer. A retailer that joins the Costcutter brand knows that it is not just a number and that the volatility of the market will not affect its store. The stability and partnership offered by Barry Group is unique across Ireland.

Nowhere is Costcutter’s commitment to customer service more evident than in its specially designed ordering system Beacon which facilitates as smooth an ordering process as possible for Costcutter retailers.

New and existing Costcutter retailers are reaping the benefit of:

  • Modern, vibrant image
  • No handling charge
  • No administration fee
  • Chilled distribution
  • Competitive credit terms
  • Extensive product range

Wide range of support services including;

  • Experienced account managers
  • Retail design team
  • Dedicated project manager
  • Fresh food advisor
  • Dedicated HAACP manager
  • Customer care help desk
  • Store development team
  • Skilled telesales department
  • IT support
  • Retail EPOS coordinator
  • Category management
  • Retail accounting team

The team ethic of Barry Group combined with the cross department effect creates what the company believes to be the most effective and customer friendly service in the market.

Values synonymous with Costcutter

IMG_2224Costcutter is the major beneficiary of the Barry Group’s culture and commitment to constantly raise the bar in performance and service.

Costcutter is ‘Proud to be local’, being at the heart of the community and having a family orientated business is very important to the group. Customer service is at the core of everything Costcutter does and its reputation for excellent customer service and value is something the brand continually works hard on to maintain and improve year-on-year.

Costcutter is firmly established as a place where a prospective retailer knows they will get quality service and they will be part of a nationally recognised brand. As a group, it is always asking how it can do better, and that mind-set is quickly recognised by retailers who the brand believes know they will be at the forefront of the market with Costcutter.

Barry Group is proud to be listed as a ‘Great Place to Work’ in Ireland and maintaining these standards leads to what the group believes is superior customer service.

Changes implemented over past year to improve service for retailers

Barry Group completed a root and branch analysis of the business during 2014.This challenge led to service enhancement to its customers.

Costcutter’s key focus for 2015:

  • Appropriate range management for all formats
  • Execution of promotion activity
  • Coffee offering
  • Hot food offering
  • Deli offering
  • Alcohol offering

These key focuses are backed up by reorganisation of Costcutter’s buying department, sales department and marketing department.

The roll-out of new, updated formats from high convenience and food store formats were met with extremely positive feedback.

While the market remains challenging, Costcutter believes it is well-positioned for a successful period of trading for both its customers and themselves.

Costcutter’s high performance and positive team environment is a major component in its store offering.

Growth predictions for the year ahead

Barry Group expects to add double digit growth to store numbers over the next 12 months.

Fact file

Tony Cluskey, marketing and ambient trading manager

Tony Cluskey, marketing and ambient trading manager

Name of group: Gala Retail Services

Head office: Summit House, Embassy Office Park, Kill, Co. Kildare

Type of distribution network: Central billing, chilled central and wholesaler

Number of stores nationwide: 185

Colours: Green

Tagline: ‘Your local market’

Average store size: 1,400 sq. ft.

Wholesale partner: Stonehouse members

Brand history

New Logo OutlinedEstablished in 1998 and wholly Irish-owned, Gala is one of the most progressive symbol groups operating in the convenience retail market in Ireland. Gala stores are renowned for their high levels of service and commitment and support of local communities.

The team at Gala has the knowledge and structures to support the ambitions of its retailers. Gala places a strong emphasis on creating success in profitability and works hand in hand with its retailers to ensure their business is the very best that it can be.

As a business partner to the group’s stores, Gala provides a professional development team, planning and design service, ongoing support from the regional management team, comprehensive promotions, national and local marketing support, local distribution and a central billing package.

Main benefits and point of difference

Moyvane__0026Led by Gala chief executive, Gary Desmond, the management and support team at Gala Retail Services is on hand 24/7 to support, educate and help guide retailers. In addition to advice on profitability and introducing new concepts to stores, Gala is there for stores when times are tough. Each store is treated as an individual – there’s not a one-size-fits-all model. It’s this retained level of independence that makes Gala the perfect partner for progressive retailers who value the strength of a national brand and support system, yet know what works best in their local community.

Values synonymous with Gala

Gala’s ethos is community convenience retailing at its best, therefore its values include: community, Irishness, quality and innovation.

Changes implemented over the past year to improve service for retailers

In the past 12 months, Gala has introduced chilled centralised distribution to its retailers. This has dramatically changed their business in terms stock availability, frequency of deliveries, product offering and promotions. Gala has also restructured its operations team in tandem with that, leading to a more effective model and offering, ensuring that its level of service has moved with and beyond what is expected from its retailers. This in turn has had the huge benefit of improved customer service levels from Gala’s retailers to their customers in turn, ensuring a win-win all round.

Growth predictions for the year ahead

Store interior 2Gala says it is really excited about the year ahead and has already added 10 new stores to the Gala estate in the first six months. Gala expects this rate of growth to continue above and beyond this year. In terms of marketing, the group is on the cusp of announcing an exciting new in-store initiative for retailers that will attract new customers and drive sales. The company is continuing its investment in marketing its brand though a variety of activities, and this follows the huge success of its partnership with Special Olympics Ireland this summer in which Gala was an official partner and helped to fund 88 Special Olympics athletes’ travel and participation in the World Summer Games in LA.

The Gala offering and brand continues to be sought out and has real appeal for prospective retailers.

Irish c-stores some of the best in the world!

The fact that Ireland has one of the most advanced convenience sectors in the world, makes partnering with the right symbol group even more vital. New research by Him! International confirms the number of shoppers who frequent c-stores is significantly higher in Ireland than in the UK.

UK-based research consultancy Him! International has launched a brand new convenience shopper research programme globally, providing retailer and suppliers with shopper insight and data across the world, beginning with Ireland. In total, the new research involves interviews with 10,000 shoppers across 11 countries. Shopper data from the consultancy is available at country level and key account level, including Applegreen, Centra, Spar and Topaz.

Explaining why the group decided to start its research in Ireland, Tom Fender, MD at Him! International said: “Ireland unquestionably has some of the best convenience stores in the world. We want to help these great retailers and their suppliers get even closer granular shopper understanding, by account to their shoppers and potential shoppers.”

We’ve included some of the key findings from the study below.

Discounters Missions Outperform Top up UK v Irish Which channels





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