The ‘customer-obsessed’ Nisa MD is looking to build on its Co-op partnership, boost retailer loyalty and extend its omnichannel proposition. What’s first?

Nisa MD Peter Batt didn’t always aspire to be in retail. That came post-university, where he’d studied to become a social worker in 1992. Following the course in social psychology at Kingston University, however, he realised it wasn’t the right career choice for him. “I didn’t believe I could make a difference,” he says. “It was too bureaucratic.”

But when one door closes, another opens. Batt was offered a place on a graduate trainee scheme with Sainsbury’s, where he’d been working part-time. And this, as Batt puts it, is “where it all began”.

He worked his way up from store manager through category manager roles, becoming regional MD for Sainsbury’s convenience business across the central belt, before eventually running the London operation. “I thought the culture of leading people was brilliant,” he says. “I wanted to get as high up as I could.”

Little did he know just how far that convenience stint at Sainsbury’s would take him. After he was headhunted by the Co-op to become its divisional MD for the south, taking care of 1,200 stores, CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq asked Batt to be part of the next “culture change” at Nisa. It was a triumph for Batt. He reveals he’d written on his Co-op personal growth plan in 2020 that he wanted to be Nisa CEO. “I’ve always wanted to lead my own business,” he says.

Starting the role in September 2022 was not the easiest. The country was feeling the force of the cost of living crisis, and the symbol group had begun consulting on redundancies in a cost-cutting initiative. It was also feeling the heat from retailers, who were considering switching to other groups despite former Nisa CEO Michael Fletcher’s promises to overhaul its operating and cost structure.

Name: Peter Batt

Age: 50

Job: MD, Nisa

Status: Married to Sam with two children: Oliver, 15, and Alexandra, 12

Potted CV: graduate trainee, store manager, regional manager, frozen food category manager, produce category manager, convenience regional MD (all Sainsbury’s); divisional MD (Co-op); MD (Nisa)

Hobbies: Attending sporting events, reading autobiographies, going to the theatre and listening to 1980s music

Business motto: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier” – Colin Powell

Best career decision: Taking the risk to move from operations to commercial, learning more in six months than in six years

Worst advice received: Don’t make waves and rock the boat!

Favourite Co-op product: Co-op Wensleydale with Cranberry Cheese

Favourite meal: Poached eggs with avocado and feta on toast

Fletcher stepped down after just nine months. Batt says: “When I joined, I told Shirine: I don’t want to do this for two years or as a career building block. I want to be part of the Co-op and Nisa success story.”

Batt’s initial strategy was to “listen, listen, listen”, to understand the nuts and bolts of the business. From reading letters and visiting stores to participating in forums, Batt says he “prides himself on being customer-obsessed”. It quickly became apparent that Nisa’s wholesale pricing was “out of sync with the competition”, making investment a top priority.

“I want to be part of Nisa’s success story”

In his first month, he revealed Nisa was investing £5m into Co-op own brand, with about 1,000 products coming down in price. This was followed by putting £6m into the wholesale pricing of more than 1,000 branded products across alcohol, soft drinks and tobacco in February last year.

“We wanted to make sure our price position was far more cohesive and relevant before we did anything else, especially in light of the cost of living crisis.”

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Remodelling Nisa’s rebate scheme was also high on his list, realising retailers were finding it too complex. Under Batt’s leadership, Nisa moved to a scheme that was solely calculated on weekly order value, subsequently cutting the Co-op own-label criteria and tiered system. “I want our customers to have confidence that when they give feedback, we listen,” he adds.

Despite his background at Sainsbury’s, Batt believes “independent retailers run the best shops in the country. They’ve been brought up and trained how to do it, operationally and commercially. Independent retail is going to be the key component of convenience in the next five years.”

Loyalty drive

The secret is making the ones Nisa supplies more loyal. Batt is looking at ways to encourage retailers to spend more at Nisa through avenues including rewards, rebates or reducing surcharges, which will retain as well as attract new retailers to the business, he says.

“The perfect scenario is that all our customers are 100% loyal to us,” says Batt. “We’ve done the rebate work, now we’re looking at how we can get a higher percentage of spend from retailers and reward our most loyal ones.”

Using Co-op own label will also be a big part of that loyalty drive, he says. “We’re working closely with Nicole [Tallant, head of Co-op brand] and the team at Co-op to identify opportunities for Nisa retailers to become even closer to the Co-op brand. The depth and quality of the own-brand range already sets us apart from other symbol groups.”

With more than 90% of retailers investing in Co-op own brand, Batt says a key focus for 2024 is bringing them a better range, boosting own-label sales, and maintaining strong availability.

“I want our customers to have confidence that when they give feedback, we listen”

Batt says he would consider the idea of a cash & carry operation in a bid to bring Nisa retailers greater access to Co-op own label, but there are no such plans in the pipeline. Logistically, the focus will be a network review when its contract with DHL expires, he says.

While Nisa continues to support independent stores, it’s also looking at how it can serve customers across other channels, such as online, through forecourts, or exports. “We’re not just a retail-first business now,” says Batt. “We’re thinking about omnichannel shoppers.”

“That’s the big step change in Co-op and Nisa in the past two years,” he adds. “We must be able to service independent retailers with great availability, great products, and get the basics right. But we must also be aware we need to work on other areas of the business and ensure the Nisa brand isn’t just perception of the shop at the end of the road.”

Peter Batt Portrait 3

Source: Nisa

He worked his way up from store manager through category manager roles, becoming regional MD for Sainsbury’s convenience business

Putting a focus on forecourts will be one part of that strategy, building its proposition through electric vehicle charging, seating areas and food to go.

That incentive was triggered after Nisa experienced its strongest year of recruitment last year since 2018, with shop sales at forecourt sites also increasing by 35%.

Batt intends to strengthen Nisa’s omnichannel proposition by accelerating its q-commerce share to over 30%. This will entail developing opportunities within its wholesale partnership with Getir, as well as increasing store partnerships with Deliveroo, Just Eat, Snappy Shopper and Uber Eats.

Other avenues include wholesaling for events and festivals, such as supplying the Co-op Live Arena – a 23,500-capacity venue that’s opening in Manchester next month and will host music, comedy and other live entertainment – and exporting Co-op own label to more than 130 countries through its partnership with Ramsden International. “This approach has helped the business thrive in recent years as we enter and make an impact in several different markets,” Batt says. “Our strategy is: when you want it, how you want it, we will provide for you as a wholesaler of choice.”

It’s been a busy 18 months for Batt, but his enthusiasm and vision for Nisa is clear. “I’ve learnt how to bring the best of Nisa to the Co-op, and vice versa. We’ve done the hard work from a cost perspective, and now we’re going to be focusing on the growth trajectory towards 2030.”