Iceland has called time on further expansion of its eponymous food stores as its embryonic The Food Warehouse chain moves centre stage.
The frozen food retailer has earmarked The Food Warehouse format for future “aggressive” rollout and has signalled its commitment by appointing Richard Walker, son of founder and chief executive Malcom Walker, as MD of Food Warehouse.
Walker, previously Iceland International COO, told The Grocer he was overseeing site acquisitions for Food Warehouse and that future openings would focus on the format.
“We are not opening more Icelands - we have 850,” Walker revealed.
Food Warehouse represented “a new channel of growth” and an aggressive expansion plan to open 50 in five years was in place. Six were currently open - the most recent in Old Kent Road, London, and Rochdale, Lancashire. They joined stores in Trent Vale, Wrexham, Cannock, Staffordshire, and Pontypridd.
Stores were planned to open in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and Accrington, Lancashire, “at the end of the summer,” Walker said. He added that the planned 50 stores would “probably all be new properties”, though there could be “one or two conversions [of existing Iceland stores] if suitable”.
“It’s only since I took over that we’ve taken a grip on product range, merchandising, marketing and PoS. We’ve tweaked and tested things,” he added.
Food Warehouse was now also “a test hub” for the main business. “We can put in products we are not sure about that we test in six stores and then put them into the Iceland estate.”
The Food Warehouse enabled Iceland not to be hamstrung by a price ceiling, he added: “We are learning there needs be no price fear. There is no definite strategy to go upmarket but Iceland needs to be better at being Iceland - the best value and innovation, things you can’t get anywhere else, more luxury items, as well as a broad range of SKUs.”
The planned expansion follows early success for Food Warehouse. Speaking in January, Malcolm Walker said: “We now have six and they are going like a train. The trouble is we have 850 of the other ones to sort out but I am sure we will. We have done it twice, three times before so of course we are going to do it. What happens when you get to this point is the excitement comes back into the business and it really is exciting, there is a big challenge in front of us.”
Richard Walker’s appointment, made earlier this year without fanfare, will increase speculation he is being prepared to succeed his father when he eventually retires.
He learned the trade from the bottom up, rising through the ranks after joining the company in 2012 as a frontline staff member in several London stores, before becoming store manager of an Iceland in north London. He cut his teeth in the property industry and had his own company, Bywater Properties, before joining Iceland.
“I’m surrounded by very good people and learning as much as I can,” he said.
News of the expansion of Food Warehouse comes as Iceland looks to extend its new campaign that aims to get people thinking differently about frozen food.
The #PowerofFrozen campaign launched on social media and with an outdoor ad campaign last month.
TV ads will go live from 18 May with a campaign planned throughout the summer. Joint MD Nick Canning said: “There’s a whole raft of untold stories about frozen food which the public need to hear about. From our frozen supplier perspective, it’s a great category message and they are trying to do it as well.”