Tesco is opening a new front in its battle to dominate the c-store sector with its first Express store in Northern Ireland.
Opening on Monday, the store is in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast and goes head to head with a flagship Spar forecourt owned by Andrew Millar.
Symbol groups in Northern Ireland believe Tesco is actively seeking out similar premises throughout Northern Ireland in order to establish a base in the local convenience sector.
Ken McWhinney, MD of John Henderson, which operates the Spar, Vivo and VG symbols in Northern Ireland, said: “It will be very interesting to see how this first Express fares. I would be very surprised if they were not already looking at more sites .”
The Northern Ireland market differs from the UK mainland, in that there are no large independent chains that could be bought to give a multiple an instant presence. However, all of the Northern Irish symbol groups are agreed that although the multiple’s entrance will be slow, it is inevitable.
Tom Uprichard, delivered business director at J& J Haslett, the group behind the Mace stores in the province, said: “There are no groups of the size of T& S or Morning, Noon & Night so further development will have to be store-by store.”
On a BP forecourt, the nearby Spar is one of the three Andrew Millar stores in the province with a Subway concession.
Mark McCammond, retail operations director at Andrew Millar, said: “We are confident our proven convenience format with world renowned brands such as Spar, BP and Subway supported by the Post Office and other services will thrive in the face of any competitor. We have provided our customers with multiple reasons to visit and many are unique in this particular locality.”
A spokesman for Tesco said: “This Express store is the first one in Northern Ireland and any other potential locations, if they arise, will be considered on an individual basis.
“The Express format has proved extremely popular in Great Britain, especially with the elderly and those who do not have access to a car.
“Local customers will let us know what they think of this store by voting with their feet.”
The Tesco store will offer over 3,000 products lines including a variety of mainly fresh, chilled and frozen products.
It will also offer toiletries, stationery, newspapers and magazines.
A former wallpaper warehouse, the store will have free car parking for 20 cars and will open from 6am to 11pm.
Ronan Hegarty