Northern Ireland’s J&J Haslett is launching a new Mace format as part of its plan to bounce back after what the wholesaler says has been a “watershed year”.

Speaking at the all Ireland Mace conference, Haslett MD Peter Kealy said: “Over the past 150 years the company has faced many challenges - none more so than in 2003.”

Kealy said rival wholesaler Henderson’s “unsolicited and rather surprising” bid for Haslett earlier this year was rejected because parent company BWG felt it undervalued the business and came with conditions that “were just not acceptable”.

That move came soon after completion of BWG’s protracted management buyout from Pernod Ricard, meaning Haslett has effectively been involved in some form of sales process for the best part of three years.

Kealy said: “We now need to create a stable operating platform for this company for the medium to long term. We need to knock on the head any notion that there’s a ‘For Sale’ sign over the company. We need to do this in a way that shows customers, staff and suppliers that Haslett will remain a dominant part of the grocery landscape in Northern Ireland.”

Kealy explained that Haslett’s management team would be releasing the details of a strategic plan for the business in a matter of weeks. This would also outline how Haslett aimed to add scale and enhance the profitability of its own business and that of its retail customers.

“Adding scale is vital in the face of the multiples,” said Kealy.
“It can be done through acquisition - which is why we thought the merger with Hendersons would be a good thing - but there are other ways and we are investigating them.”

Haslett will also look at modernising its working practices and management
structures to ensure it can “crank up” the service offered to retailers, particularly in areas such as fresh, chilled and home meal replacement.

Kealy promised Haslett would put the Mace franchise into offensive mode, saying: “For the first time in three years we have a clear path to develop our business free of a sale process. We have the capital, the people and the best brand in the province to do it.”

The first sign of that will be the launch of Mace Superfresh next month. The format, with a striking white on black fascia, is designed for larger stores and will emphasise fresh foods and meal solutions. A second store will open before Christmas and five stores a year will open between 2004 and 2006.

Retailers from the Republic heard they too could adopt a new format for larger stores. Mace Supermarket is being pioneered at five sites and is designed to help retailers see off increased competition in the Republic where the symbol group has grown by 60 stores in the past two years.
Julian Hunt