We've done good say the multiples Shoppers are voting with their feet and converting to supermarkets in droves, according to the three major multiples that dictate the scene in Northern Ireland ­ Tesco, Sainsbury and Safeway. Tesco seems to have started a catalyst for change when it took over the Stewarts and Crazy Prices retail chains in 1995. Safeway then bought half of the Wellworth chain, part of the Musgrave group, as an entrance into the province. It left only SuperValu and Dunnes as the indigenous multiple retail chains in the province, although the symbol groups, such as Spar, VG and Mace, have always had a strong presence. German discount chains Lidl and Aldi are also turning their attentions north, expanding from Eire into Northern Ireland. Alan Walker, assistant consumer affairs officer at the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, said: "The arrival of the multiples has caused enormous change in the area, to people's shopping habits, and the brands that they buy." The major multiples are very wary of any accusations they are changing the fabric and change of life in the province. Tesco points to the fact it has created more then 7,000 jobs, becoming the "largest private sector employer in the province". It has built or adapted 36 stores in a five year period, but is very conscious of the relationship it has with local suppliers. That commitment now extends to more than 1,500 local products, including "all the well known Northern Ireland brands". Irwins Bakery has just become the first NI supplier to contribute a product to the Finest range, namely its Whiskey Fruit Loaf. Sainsbury also arrived in 1995, with an initial tranche of seven stores, costing £100m and providing 2,500 jobs. It has plans to expand, with an ambition to open up to 14 supermarkets in the province. Its latest store opened in January this year at Strand Road, Londonderry. The 33,000 sq ft store is the same size as that at Ballymena and will employ 280 people. Sainsbury has also submitted an application for planning permission to build a 64,000 sq ft supermarket at Newtownabbey. Its Forestside store in South Belfast, which opened in March 1997, is consistently among the highest trading Sainsbury's stores in the UK and has wildly exceeded all expectations. District manager Neil Whitehouse says the people of the province are voting with their feet. The phenomenal success of the Forestside store has prompted it to extend its opening hours and it is the only store in the whole group to remain open 24 hours a day, six days a week. It, too, has a commitment to local produce, sourcing £120m of products from 100 local suppliers, not only for its own stores in Northern Ireland, but also throughout the mainland. And it has just revamped its display material to raise awareness of local supplier initiatives. Whitehouse says: "It is a great opportunity for many local suppliers to expand on a national basis ­ an opportunity they would otherwise have been denied. By introducing the display material featuring the image of the Giant's Causeway, it will make it even easier for our customers to choose NI products featuring throughout the store." The emphasis on the 11 Safeway stores is heavily on locally traded goods. It runs its PONI promotions ­ Produce of Northern Ireland ­ and prominently displays the fact on its lines. A Safeway spokeswoman says meeting local demands is vital. "People in Northern Ireland have much less healthy diets. They eat much more cakes and snacks, and twice as much red meat as people on the mainland," she says. Safeway also runs its own dedicated distribution centre ­ evidence that it is here to stay and investing heavily in the province. But just how much more investment the region can take is still open to debate. {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}