A new Sainsbury store in Belfast is committed to sourcing from the province. Rod Addy reports

There’s more to come with the opening of a 1,000 sq ft in-store pharmacy in March and a series of in-store events planned.

Sainsbury has spruced up its fresh food offer at Sprucefield. Watch out for something similar coming to a store near you.

Steve Leach has faced a fair few challenges since becoming manager of Sainsbury’s flagship store at Sprucefield retail park in Belfast. But sharing a cattle pen with a restless cow was really tough. The encounter was for a PR photo opportunity in the run-up to the store’s opening in November.
Leach, who worked for Marks and Spencer before joining Sainsbury two years ago, laughs: “The fact that the cow was being restrained by three people did not inspire me with confidence. I am camera-shy at the best of times, so keeping my composure was a challenge.”
Comedy aside, the stunt also had a serious purpose - to highlight Sprucefield’s local food offer. The 80,000 sq ft store forms a blueprint for all the larger format stores that Sainsbury intends to open this year and boasts more locally sourced goods than any other Sainsbury outlet in Northern Ireland. Like the prize-winning heifer, which local producer Dungannon Meats supplied for the PR photo and then prepared for sale on the meat counter at Christmas.
There is also locally sourced dairy produce from Golden Cow and fresh produce from Spartypack on the shelves. Leach says: “We have 500 locally sourced lines and a trade development manager, who also covers Scotland and whose main contacts are local suppliers. We’re looking to work with local suppliers where we can grow locally sourced lines.”
The store reflects the effort Sainsbury has made to match the offer to the profiles of the local customers, who come from Belfast and the Hillsborough and Lisburn districts. It boasts a fresh food hall - first introduced at Sainsbury’s Hazel Grove store - a ready meal area and delicatessen. It also has a spacious interior and an airy feel, with lighting that adjusts according to the time of day. Wide aisles reduce congestion and low-level gondola fridges and prominent signage help store navigation.
Then there is the technology. Sainsbury has cherrypicked the best of the technology road-tested at its Hazel Grove, Purley Way and Monks Cross stores on the mainland. Plasma screens suspended above the 36 tills show news feeds from the Belfast Telegraph. There is new shelf-edge PoS material that categorises packaged recipe meals by cuisine type and a Sainsbury’s Bank hub with touch-screen technology adjacent to an internet café.
An effort has also been made to personalise the shopping experience. The store employs a team of 15 “customer ambassadors” who roam the aisles looking for ways to help shoppers.
The only slight surprise is that with 6,000 sq ft dedicated to 10,000 non-food lines, non-food occupies less floor space than at Sainsbury’s 50,000 sq ft Chippenham store, which has a 13,000 sq ft offer.
Leach says Sprucefield’s focus is elsewhere. “The emphasis is on the fresh food hall .We want to be known as the first choice for fresh foods.”
Anyway, he adds, Sprucefield has a bigger non-food offering than any of Sainsbury’s other Northern Ireland outlets and chalked up decent Christmas sales.