Budgens is to get the Irish treatment later this year with the trial of new offers to bring the fascia in line with its SuperValu and Centra counterparts.

Speaking exclusively to The Grocer, Musgrave Group CEO Chris Martin said changes to bakery, fruit & veg and deli offers would be trialled in Budgens stores this autumn.

"We want to build on the standards of the Irish business," he said. "In Ireland, stores have 20ft to 3ft deli counters, food to go, hot food and salad bars they're more of a food concept."

SuperValu and Centra are known across Ireland for their focus on fresh food and their close relationship with Irish suppliers. According to Martin, 75% of everything sold in SuperValu and Centra last year was purchased from Irish suppliers, at a time when other chains were sourcing from the UK.

Such an offer would also bring Budgens' stores closer to the c-stores being trialled by Waitrose, which feature cheese and traiteur service counters and freshly baked bread.

Budgens stores performed well last year, with sales up 10%, Martin said. A further 12 stores were planned to open this year and retailers were continuing to invest in their sites. Sales in its UK business which include Mace, SuperValu and Centra in Northern Ireland, as well as Budgens and Londis rose 3% to £1.4bn in the year to 31 December. Business had been boosted by the completion of system and supply chain projects, as well as the integration of wholesaler J&J Haslett, which Musgrave acquired in 2007.

Overall group sales for Musgrave stores in the UK, Ireland and Spain, fell 3% to 4.5bn during the period, with pre-tax profits down 7% to 70m. Martin said the business had been hit by 7%-8% food deflation in the Irish market and a 20% slump in the hospitality sector. However, it had continued to invest heavily in the business and net debt had fallen from 86.2m to 59m.

"Our focus is on supporting our retail partners," Martin added.