Richard Walker Iceland

Richard Walker, Iceland’s The Food Warehouse MD

Iceland has set a target of opening 400 of its The Food Warehouse outlets, at a rate of 30 of the new format stores a year.

Speaking exclusively to The Grocer this week, The Food Warehouse MD Richard Walker said he “would be disappointed if the chain didn’t eventually reach 400 stores”.

Walker said it was now looking to accelerate the rollout of new stores, which he described as “a cross between an Iceland and a Costco” from 25 to 30 stores a year and that it was now also looking to develop larger drive-to stores of about 20,000 sq ft. There are currently 52 Food Warehouse stores in the UK with an average size of around 15,000 sq ft. The typical Iceland store is about 5,000 sq ft.

The first of these larger stores will open in Wolverhampton in February and will be over 20,000 sq ft.

“When we first opened The Food Warehouse three years ago it was really something of an experiment that we were not sure would even last,” explained Walker. “But we quickly came to recognise that this represented a genuine new channel for the business through which we could reach a different customer base.”

Walker also hinted it could expand into Northern Ireland. “Iceland has a long and successful history in Northern Ireland and so I could see The Food Warehouse working there too.”

The increased confidence in the model meant that rather than taking over existing retail sites it was now moving more towards buying land and building its own stores. However, Walker expressed frustration at the time it often took to secure planning permission from local councils.

“How long it takes to get planning consent can really slow down the pipeline,” he said. “For example in Port Talbot we’ve been trying to get permission for a store for over six months. All we are trying to do is create jobs and invest about £3m in one of the poorest areas of the UK.”

Last week The Food Warehouse relaunched its entire fresh produce range, adding 100 new lines, 70 of which are unique to the format. Walker said the move was aimed at improving quality and freshness as well as building new supplier relationships with genuine grower brands.

The new brands include Garden of Elveden potatoes, Moulton Bulb onions, R & RW Bartlett carrots and AC Goatham Kentish apples.

Many of these will come in larger packs such as a 7.5kg bag of Garden of Elveden potatoes for £3, 5kg of Moulton Bulb onions for £2 and 1.5kg of R & RW Bartlett carrots for 65p.

“We’ve taken a long, hard look at our fresh produce range and listened to feedback from our customers, who told us they wanted a bigger and better produce offering. We have responded by bringing them a unique range of fruit, vegetables and salads that taste as good as they look. We’ve invested a significant amount of time and money into the new offering and believe it gives us a real point of difference compared to our competitors,” added Walker.