It may only be 20 miles across the Irish Sea, but Northern Ireland has some marked differences to the mainland when it comes to grocery brands. In many sectors, local brands are king and loyalty towards them is fierce - as the GB multiples found out when they first arrived back in 1997.
First on the scene was Tesco, which bought local chain Stewarts in 1997. It was soon followed by Safeway, which nabbed Wellworths while Sainsbury’s began building its own stores. Asda finally arrived in 2005 after purchasing the former Safeway stores acquired by Morrisons the previous year.
Initially the retail giants scratched their heads as to why some of the UK’s biggest brands were not performing well in the market. In tea, big names PG Tips and Tetley had to fight hard against local heroes Nambarrie and Punjana in crisps, Tayto ruled supreme and bread brands Irwin’s and Ormo were not going to give up without a fight.
Those days are long forgotten, as the mults routinely fall over themselves to stock more local products. Asda local buyer for NI and Scotland, Mervyn Jones, says all the retailer’s research shows NI shoppers are overwhelmingly looking for more local suppliers. Equally, those firms are increasingly approaching the retailer directly or coming to its regular meet the buyer events.
“We are looking for all kinds of suppliers, whether they will be ones that will only ever be in one store or those that could eventually supply 360 stores,” he says.
It was the loyalty of local shoppers to local brands that persuaded Asda to launch its first regional own-label brand there earlier this year, in the shape of Chosen By You Northern Ireland.
The range started with 15 bakery products but will continue to expand, says Jones, and it could lay the platform for regional own-label development in the rest of the UK.
Giant strides for Northern Ireland's food and drink industry
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Asda's Chosen by You Northern Ireland is first regional own-label range