IN­TER­VIEW

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

CHRIS Martin says that Don­ny­brook Fair has been on Mus­grave’s radar for sev­eral years, but to the out­side world it was quite a shock when the owner of the Su­per­valu and Cen­tra brands swooped in to buy the swanky food busi­ness. The €25m deal made peo­ple pay at­ten­tion, not only be­cause Dunnes Stores had for sev­eral months been seen as the fron­trun­ner to ac­quire the Dublin-based chain of five stores, but be­cause it was such a clear state­ment of in­tent from Mus­grave.

Don­ny­brook Fair, says the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mus­grave, will help the “food lead­er­ship” of the com­pany. “It’s a great ad­di­tion, a busi­ness that re­ally car­ries a high end food cre­den­tial, in terms of its prod­ucts and its recog­ni­tion. And for us that’s very much around tar­get­ing the high end gro­cery mar­ket.”

It is part of a wider strat­egy that Martin has been de­vel­op­ing for some time. His vi­sion for the busi­ness up un­til 2025 is based on ex­pec­ta­tions for sig­nif­i­cant changes for the eat­ing habits of con­sumers. Ac­cord­ing to Martin the pop­u­la­tion will have grown to over seven mil­lion, with Dublin and Belfast home to more than 45pc of the pop­u­la­tion.

Al­though on­line shop­ping and tech­nol­ogy will play a much big­ger part of shop­ping in the fu­ture, Martin be­lieves there will be de­mand for even more stores and the re­quire­ment for around of 1.5m sq ft of ad­di­tional space. As is hap­pen­ing al­ready, many will in­cor­po­rate cafes and other ser­vices, mak­ing them so­cial hubs.

He also be­lieves there will be “a dra­matic shift in peo­ple’s at­ti­tude to food”.

“Con­sumers will seek out unique food ex­pe­ri­ences where eat­ing less will be con­sid­ered good for me, my health and the health of the planet. Ve­gan­ism will be main­stream and con­sumers will make more in­formed de­ci­sions about the health and nutri­tional ben­e­fits of what they buy, cou­pled with grow­ing con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment and the sus­tain­abil­ity of the food ecosys­tem. Peo­ple will de­mand to­tal trans­parency about the im­pact of food on their health and on the planet.”

With this in mind, it seems ob­vi­ous why Mus­grave was keen to buy Don­ny­brook Fair. For now, he says the com­pany is fo­cused on un­der­stand­ing the new ac­qui­si­tion — but he does ex­pect more Don­ny­brook Fair open­ings. “Firstly, there’s a bit of in­vest­ment needed. When we look at More­hamp­ton, that store hasn’t been re­fur­bished for 17 years. So that brings a real op­por­tu­nity.

“We have Su­per­valu in the mul­ti­ple mar­ket, Cen­tra in the con­ve­nience mar­ket, and Don­ny­brook very much brings us into the high end, par­tic­u­larly in Dublin.” It also has a whole­sale busi­ness, Mar­ket­place.

The strat­egy re­flects a two-track trend in the mar­ket where premium and restau­rant food is in de­mand, while cheaper su­per­mar­ket prices are also ex­pected. “The over­all mar­ket is very much value driven,” says Martin.

Grow­ing up in York­shire, Eng­land, he learned first hand the im­por­tance of rein­vent­ing your­self in busi­ness. Martin’s fa­ther was an en­gi­neer who later be­came an owner of res­i­den­tial homes for older peo­ple. “In the Mar­garet Thatcher years he lost his job two or three times and de­cided to put his money in some­thing that would grow.

“See­ing some­one who went from an en­gi­neer­ing back­ground into his own busi­ness, with its trial and tribu­la­tions, and then you talk to re­tail­ers to­day how are go­ing through the same, you have a strong em­pa­thy.”

Upon leav­ing school he felt that eco­nomics and ac­coun­tancy stud­ies would be a safe bet in col­lege and he then trained with Coop­ers and Ly­brand’s Leeds of­fice, work­ing with clients rang­ing from British Steel to Austin Reed. His first re­tail role was with British su­per­mar­ket Asda, work­ing in fi­nance and the sup­ply chain. “It was go­ing into food re­tail­ing at a time when Asda was go­ing into hy­per­mar­kets and the move from the high street to large out-of-town stores,” he says.

Martin went on to join Pizza Hut, which was owned by Pep­sico, as fi­nance di­rec­tor. He was there from 1992 to 1996, dur­ing which time he was in­volved in open­ing 500 res­tau­rants. “It was in the early days of fast food which was great

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