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