-Barry Group has had an exciting past year, launching a number of new foodservice concepts including Urban Sips, Market Street Deli, The Salad Patch and Freezi Licks. Why did you feel the time was right and it was important to innovate in the foodservice sector and offer new ideas for your retailers?
2018 has been an extremely exciting year for us across all of our brands. There has been so much change and innovation that we have finished the year on a very positive note.
Regarding our growing suite of concepts, this was a necessary development for us and timing was absolutely key. In the past five years we have seen more change in the convenience sector than we had seen in the previous fifteen years. Not only ours, but also our competitor’s strategic direction changed from stores being a place where you picked up your few grocery essentials to an offering which revolved around a quality fresh food offering. We identified four strategic areas to develop these concepts; coffee, the deli, salads and ice cream and from there Urban Sips, Market Street Deli, The Salad Patch and Freezi Licks were conceptualised.
A major differentiating factor with these concepts is that a core objective that was driven throughout was a health message. When sourcing produce, the origin and quality of products and ingredients was scrutinised to ensure that we are offering our retailers a premium offering which they can successfully complete with on a national level.
-What are the new consumer trends that you have specifically set out to meet?
There are a few trends that have not only been important in shaping our strategy in 2018 but will also influence it in 2019. Firstly, we will continue to work on our fresh food offering and expanding our current concepts availability along will developing new additions. On a similar note, customer experience continues to be a central component to both Costcutter and Carry Out. We are always working to enhance this from both an instore perspective and an overall point of view. We have a few projects coming up in 2019 specifically focusing on this trend, ensuring that we offer an immersive unique customer experience.
Probably one of the biggest trends that we have responded to is sustainability. We all have had to become so much more aware of the amount of waste in Ireland and try to counteract the severity of the repercussions of this. The packaging in Freezi Licks and The Salad Patch is certified compostable and in Urban Sips, the cup is also certified compostable and the lid is recyclable. We are making a conscious effort to move towards all our packaging being eco-friendly and plan on making further progress on this in 2019.
Lastly, the application of technology is a trend that is key for us. From marketing to business processes, we feel that the optimisation of not only customer touchpoints but also retailer touchpoints are something that we plan on further developing. We have made some strides in 2018 but are excited to see what next year unfolds.
-Urban Sips was specifically developed to cater for customers who are traditionally tea drinkers rather than coffee aficionados. What was your thinking behind the decision to go down this route and how have you achieved this aim?
This key objective of Urban Sips has gained much interest. This was so important for us in the launch period as tea is the second most consumed drink in the world after water and looking at Ireland specifically, we are a nation that has been brought up on tea and have a strong relationship with it. We wanted to not only offer coffee drinkers a premium coffee experience but also dual drinkers of tea and coffee. 62% of Irish people drink both beverages and through our conducted research, it became clear that the blend of coffee is essential to entice this slice of the market. They look for a rich medium blend of coffee and we wanted to deliver on this in a way that was unique to Barry Group. We wanted customers to build a connection to Urban Sips in a similar manner to the way they did with tea.
Today, one in three Irish people now buy coffee at least once a day. We have witnessed this increase in volume in each of our stores who have the Urban Sips offering. They have had a significant increase in coffee sales since introducing the concept. It goes to show that for the modern consumer, quality is a driving factor in the consumer decision making process. We have created a brand that Irish consumers love, and we look forward to seeing this develop over the coming years.
-Barry Group has always had a strong reputation as a family-owned company. How have you continued to demonstrate this ethos over the past year?
Family is central to the ethos in Barry Group in many ways. We are a third-generation business and pride ourselves on this. In the past year and a half my wife Niamh has worked on developing our concept portfolio and enhancing our instore design and our daughter Holly took on the role of Brand Strategist in our marketing department. However, family extends beyond this for us. Our ethos is One Team, One Plan. Our whole team act as one unit to service our customers. We share a common vision and principles and work to deliver on this to an optimal standard.
I think what makes us unique in comparison to our competitors is this nature. We offer an extremely high level of customer service and truly feel that we are in a unique position to aid families to build their businesses in their local communities. Even at our Barry Group Store of the Year Awards, we are delighted to not only have the store owners celebrate this occasion with us but also their families. That is what makes our retailer so special. We share common values and objectives and work collectively to achieve them.
-How has Barry Group performed over the past year, in terms of achieving growth?
We are very satisfied with our sales performance over the year. Year to date, we do expect to reach the goals that we set at the beginning of 2018 which is a fantastic position to be in. As a business, Barry Group is in growth and we anticipate that this trend will continue for 2019.
-Barry Group has created augmented reality (AR) labels and leaflets in a pioneering move within our industry. Why did you decide to experiment in this area, what did the process involve and how have retailers and consumers responded?
The use of AR is something that we are extremely proud of. The opportunity arose through our marketing department conducting research on our consumer touchpoints. One outcome of this was that there is an aging demographic interacting with our offer leaflets and this is something that we wanted to counteract. We chose AR to overcome this issue as it appeals to a younger cohort, specifically Millennials and Gen Y, and allows them to interact with our brands in a way which appeals to them. Where the beauty of this lies is while this younger demographic can have a cool immersive experience, it does not affect the experience of the individuals who have always picked up and read the offer leaflet. Unless you scan the selected pages with the Layer app, your experience remains the same.
The process of creating this mechanism was thought provoking for me personally. It was amazing to see how we can take a traditional communication tool and revolutionise it, making it relevant in a modern way. We are actively looking for more opportunities to increase the amount of consumer touchpoints which are unique to the Costcutter and Carry Out retail offering.
Regarding the consumer response, we were delighted with how fast consumers interacted with it a continuous basis. Each promotional cycle has a new activation featuring a different brand and a different call to action. Each of the stores are having great fun showing the functionality to the customer. It gives them something different to talk about and allows for an immersive customer experience with multiple touchpoints.
-Barry Group has launched new Conbec Gin to the market. Why did you decide to introduce this and how long did it take to create the product and its branding?
We decided to introduce a premium gin to our portfolio as we had experienced success with other alcohol brands that we had developed including Baravoski, Blondebrau, Hellesbrau and Apple Tree for our Carry Out retail offering. After witnessing the growth in the craft gin market, we felt that it was the right move to keep expanding our range. Having unique brands like these create a point of difference for out retailers.
The branding for Conbec was entirely done inhouse by our very talented marketing team. This is something that I am extremely proud to say. It is great that we have such great internal talent that they can create a brand which to date is proving to be a big success for us both on and off trade. The process of this began with an objective that we set; the product had to be exportable. The project team then decided that to achieve this, it had to be rooted in Irish culture. They looked back on Irish folklore and from there, the wolfhound Conbec emerged. To get to this stage, the team had designed the logo and built the brand story of Conbec in a roughly a month. After that, it probably took a further three months to get the perfect bottle and print for the label. All in all, it happened very quickly but I truly believe that that was down to our internal talent.
-The gin market has exploded in recent years. What makes Conbec Gin stand out from competitors’ offerings?
We break the USP of Conbec down into two categories; branding and taste profile. From a branding perspective, the story of Conbec ties back to third century Ireland to the time of King Cormac when Conbec was a wolfhound so fierce he could kill an elk and bring it back to feed whole armies. There also was a gentle side to Conbec, it was said that he slept every night with Fionn, Head of the Armies and Head of the Hounds, while they were fighting on behalf of King Cormac. The artwork of Conbec on the bottle portrays these elements of this iconic creature’s personality. We feel that the design also stands out and breaks the clutter amongst our competitors due to its vibrant enchanting nature.
Regarding the taste profile, Conbec is a complex but balanced gin that will suit all gin drinkers. From the outset we wanted to create an approachable gin that whether you are a newbie entering the gin world or an expert, the botanicals would appeal to you. As part of this journey, it became complex with the combination of fifteen different botanicals giving it its unique taste profile. Tying back to the five High Kings in Ireland, there are five different types of botanicals involved; the classic platform, berry, liquorice/ spice, citrus and Mediterranean herbs. Within these five botanical families, there were three elements chosen which again, in Irish folklore, the number three stands for harmony. Both the branding and the gin profile are symbiotic offering any gin drinker a unique and memorable experience.
-What in your view are the consequences of the Public Health Alcohol Bill for retailers? How will you help retailers withstand the challenges involved?
I think the Public Heath Alcohol Bill is an absolute game changer for the alcohol sector and specifically for our retailers. We have spent significant time planning how best to respond to the changes to the market that will result from the Public Health Alcohol Bill that was recently announced. We are mindful of the changes that occurred in Scotland and have consulted with suppliers on the potential impact on consumer buying patterns. While an overall decline in alcohol sales in anticipated in the off trade sector, we are confident that there is an opportunity in the convenience and independent off licence sectors.
The under cost selling of alcohol which has favoured the larger format supermarkets to the expense of smaller format retailers will cease. I believe that the Public Health Alcohol Bill will ensure responsible retailing of alcohol which is to the advantage of the convenience sector and will stop the irresponsible selling of alcohol which has been practiced by some of the larger format retailers.
We have been working on developing mechanisms which will aid our retailers to respond to the introduction of this legislation. We will be sharing these plans with them in the very near future and expect that they will result in a realignment of market share in favour of convenience store and independent off licence formats. The general direction of these plans will focus on how product will be displayed, expanding our alcohol range, and the standard of service delivered by our retail colleagues. We truly are looking forward to going on this journey with our customers, aiding them in enhancing their businesses, retail offering and customer experience.
-There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the implications of Brexit for our sector. With this being the case, how are you preparing for its arrival?
While no one is quite sure how the Brexit arrangement will finish, it is important to have plans in place in the event of a hard Brexit. We have been in dialogue with our key suppliers to ensure that our customers will not be in a disadvantaged position in comparison to competitors. We have multiple scenarios in place with different suppliers but regardless, the primary focus is on supply chain and tariffs.
In the case of our import channels, we have enhanced our infrastructure. We are confident that the processes and systems we have in place will ensure that we will retain our competitive position in the market and enable our customers to withhold their competitive position.
-As Christmas approaches, what message would you like to share with Barry Group retailers for 2019?
We are very excited as we approach 2019 in Barry Group. As part of our strategic planning process for 2019, we have reviewed all key aspects of our offering to our customers. A key component to our business approach is the practice of constantly challenging and enhancing all that we do. This keeps our offering fresh and innovative for our customers.
A primary focus for 2019, is looking at how we service our customers. To date, on this topic we have enhanced out Account Manager role, developed new and unique marketing messages, created a new training programme for our customers, focused on range management and built on the capabilities of our supply chain. Throughout these interdepartmental developments, our combined efforts will lead to an enhanced customer experience. Our customers have and always will be seen as an imperative element of our business and we will always work hard in order to ensure their development and success.