Joy at bullish Spar as sales climb

Symbol group Spar has generated a surge in first-quarter sales and insists it is in a strong position to fight off the incursion of grocery multiples into the convenience market.

Spar aims to take supermarkets head on, by encouraging consumers to visit for mid-week shopping.

'Consumers don't see convenience stores as somewhere to buy tea for tonight. We want to change that,' said retail director Steve Blackmore.

The retailer is accelerating the introduction of bolstered fresh and ready meal ranges. Fresh produce sales grew by 5 per cent in the first quarter to the end of July.

There was a 6.1 per cent leap in like-for-like sales and a net increase of 120 stores over the same period last year, helped rather than hindered by supermarkets such as Tesco opening convenience stores, Blackmore said.

Increased competition is making more independent retailers recognise the value of being part of a larger brand, he explained. 'If you were competing with a One Stop and then it becomes a Tesco, that shakes you up,' he said.

The anticipated takeover of Safeway is of greater concern to Spar, as it fears suppliers, under pressure to cut prices for multiples, may seek to recoup losses by charging smaller stores more. This might dent Spar's competitive edge if it is forced in turn to raise prices, Blackmore said.