The transformation of Spar Scotland over the last few years continues apace with a record-breaking trade show, a major acquisition and significant profit growth.
By Antony Begley
Despite the state of permanent flux that is making life for the local retailing trade as challenging as ever, Spar Scotland has continued its remarkable transformation under CEO Colin McLean and his refreshed senior management team.
CJ Lang recently hosted is annual Spar Tradeshow and Conference in Aviemore, hailing it – probably correctly – as the biggest retail event in Scotland, with over 870 delegates and over 200 suppliers in attendance.
Thanks to a monumental effort by Marketing Manager Paula Middleton and her team, Spar Scotland managed to raise the bar once again and delivered what was an extremely impressive event.
The conference provided the ideal stage for McLean and his fellow directors to provide business updates to independent Spar retailers, suppliers and CJ Lang colleagues, unveiling the latest news and sharing insight into the improving financial performance of the business.
McLean had hoped to unveil the acquisition of Jack, Rita and Shaun Marwaha’s ScotFresh chain of stores at the event, but circumstances conspired against him and that announcement had to be put on hold for a week [see panel]. But he did take the opportunity to confirm that Spar Scotland would be ditching Costa Express in favour of Barista Bar, the premium coffee brand created by Spar Northern Ireland wholesaler Henderson Foodservice.
The deal gives Spar Scotland retailers – independent and company-owned – exclusive access to the brand in Scotland and offers the opportunity for Spar stores to establish a new USP, as well as offer a more competitive price point and increase margins. Barista Bar is the number one coffee brand in Northern Ireland, and by some margin, and sells over 12 million cups a year in the UK.
McLean opened the conference with presentations to Spar Scotland’s supplier base and then to Spar independent retailers, bringing them up to speed on the latest developments in his charge to ‘reawaken the sleeping giant’.
McLean hailed great progress in the company’s journey to become “Scotland’s favourite community, convenience wholesaler and retailer” by 2025, celebrating the company’s success at this year’s SLR Awards where Spar Scotland was named Symbol Group of the Year.
He acknowledged the continuation over the last 12 months of the company’s ambitious store refurbishment programme, the biggest investment into the company-owned store estate ever, and discussed how the company continues to roll out improvements including digital screens, electronic shelf edge labels, stock trolleys, sales-based ordering and energy-saving refrigeration in company-owned stores as well as continuing to develop its CJ’s food-to-go offer.
But McLean also highlighted how Spar independent retailers have also been supported with their own individual store refits, including the four David Sands Group stores that were announced at conference last year.
Unsurprisingly, he also found time to flag up Spar’s first-to-market successes over the last year with smash hits like Prime Hydration and Mr Beast Feastables, and confirmed that Spar Scotland has renewed its partnership with the Scottish Football Association for a further four years until 2027.
“We’ve had another remarkable year, but we would not be where we are without the support of our loyal customers, retailers, suppliers and most importantly our colleagues,” said McLean. “We made a bold statement with our fresh approach, but it is working and today our business is in a great place, and we are excited about the future.
“CJ Lang is a Scottish-based company with a strong family background, working in partnership with community-focused independent retailers and stores. Spar is a strong convenience brand, and we are committed to the future growth and development of our business, increasing sales and profitability across our estate.
“With record levels of financial investment signed off once again, together with our latest ScotFresh store acquisition, our Spar Scotland momentum continues to gather pace and our business is off to a very strong start in the new financial year.”
Spar Scotland will return to the MacDonald Hotel and Resort in the heart of Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park in 2024 and will hold its annual tradeshow and conference there on 26 September.