Business Irish

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Musgrave embraces digital age in stores' €11m revamp

The cash and carry business is aiming to become the Amazon of Irish wholesalers, writes Fearghal O'Connor

Guests, suppliers and clients at an event in the Musgrave MarketPlace in Dublin’s Ballymun.
Guests, suppliers and clients at an event in the Musgrave MarketPlace in Dublin’s Ballymun.

Fearghal O'Connor

Wholesale supplier Musgrave MarketPlace has completed a €2.5m upgrade of its Robinhood branch in Dublin, the latest step in its ongoing €11m investment plan.

The company has been investing heavily to transform what was a traditional cash-and-carry business into one that serves both convenience retailers and foodservice providers, said Noel Keeley, managing director of Musgrave Wholesale Partners.

Cash and carry managing director Noel Keeley. Photo: Gabrielle Morehead
Cash and carry managing director Noel Keeley. Photo: Gabrielle Morehead

"We started by looking at how we could create an environment and an experience that could attract people into a cash and carry in a world where retailers have all sorts of choices, such as buying stock on the internet or by phone," he said.

The new 73,000 square foot Robinhood Food Emporium is to open this week, as part of the relaunch of the Musgrave MarketPlace brand which began last November with the opening of the flagship €2.2m Ballymun Food Emporium. Over €1m has also been invested in its Duncrue branch in Belfast, which will open in October, and further refurbishments are planned for 2018.

The Robinhood branch employs 80 staff and will have services including "a contemporary culinary theatre", as well as classes hosted by a full time onsite chef with a view to creating menu ideas for customers.

The revamped branches have been transformed into Food Emporiums offering customers a more modern and interactive shopping experience. Each branch contains speciality counters for meat, cheese and fish, as well as expert advice in-store and an expanded product range to cater to the changing tastes of its customers.

In addition, some €5m has been invested into technology, the supply chain and marketing to enhance the overall customer experience.

"The internet is changing everything. What we have now is a sophisticated online proposition for our foodservice customers that acts like a telesales service in that it will check the warehouse in real time and offer an alternative if something is not available," he said. "We are planning to allow other people to use our infrastructure to sell to our 45,000-strong foodservice customer base."

This could allow everything from refrigeration companies to insurance providers an opportunity to sell, with Musgrave aiming to become an Amazon-style type provider to the wider retail sector in Ireland, said Keeley.

"We want to become the Amazon of food wholesaling in Ireland and create what is effectively a digital one-stop shop," he said. "That will be very powerful. One of our aims is to have voice-activated technology in the kitchen so, for example, the chef can say, 'I need two cases of chicken' and an Alexa-type device will pick that up and act upon it. We want to take away a lot of hassle and make ordering as convenient as possible, ultimately giving back the chef or the restaurant owner a lot of labour."

Keeley said it had not yet been decided whether Musgrave would create its own device to implement this system or whether it would use existing technology such as Amazon's Alexa device.

"It is an exciting development because it will revolutionise how we serve our customers," he said. "At the moment the chef will need to know what he needs himself but I'm sure we will get to a point where smart-shelf technology will mean the appliance itself will know what is needed."

Keeley said that another significant investment in technology was "on the way" on top of the €5m already invested.

"Ultimately we believe that we need to be able to serve our customers whatever way suits them best. The day of doing business the way you want to do business is over. What we are seeing is that people are shopping in multiple channels. They are still coming to the cash and carry but they are also making a telephone order and an online order.

"The reason we are investing in our cash-and-carry stores is that we can effectively use them as a showcase for our products and our customers can use the sites for food inspiration, for networking with colleagues and to see the next developments that are coming."

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