Big plans by Lidl's Northern Ireland chief include at least 12 new stores
The discount supermarket chain Lidl is on course to open at least a dozen new stores in Northern Ireland.
Lidl, which opened its first local shop in Cookstown in 2000, now has 38 outlets and employs 768 staff here. The company's newly-appointed regional director has told the Belfast Telegraph that the German-owned chain is confident of further growth in store numbers.
"I think we have room for 50," said Conor Boyle, who's recently returned from Sweden where he was Lidl chief executive. "I believe we can expand more with new stores and our current growth can cope with organic growth. When we continue to invest in stores, they'll become a more attractive proposition to customers."
In terms of store numbers, Lidl is now the second biggest supermarket chain in Northern Ireland after Tesco. It's carrying out major refurbishments on its branches, including those in Banbridge and Andersonstown in west Belfast. And following a long-running planning battle with Belfast City Council, it's replacing its current store at Connswater in east Belfast with a much larger, newly-built supermarket. At 1,400 sq m, it will be almost double the size of the current one.
"We believe in the area and have got a strong local following there and residents were very supportive," said Mr Boyle.
Last week, Lidl revealed plans to create 600 jobs in the Republic over the next two years, bringing its workforce there to 4,600. Earlier this year, it indicated it plans to add another 40 or 50 stores to its Irish network in coming years.
Mr Boyle said Lidl had been preparing for the EU referendum, with a "task force" established six to nine months ago.
"Immediately you can see that the value of sterling versus the euro and many other currencies has dropped, and that means for Lidl, as well as many other companies, who are importing fruit and vegetables from the continent or pasta from Italy, and the contract you have negotiated is in euros, that means that your product is more expensive now," he said.
"If it's in pounds, then for a period of time until the contract is back up for negotiation, then you're onto a winner.
"When goods for import become more expensive, then typically that will feed its way into pricing and retail pricing - eventually. But that doesn't happen overnight."