Jobs boost as Lidl unveils plans for £20m warehouse expansion
Lidl has unveiled plans for a £20m expansion of its distribution centre in Co Antrim which could bring dozens of jobs - as well as employing more than 100 construction workers while it is being built.
The German supermarket giant is growing its warehouse at Nutts Corner, as it plans additional stores across Northern Ireland.
Glen Cinnamon, Lidl's regional director for Northern Ireland, said: "£20m is being invested in the warehouse and distribution centre. It's a combination of extending the building, modernising the warehouse and office block.
"We are bringing it up to date in terms of technology. New refrigeration, heat recovery, light bands and a 5,000 sq metre extension."
And it's on the back of the discount supermarket's continued rise across Northern Ireland.
Sales rocketed 20% in the past year - far outstripping growth elsewhere in the UK.
Its portion of the market has grown to almost 5%. And while that remains small in contrast with retailers such as Tesco, it's growing fast - with up to 15 new stores also planned.
And on the jobs front, Mr Cinnamon said: "We are already recruiting as the needs of the business are growing. Throughout the build there will be about 100-150 construction jobs.
"We've already seen an increase of around 25% in staff in the last 12 months in the stores and warehouse.
"It will facilitate us to grow the business further and there will definitely be new jobs."
But he said the number of new staff was "difficult to predict".
The current warehouse has been at the site for 11 years, with the improved facility due to open in February.
And responding to the supermarket giant's ever-increasing share of Northern Ireland's market, he said that "as the only true discounter in Northern Ireland, customers are realising the quality our product is second to none".
"We will expand - everything is a possibility. We've been on site for about the last eight weeks and have now moved 100,000 tonnes of earth to enable us to start."
Asked about Lidl's plans to open up to 15 new stores in Northern Ireland, Mr Cinnamon wouldn't be drawn on where the new shops could end up.
While Mr Cinnamon said he couldn't predict the future on whether Lidl would one day compete in scale and size with Tesco in Northern Ireland, he said: "I will continue to drive forward and we are 100% committed to Northern Ireland and to developing our market share.
"Everything that we do is to develop and grow the market share.
"We have an expansion plan and a modernisation plan."
That includes revamping Lidl's store in Banbridge, along with a new, improved shop at Connswater in east Belfast.
Helping to unveil plans for the new distribution centre, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said he had been "impressed by Lidl's plans for the future and am pleased to see the retailer putting down concrete routes".
According to Kantar Worldpanel, Lidl now has a market share of 4.8% in Northern Ireland.
It currently has 38 stores scattered across the region, but is expanding that reach considerably over the next few years.
While its slice of the market is small compared with established big-hitters Tesco and Sainsbury's, its sales did climb one-fifth in the 52 weeks to May 24. In comparison, Lidl sales climbed by just 8.8% in the rest of the UK over the same period.
"Consumers are increasingly finding the Lidl offering compelling and competitive and we've committed significant investment to meeting that growing demand," Mr Cinnamon said.
"Expanding our warehouse also allows for future growth in our store portfolio."
And he said Lidl spent "more than £85m" a year on Northern Ireland products.