Sainsbury's has 'no plans' for smaller convenience stores in Northern Ireland
Rival Tesco is opening five Express stores in Belfast
Sainsbury's has said it has no plans to bring its small-scale Sainsbury's Local format to Northern Ireland.
That is despite its main rival Tesco opening or planning at least five of its convenience Tesco Express stores in Belfast alone in recent months.
A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's said: "Sainsbury's is committed to its current operation in Northern Ireland through its network of 13 stores and supply chain. At present we have no plans to develop Sainsbury's Locals in Northern Ireland."
Meanwhile, Tesco is set to open an Express on south Belfast's University Road in the new year, when it converts well-loved student pub The Elms, while another store is due to open on the city's Royal Avenue on the threshold of the new University of Ulster city centre campus.
There are at least 14 others around Northern Ireland, including Belfast's Dublin Road and Great Victoria Street and beyond the city centre, on the Ormeau Road, Belmont Road and in Ballyhackamore.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said Tesco may find the independent convenience sector a tough nut to crack in Northern Ireland.
"They are very much out to try and compete with the independent convenience stores," he said.
"But I think Tesco will find that very hard as many of our independent grocers have strong links with the community and very high standards of customer service and choice."
And he said he was disappointed that The Elms would vanish.
"Local pubs have an important role to play in town centres and high streets and it's always bad to see them close," he said. "It's a sad loss and a sign of the times that we have lost so many local bars, as well as shops."
Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said Tesco had bought many vacant pubs in England to be converted in to stores.
The pubs already had liquor licences, so Tesco simply had to apply for a change in use.