Upmarket grocer closes only NI store
Upmarket grocer Simply Fresh has closed its first store here, just two months after it opened. The company opened in the former Danske Bank branch in Holywood, Co Down in December.
But despite transformation efforts including a major refit of the former bank, it closed its doors this week.
However, the firm says it's committed to working with more franchise-holders here in future and will not rule out future plans for Northern Ireland.
The store was owned by Malcolm Hall, who runs Foodhalls Ireland and also owns Annagh Bridge Supershop in Portadown.
He said he first came across the concept of Simply Fresh at the 2015 Retail Industry Awards, where he was named retailer of the year. But he said he did not wish to comment on its closure.
Simply Fresh is a symbol group and the stores are run by independent retailers who license the brand.
A spokeswoman for the firm said: "It is with great regret that the Holywood store had to close its doors. All Simply Fresh stores are run by independent retailers under a licence. A full review of the local area and its potential for a new store was undertaken prior to its development.
"However, sales since the store opened have been lower than anticipated and the store owner has been unable to continue financing his business.
"Therefore he has reluctantly taken the decision to close the store, with immediate effect.
"However, if there was an opportunity for a local entrepreneur to take over the store with the right finances this is something that we would consider, as we feel the site has much potential.
"We are very disappointed with this outcome. However, Simply Fresh remains committed to growing the brand and supporting independent retailers across Northern Ireland."
Several other retailers, such as Aldi and Waitrose, which have fared well in Great Britain have nonetheless not taken on the Northern Ireland market.
However, retailer McColl's said it would bring its brand to the region when it took over five Northern Ireland stores as part of a deal to take over almost 300 Co-op stores across the UK.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said: "It's surprising that the store has closed so soon after opening.
"The pace of change in retail is very fast now. New retailers have a very tight timeframe to make their mark and in recent years this has become even smaller. They really have to hit the ground running.
"Northern Ireland is a very hard market for new grocers to get into. There are a lot of very high quality independent retailers and delis doing exceedingly well here and they have very loyal customers."
The 2,800sq ft shop featured a Simply Fresh kitchen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu including smoked salmon and egg muffins, gluten-free burgers, as well as an in-store dining area.
Simply Fresh markets itself as an upmarket grocery store chain. The store's concept is to focus on British products and organic, healthy foods. However, its stores also include a core range of branded grocery lines.
The chain also placed a major focus on supporting local suppliers and offering eco-friendly refill stations for products such as olive oil and detergent.