The Sainbury's regional operations manager insists that supermarkets can sit alongside a vibrant, thriving and independent retail sector and it is also in the interests of every business as it provides customers with an extensive choice
Sainsbury's opened its first store in Northern Ireland in Ballymena in 1996. We now have 12 supermarkets employing nearly 3,000 colleagues, often in a flexible way, which accommodates the lifestyle of working mums, students and older people.
I do not profess to speak for every supermarket but as someone who visits our stores and speaks to our colleagues daily, I firmly believe that Sainsbury's has had a positive impact not only on the communities that we serve but also on the wider economy of Northern Ireland.
We know from experience that supermarkets can sit alongside a vibrant, thriving independent retail sector. I believe there is a place for both and neither should exist in isolation. A dynamic town centre with a wide selection of retailers is in the interest of every business, as it provides customers with choice, meeting a variety of needs.
Sainsbury's is very proud to have five guiding values at the heart of our business. We strive to be 'best for food and health', to have 'respect for our environment', to 'source with integrity', to be a 'great place to work' and to 'make a positive difference to our community'. Our work is guided by these values, ensuring significant benefits to our customers, colleagues, communities and the environment.
We are proud of the significant contribution we make to the local food sector. We work with more than 100 Northern Irish suppliers, sourcing over £250m worth of products each year, £40m of which is sold locally. This means that more than £200m of Northern Irish goods sourced by Sainsbury's is exported to stores in Great Britain. Ballymena meat supplier Doherty & Gray, cheese makers Fivemiletown Creamery and fresh vegetable producers such as Mash Direct, to name but a few, have built productive supplier relationships with Sainsbury's. Those relationships began in Northern Ireland and would have been difficult to develop without our local presence. Business for local suppliers means jobs for local people, benefiting the wider community.
Sainsbury's is proud to be the world's largest retailer of Fairtrade products, building a better future for farmers and growers in the developing world. On a national level we are committed to sustainable farming and working closely with our farmers, we are helping to develop plans to combat climate change. The fact that we are a large company with a UK-wide presence allows us to have a real impact and to develop our own strategies to tackle the environmental issues we all face.
We also make a difference much closer to home through our support for local communities. Our stores work with local partner charities each year and, through our Active Kids scheme, children in schools and groups across the UK, have benefited from over £100m worth of sports equipment and experiences.
Nationally, Sainsbury's is a proud sponsor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games and is a long standing retail partner of Comic Relief, raising money for charities not only in Northern Ireland but across the UK and the poorest countries in the world.
Going forward I hope that Northern Ireland will continue to have a thriving retail sector. It is a great time to work in Northern Ireland and I for one am looking forward to an exciting future.