Belfast Telegraph

Shopping centres given food for thought as study says those with best eateries are top performers

By John Mulgrew

Food and drink offerings at shopping centres are becoming an increasingly important pull for customers, research has claimed.

A new report from the commercial property firm CBRE showed almost half of shoppers quizzed across Northern Ireland and the Republic said that they "stop for food on the spur of the moment while shopping".

"There is no doubt that this survey highlights the importance of a strong food and beverage offering in shopping centres across the country," CBRE director Alana Coyle said.

"Almost 49% of respondents often stop for food on the spur of the moment while shopping.

"So it's not just a way to draw consumers in - it can also encourage them to spend more time and enjoy their overall experience.

"We have always stressed that the centres that offer the best leisure experience tend to outstrip the competition.

"It is clear, however, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There must be a clear understanding of the local shopper and their particular needs. And, as always, different locations will require different offerings.

"Having a food offering that differentiates shopping centres from their competition is essential in creating a unique experience as well as attracting new footfall and retaining existing customers for longer periods of time."

Locations such as Victoria Square have already seen an influx of big names coming in, with newcomers including burger chain Five Guys and Carluccio's.

Other names arriving in the city centre include Hawaiian burger and sandwich concept Kua 'Aina and pastie giant Greggs, which is set for a major expansion across Northern Ireland next year.

The pie king has already made offers on five stores in Belfast city centre as part of its drive to increase its number of stories here.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed that the company was eyeing as many as 50 locations across Northern Ireland, with around 10 in Belfast alone.

Meanwhile, the overall value of commercial property deals across Northern Ireland looks set to reach £500m by the end of this year, according to the CBRE.

It has been strongly buoyed by several big UK and international investors and funds moving in and snapping up large retail parks and other shopping sites.

The deals were made up primarily of normal sales and a large proportion of distressed properties sold off by banks.

The largest property agreement in the last three months was the sale of the so-called Olympic Portfolio of retail parks.

That included the sales of Fairhill Shopping Centre in Ballymena, which was formerly owned by Sam Morrison, to Rockspring Property Investment Managers for more than £45m. Showgrounds Retail Park in Omagh was also acquired by Pradera and Tristan Capital for £27m.

Meanwhile, Belfast's hotel industry has had one of its most buoyant periods in years, with vacancy rates sitting at 86%.

While Northern Ireland, and the capital in particular, has in the past had an insufficient number of rooms, Alex Speers of CBRE said several new proposed projects would create a glut.

She added that between 1,000 and 1,500 new rooms would be an ideal number for the city.

But she warned Belfast also needed to see an increase in the number of four and five-star developments in order to increase the amount of business conference and commercial footfall.

Hotel deals this year have increased more than tenfold on 2014, with £67m of transactions.

More than 20 hotels are planned for the city, each at various stages of development.

The latest to get the green light is a new hotel at the former Belfast Metropolitan College building on Brunswick Street. The developer McAleer and Rushe is behind the new project, which will have around 200 bedrooms.

Work will also begin early next year on the new £30m Grand Central hotel in Belfast, according to boss Howard Hastings.

The four-star, 200-bedroom hotel will transform the 23-storey Windsor House, which lies in the city centre.

Work has also begun on the Bedford Hotel, close to Belfast City Hall.

Belfast Telegraph