Hundreds of Tesco jobs in Northern Ireland at risk as cuts loom on counters
Store's deli, fish and meat services set to be reduced
Up to 300 jobs at Tesco stores around Northern Ireland could be hit as the grocery giant confirmed it is cutting back on services like its deli, fish and meat counters.
And a Tesco superstore in Ballymena, Co Antrim is one of the first to be affected, with the loss of around 15 jobs.
There are a total of 50 Tescos around Northern Ireland, including up to 20 larger-format superstores and Tesco Extras, which include additional counter services.
A spokesman confirmed that the Ballymena superstore's butchery counter would now open just three days a week. Northern Ireland had been expected to escape the cuts, which were announced by Tesco as part of a major overhaul in January.
A spokesman said the cutbacks were a "business change" which was being made because shoppers were using the counters less frequently.
Tesco said it was "looking to redeploy around half of all affected employees", but the spokesman said the company could not comment on how many stores and staff in Northern Ireland were likely to be affected.
Counter services in some stores will close down completely, he said, but he added that the majority would keep a counter service "in some form".
"Decisions to change operations have been taken on a case-by-case basis, and driven by customer use," he said.
Tesco is in the middle of a drastic overhaul led by chief executive Dave Lewis to increase profitability at the supermarket.
It was badly hit by an accounting scandal in 2014 and has also lost market share to discounters such as Lidl and Aldi, which operates in Great Britain.
However, earlier this month the company confirmed a 28.8% jump in annual pre-tax profits to £1.7bn. Revenues rose by 11% to £63.9bn, while UK like-for-like sales rose by 1.7%.
Mr Lewis joined the company to begin an attempted turnaround of the business in 2014.
The Tesco spokesman said: "In our four years of turnaround we've made good progress, but the market is challenging and we need to continually adapt to remain competitive and respond to how customers want to shop.
"We're making changes to our UK stores and head office to simplify what we do and how we do it, so we're better able to meet the needs of our customers.
"This will impact some of our colleagues and our commitment is to minimise this as much as possible and support our colleagues throughout."
Yesterday, Primacy Butchers, which operates counters in some Tesco stores in Northern Ireland as an independent entity, insisted its in-store branches would be staying open.
Tesco is the biggest supermarket operating in Northern Ireland, with a market share of 35.2%.
Its main competitors are Sainsbury's and Asda, with around a 17% share each.
Lidl has been growing sales at the fastest rate of all grocers. However, its market share remains in single digits at 5.9%, according to information service Kantar.