Food Lovers Market, is the premium brand for the Fruit & Veg City group, and will be the focus of the group's expansion.In the picture its their outlet in Sunninghill North of by Simphiwe Mbokazi 821

Johannesburg - Fruit & Veg City Holdings is expanding its grocery range to include international food products from British retailer Waitrose as competition in the food retail space heats up.

The retailer, which owns the Food Lover’s Market chain, said yesterday that it would exclusively stock about 200 of Waitrose’s food products to meet consumer demands.

“We felt very strongly that we wanted to offer a range of Waitrose products in our stores. We saw a synergy with the brand as their core retail values of offering high-quality food products and innovation in retail are so closely aligned to ours,” said Brian Coppin, the chief executive of Fruit & Veg.

The retailer currently has 120 Food Lover’s Market stores across South Africa and elsewhere on the continent. It also has 154 FreshStop forecourt stores at Caltex garages.

The retailer expanded its range from fresh food to include non-food grocery items in 2012 and plans to convert all Fruit & Veg City outlets to its premium brand, Food Lover’s Market. In some locations Food Lover’s Market competes with Woolworths Food stand-alone stores, which have stocked fresh produce, groceries and non-food products for more than a decade.

Food Lover’s Market will be stocking a range of Waitrose’s ambient and frozen products, including frozen ready meals, tarts, cakes and ice cream, as well as rice, pastas, coffee and canned foods.

Coppin said as much as the Waitrose brand would increase the grocery selection in stores, Fruit & Veg City remained primarily a fresh produce retailer.

“Our single biggest department is still fruit and vegetables and we are definitely not going to change that.”

In the past two years, the UK-based Waitrose has grown its export business with products available in Chile, Gibraltar, the Philippines and other countries. The food retailer has 303 stores in the UK and stocks up to 18 000 products.

Copping said this would be Waitrose’s first presence in Africa and Fruit & Veg City had exclusive rights for South Africa and some other parts of the continent. “Its products will cater for all consumers as the brand has entry-level products right up to high-range products,” Coppin added.

He explained that the brand would be price-competitive and its range would grow in future as Fruit & Veg City had access to all its products.

Nigel Roberts, the head of UK and international growth for Waitrose, said: “Our partnership with Food Lover’s Market was a very simple decision, the management were very passionate about our brand and when we saw their brand in action and experienced their stores, we knew we could form a partnership.”

Waitrose’s international sales grew 30 percent year on year last year and the retailer is hoping for similar growth this year. Its entrance to Food Lover’s Market stores would also be used as a springboard to expand in Africa.

Fruit & Veg City plans to open 15 stores in South Africa this year and 10 stores elsewhere on the continent. - Business Report