Spar, the convenience retailer, can withstand growing competition from the UK’s major multiples through the company’s “connection” with local communities, the head of its global operations has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to just-food at Spar International’s head office in Amsterdam, managing director Dr Gordon Campbell insisted the firm could thrive in the UK, despite the expansion of the likes of Sainsbury’s and The Co-operative Group in the sector.

“A multiple has the advantage of its buying power. A multiple has the advantage of its product knowledge. But, it has the disadvantage of operating stores with managers. All that we know about neighbourhood retailing is that the key factor is the connection between the customers and the store,” Dr Campbell said.

“The store is operated by an independent retailer from the community, knowing the customers’ needs, employing local staff: that is a tremendous advantage. It may be a prestigious career to manage a large hypermarket. It is much more difficult to operate local stores through a chain. We have quite a competitive advantage there.”

Spar UK, which generates annual sales of around GBP2.6bn (US$4.29bn), has 2,600 stores in the UK and accounts for 9% of the convenience channel.

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However, Spar is facing more competition from the multiples following the Co-operative Group’s acquisition of Somerfield and amid Sainsbury’s targeting of convenience to help it increase its selling space in the UK by 10%.

Dr Campbell describes Spar’s performance in the UK as “satisfactory to good” after “much better” trading at Christmas followed a “tight” autumn. “I believe the business is developing very well this year,” he said.

Full coverage of just-food’s interview with Spar International MD Dr Gordon Campbell will be published next week.