Musgrave CEO: Protecting Ireland's SME sector is vital

Noel Keeley, CEO of Musgrave said Ireland's grocery sector has seen increased sales volumes but at a much lower margin.

The head of food retailer and SuperValu owner Musgrave said the Government must protect Ireland's SME sector and invest in the country's capital infrastructure as the economy emerges from the impact of Covid-19.

Noel Keeley the CEO of the food retailer and wholesaler which operate 1,400 stores including the Centra, MarketPlace and La Rousse Foods, also said the people of Ireland needed to come together to reboot the economy in the same way as we came together to combat the threat of the virus.

He was speaking at the monthly Cork Chamber Business Breakfast Live event which was hosted online.

Mr Keeley spoke about the Musgrave Group's response to the challenge of the pandemic and paid tribute to the staff working in stores and supermarkets across the country.

As the economy starts to reopen on a phased basis, he said the Government needed to focus on capital spending and the SME sector in particular.

"The government need to look at spending their out of this recession, not in an irresponsible way, and making sure that we begin to put money towards the capital development and infrastructure," he said.

"But probably the most important sector is the SME sector. We sometimes forget that the vast majority of the working population works for SMEs.

"The Government really needs to make sure that the SMEs are supported and ultimately are in a position to return to trade, whether that is in the hospitality industry or in services."

They have got to be supported or we will have very significant problems on our hand.

Following an initial surge in panic buying when Government restrictions first came into effect Mr Keeley said they overcame the issue and they never reached a point where there was concern about food availability. 

He said the pandemic has also changed the types of products being purchased and the way people shop.

"Sales are up but footfall is down. So when people are going to a store they are buying much more. The transaction size has gone up significantly," he said.

"They are also buying different things. The push into the store has been into ambient groceries, personal care, cleaning products and away from things like food-to-go and deli products.

"As a consequence of that, a lot of people think that the grocery sector is in a purple patch but most grocery if not all are experiencing the same thing. Increased volumes of sale but at a much lower margin."

Despite the difficulties facing the economy, Mr Keeley said he was confident we will emerge from the crisis in a stronger position.He said the spirit and discipline the country showed by curtailing their freedoms in recent weeks should be harnessed again to reboot the economy.

"We need to come together as a people and say we are going to support local, we are going stay at home for holidays we are going to go out to restaurants when they open and get our economy up and running again because the reality is that we all live off each other."

"In the same way that we ‘called Ireland’ to beat coronavirus we need to ‘call Ireland’ to reboot our economy."

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