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Russian discounter Mere finally names opening date for first UK store

Mere checkouts 2 Russian hard discounter Mere has finally nailed down an opening date for its first UK store, after pandemic disruption slowed work on the fitout. "On 14 August we will be glad to present our new retail model: a real hard discounter, with no shelves, no service, no convenience, just the lowest prices," Mere UK business development manager Aleksandr Chkalov told The Grocer.

Mere claims it will undercut even Lidl and Aldi by up to 30%, with a business model that sees suppliers delivering directly to stores and products displayed on the pallets they arrive on. The Russian discount giant prides itself on offering no customer service in order to keep prices low by having only eight staff per store. 

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React antibacterial wipes are among Mere's products

Source: Mere

The logo of Gem Imports, a wholesale supplier of discount product ranges, can been seen on unopened boxes

Source: Mere

Some general merchandise has also been delivered to the store

Source: Mere

Boxes of Goodwin's instant noodles sit on pallets opposite the as-yet unfilled chiller cabinets

Source: Mere

Pallets will be used to display products, such as the Rock bottled water and Laser tinned mackerel visible in this picture

Source: Mere

The blue cans are Warrior energy drinks

Source: Mere

Luxe and Cusheen toilet tissue can be seen against the far wall

Source: Mere Pictures given to The Grocer show some of the Preston store's products and brands as it readies for opening.

They include React antibacterial wipes, Maxsonic batteries, Luxe and Cusheen toilet tissue, Goodwin's instant noodles, Laser tinned mackerel and Warrior energy drinks. The store will have a maximum of 1,200 different products. Some of the unopened boxes bear the logo of Gem Imports, a wholesale supplier of discount product ranges run by Chris Edwards, who is also the MD of discounter chain One Below and whose father, Chris Edwards Sr, founded Poundworld.

Read more: What could Russian discounter Mere mean for the UK?

Chkalov said the store, which also has a walk-in chiller room, was still taking deliveries and it was too early to disclose further details of the range. 

Otherwise, "all the preparation procedures are successfully done," he said. "We are completely fitted and ready for the opening. "We are now on the verge of creating a new retail segment in the UK market and we are sure it will become pricelessly useful for the country and society." The Grocer revealed earlier this month Chkalov had initially thought the first UK store would open around the start of 2021, but fitout work had taken longer than expected with contractor staff working remotely.

The business is aiming for 300 UK stores within a decade.

The Preston opening is to be followed about a month later by a second in Caldicot and two more this year, in Castleford and Mold.

Founded in Krasnoyarsk in 2009, Mere trades in Russia as Svetofor, and has grown to a claimed 3,200 stores globally, including in Germany, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine.

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JTF Mega Discount Warehouse collapses with 500 job losses

JTF Store opening Forty-year-old discount chain JTF Mega Discount Warehouse has collapsed with the loss of 500 jobs.  The variety discounter had 12 stores in retail parks in the midlands and north of England, but closed them all between the end of May and Friday last week.

Staff were informed by email today of their redundancy with immediate effect. JTF chairman Arthur Harris, who bought the chain in January last year, told The Grocer the redundancies were "the only real course of action". "We believed we had secured a sale of the business but unfortunately the buyer pulled out at the last minute leaving nowhere to go," he said.

"JTF had a fabulous team. I believed I had done everything possible to turn it around, taking it into profit within four months, but just hadn't factored Covid into the scenario. Lockdown two and three wiped out fireworks and Christmas sales, two of the largest seasonal times for JTF."

A JTF spokesman said it continued to seek a buyer. "JTF Mega Discount Warehouse has issued a notice of intention to appoint an administrator, protecting the business for 14 days while it endeavours to secure a buyer," he said.  "The difficult decision comes after months of funding discussions and lobbying with local and national government to save the 40-year-old British retailer and protect the 500 people employed across its stores, warehouses and head office. "JTF was rescued from going into administration by its current owner in early January 2020.

New leadership took immediate steps to drastically reduce the business's overheads by circa GBP2.5m per annum and tackle GBP7m of debt which was successfully achieved, returning the business to profitability and achieving GBP1m net profit in four months. "The impact of the global pandemic which followed presented unforeseen and significant challenges for the retailer. The management team fought hard to secure the funding needed to survive the pandemic, securing support from many MPs, lobbying the government and exploring a great deal of funding options to no avail."

Staff, customers and local press had been told the store closures were temporary. A JTF shopworker told The Grocer: "We literally got the email today saying we're redundant. It says we'll be paid up until today.

"They closed Peterborough first and staff were told that was to relocate. As they closed the other stores we were told it was to relaunch.  "They've been closing about four every couple of weeks and the last four closed on Friday."

The Grocer understands very little stock had been delivered to stores since January. JTF required customers to be members and sold a wide range of products from garden furniture to grocery. In June last year Harris enlisted advisors Resolve as JTF's restructuring partner in a company voluntary arrangement intended to address legacy debts. 

As recently as May this year the business announced plans for a new retail concept and 50 new stores.

It said it was "introducing a unique retail concept to the high street".

It was called JTF Central and would  "place entertainment at the heart of the shopping experience, with ambitions to acquire 50 stores, ranging between 25,000 and 125,000 square feet, and create 2,000 new jobs in the process".

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Russian discounter Mere aiming for 300 UK stores in 10 years

Mere store interior Russian discounter Mere has a long-term target of over 300 stores in the UK within eight to 10 years, The Grocer has learned. The business, which claims it will undercut Lidl and Aldi by 20%-30%, is determined to scale its UK presence once processes have been established and bugs ironed out this year.

As revealed by The Grocer in May, the hard discounter plans to open its first four UK stores this year, in Preston, Castleford, Caldicot and Mold. The first, in Preston, is now set to open in mid-July, a date pushed back from June as Mere meets with suppliers and manufacturers and continues to fit out the site. The business is also currently advertising for staff for both the Preston and Caldicot stores, including an assistant manager to handle day-to-day running.

Mere's unusual operating model sees suppliers required to deliver directly to stores, and paid only for stock that is sold. Food will be displayed on pallets in stores of about 10,000 sq ft, including a walk-in chiller. Each will have a maximum of 1,200 SKUs across ambient, chilled and frozen, and eight staff, including about four cashiers and three handling deliveries.

The extreme low-cost operating model is seen as non-negotiable by Mere, and fundamental to making it unlike any existing UK retailer, with prices a third cheaper but also no customer service. Mere's Russian discounter parent Torgservis was founded in 2009 in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, by entrepreneur brothers Sergei and Andrei Schneider. In Russia, where the businesses trades as Svetofor, it has over 1,000 stores.

It began opening stores in Europe under the name Mere in 2018, and is now in Germany, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine, with plans to enter Italy, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and the US, as well as the UK. It has a claimed 3,200 stores globally. In its UK growth plans, the business is understood to be targeting any part of the country where it can lease sites meeting its requirements, including accessibility from major roads.

"The arrival of the Siberians to the UK is interesting and all those in the discount arena should be paying attention," said Shore Capital analyst Clive Black, calling the model a "hark back to the early days of limited assortment supermarkets in the UK".

"Mere is right that in any market there are shoppers that seek out deep value [over service]," Black added.

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New discounter Mere looking for landlords across the UK

Mere Preston New discount food retailer Mere is looking for landlords across the country as it plans its expansion in the UK. The Russian-founded chain, which The Grocer last week revealed was set to open its first four UK stores this summer, has published a wish list of further locations.

The business is appealing for landlords to contact it via its website. "We are looking for suitable locations across UK to expand our retail chain," the site says. "At the moment, despite coronavirus, we are actively involved with landlords, their representatives and agents with the aim to open our Mere retail stores ASAP." The locations listed are Devon, Stockport, Neath, Banbury, Selby, Bradford, Middlesbrough, Grantham, Kettering, Plymouth, Beckenham, Gloucester, Northampton, Cardiff, Oswestry, Barnsley, Sheffield, Exeter, Stretford, Southampton, south Scotland and Wales.

The discounter is looking for sites of around 10,000 sq ft, with parking spaces for 30-40 cars and a local population of 60,000 or more. Mere is already in talks with suppliers over its first four planned UK stores, with the first set to open in Preston next month. It is to be followed by a second site in the north of England, in Castleford, and two in Wales, in Mold and Caldicot.

The retailer trades as Svetofor in Russia, where it was founded in 2009. It has about 3,200 stores internationally and has been opening in Europe since 2018 under the name Mere, including in Germany, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine. As well as the UK, it plans to soon enter Italy, Spain, Greece and Bulgaria.

The company claims it will undercut existing UK discounters by 20%-30%, thanks to a no-frills model that sees suppliers deliver directly to stores and goods sold from pallets. Stores feature a walk-in chiller room, and only eight staff to keep costs down. The website also features a page looking for shopfitters, listing some of the prices paid, including GBP400 for "used freezers" and GBP50 for "shopping carts".

The appeal for UK landlords and shopfitters was spotted by Grocery Insight director Steve Dresser following The Grocer's story on Mere's UK plans last week. "Tight costings on the shop fitting," Dresser tweeted. "They certainly seem to know what they are doing in this regard. Best of British to them."

Mere UK head of buying Pavels Antonovs last week told The Grocer the chain would fill a "gap in the market" in the UK, with no competitors. Each store is to have a maximum of 1,200 SKUs, including ambient, chilled and frozen, but with no "fast perishable goods" such as bakery, the website says. Newspapers, magazines and "premium goods" will also be absent.

Tight costings on the shop fitting.

They certainly seem to know what they are doing in this regard.

Best of British to them. pic.twitter.com/009Xlyr4Pb

-- Steve Dresser (@dresserman) May 8, 2021

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New discounter Mere looking for landlords across the UK

Mere Preston chiller area New discount food retailer Mere is looking for landlords across the country as it plans its expansion in the UK. The Russian-founded chain, which The Grocer last week revealed was set to open its first four UK stores this summer, has published a wish list of further locations.

The business is appealing for landlords to contact it via its website. "We are looking for suitable locations across UK to expand our retail chain," the site says. "At the moment, despite coronavirus, we are actively involved with landlords, their representatives and agents with the aim to open our Mere retail stores ASAP." The locations listed are Devon, Stockport, Neath, Banbury, Selby, Bradford, Middlesbrough, Grantham, Kettering, Plymouth, Beckenham, Gloucester, Northampton, Cardiff, Oswestry, Barnsley, Sheffield, Exeter, Stretford, Southampton, south Scotland and Wales.

The discounter is looking for sites of around 10,000 sq ft, with parking spaces for 30-40 cars and a local population of 60,000 or more. Mere is already in talks with suppliers over its first four planned UK stores, with the first set to open in Preston next month. It is to be followed by a second site in the north of England, in Castleford, and two in Wales, in Mold and Caldicot.

The retailer trades as Svetofor in Russia, where it was founded in 2009. It has about 3,200 stores internationally and has been opening in Europe since 2018 under the name Mere, including in Germany, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine. As well as the UK, it plans to soon enter Italy, Spain, Greece and Bulgaria.

The company claims it will undercut existing UK discounters by 20%-30%, thanks to a no-frills model that sees suppliers deliver directly to stores and goods sold from pallets. Stores feature a walk-in chiller room, and only eight staff to keep costs down. The website also features a page looking for shopfitters, listing some of the prices paid, including GBP400 for "used freezers" and GBP50 for "shopping carts".

The appeal for UK landlords and shopfitters was spotted by Grocery Insight director Steve Dresser following The Grocer's story on Mere's UK plans last week. "Tight costings on the shop fitting," Dresser tweeted. "They certainly seem to know what they are doing in this regard. Best of British to them."

Mere UK head of buying Pavels Antonovs last week told The Grocer the chain would fill a "gap in the market" in the UK, with no competitors. Each store is to have a maximum of 1,200 SKUs, including ambient, chilled and frozen, but with no "fast perishable goods" such as bakery, the website says. Newspapers, magazines and "premium goods" will also be absent.

Tight costings on the shop fitting.

They certainly seem to know what they are doing in this regard.

Best of British to them. pic.twitter.com/009Xlyr4Pb

-- Steve Dresser (@dresserman) May 8, 2021

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Lidl offers £10 off £40 of shopping in Christmas voucher promotion – The Grocer

Lidl store Lidl is offering GBP10 off a GBP40 basket of shopping in a national newspaper voucher campaign set to launch this week. The vouchers are due to appear in The Sun and The Times on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week, and will be valid in stores until 18 December.

Lidl GB CEO Christian Hartnagel said it was a way of also giving something back to customers after the business last week joined a string of supermarkets announcing plans to pay back business rates relief. "Giving the business rates back was the right thing to do so it can go to those who need it more," he said. "We believe it is also the right thing to do to give something to our customers for whom 2020 has been a tough year. "We are well known for our commitment to never being beaten on price, a guiding principle that places our customers at the heart of every decision we make.

This year has been one like no other and has understandably left people feeling uncertain. "Through this campaign, however, one thing you can be sure of is that Lidl will be there for you and your family, continuing to offer the lowest prices on the market, whilst giving you a little bit extra this Christmas. It's the Lidl way to do things."

Customers are limited to one voucher per transaction and alcohol is excluded from the offer.