Manchester’s EventCity was buzzing last month as hundreds of retailers attending the Costcutter Expo were given an update on the retailer’s transition from Nisa to Palmer and Harvey as its major supplier, and The Buyco, the joint venture buying group announced last March.

Costcutter Group’s chief executive officer Darcy Willson-Rymer, said the transition process was on track, and would be complete by the end of next June. He also revealed initiatives on category management, IT and a new three-tier own-label range called Independent.

The company’s 27 company-owned stores have already been transferred to Palmer and Harvey, and have been used as trial sites to de-risk the entire process. It’s now the turn of seven member stores, who are about to transfer across from Nisa. The rest will follow.

"Last year I was in the job for one week and I asked for your trust," Willson-Rymer told retailers. "On March 13, I made a number of commitments. We stand here today half-way through the implementation and between that and this exhibition we’ve demonstrated the proof of the great progress we’re making. By June/July next year this is all going to be over and we’re going to have to continue to make huge progress in order for us to deliver for our customers. And that’s where it all becomes about the customers and service.

"Over the next few weeks and months, you’ll begin to notice positive change," Willson-Rymer stressed. "Our key priorities will be around range, promotions, marketing and availability. When we meet this time next year we’re going to be 100% of the way through this, but the challenge that we all face, is that shoppers are going to become more discerning, more demanding, requiring better service and better choice. And our competitors aren’t going to stand still, they are going to continue to evolve as well. So, as a group of retailers, we’re going to have to up our game, giving our shoppers the best possible experience."

The key message from suppliers is that the convenience sector is more important now than it has ever been, according to Willson-Rymer. "Most recognise that our sector has been under-serviced and under-invested for a long time. That balance is starting to change and starting to turn in our favour. The thing I can categorically tell you, is that every supplier I speak to understands that the independent retailer is vital to their success. However, there is one conversation that we’re going to have to have. We have to acknowledge that if we’re going to unlock more value and pass that through to the retailer, then we’re going to have to give our suppliers more certainty. The answer is not to push products, or start some large allocation process, but rather use the right category management process, the right tools, to ensure we get the right products in the right place all the time."

About 300 lines in the new Independent range will be available by Christmas; this will build to 750 SKUs by next summer. It will replace Nisa’s Heritage brand currently used by Costcutter and Kwiksave retailers. The company aims to develop it into a leading UK brand, not just a replacement for Heritage. The three-tier line-up includes the Trader range for shoppers on a budget, a core range with ’high-quality’ cupboard and fridge fillers, and the top end Specialist range.