Spar wholesaler CJ Lang has reported its fifth year of growth, driven by its customer-facing strategy.

In its financial statement for the year-ending 30th April 2023, C J Lang & Son Limited reported a pre-tax profits increase of 10.3% to £3.7m and that its net turnover was up 4.2% to £221.3m. This was their fifth year of growth in underlying profitability since the development of their five-pillar, customer facing business strategy.

CEO Colin McLean explained the growth over the past year. “Being genuinely Scottish has enabled us to adapt quickly and react flexibly to the ever-changing retail landscape and continue to provide a first-class service to our independent retail customers, consumers and communities at a time when they have needed us most. The company has also been first to market in the Scottish convenience marketplace with Prime Hydration drinks and Mr Beast Feastables chocolate.”

Speaking to Convenience Store, McLean said that impulse and grocery categories continue to do well, helped by Prime and Mr Beast deals, and that food to go is going from strength to strength. He sees an opportunity for the frozen and fresh categories to see growth over the next year as well.

He says that while some retailers claim to be local, CJ Lang is “genuinely Scottish” which creates an advantage that the competition doesn’t have. “Our headquarters is in Dundee and 50% of our products are produced in Scotland. It means we can react far better than our competition and tailor our stores to the needs of their communities.”

CJ Lang recently announced the acquisition of the family-owned, Glasgow convenience chain Scotfresh, and added 11 stores during the financial year. The estate currently stands at 130 company-owned stores and 203 independent stores, with McLean outlining investment in the group.

“Record levels of business investment also include new forecasting and demand planning systems being implemented for improved ‘end-to-end’ customer availability from supplier, warehousing and into Spar stores.

“In the past 12 months, there has been significant investment across the Spar company store estate with new acquisitions at Deveron Road in Troon and Castletown near Thurso. The company store development programme including the award-winning store at Crosshouse, Kilmarnock, together with a number of other sites where new energy saving refrigeration, digital lighting and electronic shelf edge labels have all been progressively rolled out. A new ‘CJ’s’ food to go offer was recently launched in Garthamlock, with a variety of baguettes, chicken chunks and other tasty options, including a full offer of frozen drinks now on the menu.”

Despite this investment, McLean explained that the priority for the business doesn’t involve adding huge numbers of stores to the estate.

“It’s not a numbers game – I want to raise the standards of the brand with the goal of being the best Scottish convenience group. We want to be at the point that a customer wouldn’t know the difference between a managed store and an independent retailer store, with both using learnings from each other.”

While the business continues to do well, McLean adds that staffing remains a challenge. “It’s still the biggest challenge for the sector. We have some amazing stores with great potential but there’s a struggle to get staff for them.”

He says CJ Lang is being proactive when it comes to store theft. “To their credit, the Scottish government has been ahead of the game when it comes to legislation on attacks against shop workers but what we’ve been doing is working with the police and schools to take a more proactive approach to theft.”

He added that he wouldn’t rule out body cameras for staff if they were needed in a particular store.