With news earlier this month that Canadian based Irving Oil has acquired one of Ireland’s major fuel retailers Top Oil, eyebrows have certainly been raised yet again and questions asked about just what’s going on between the Irish and the Americans. This is now the third trans-Atlantic Irish US agreement in recent times following Circle K’s adoption of the Topaz network in 2015 and last year’s Applegreen acquisition of 34 sites in South Carolina, adding to the 13 they already owned in Long Island, Massachusetts. This is not Irving’s first foray into the Irish market either, as in 2016 it bought Whitegate, Irelands only oil refinery which supplies about 40 per cent of Ireland’s transport and heating fuel.
A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
The strong relationship existing between both countries, dating back the early eighteenth century must be considered a factor in these deals as with each one there is definitely a feeling of home from home on both sides. For those who need to recall their history lessons, a massive number of Irish people immigrated to America during the Irish Potato Famine making the voyage on what were called the “ Famine Ships” It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930 and by 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States.
Many Irish settled in Boston and New York and it’s somewhat comforting to know that their descendants have become a vibrant part of American culture, throwing up many famous names along the way including two former American Presidents, John F Kennedy and Barack Obama, three extremely famous actors, George Clooney and Harrison Ford and Mark Wahlberg and the biggest selling female recording artist of all time, Mariah Carey.
LEADERS IN CONVENIENCE
To think that some of what happened one way across the Atlantic 150 years ago, is coming back the other way many years later, has a certain feel good factor about it, especially I would say for Ireland, which nowadays is recognised worldwide for its advanced convenience store concepts. As the rates of employment soar in Ireland, convenience retailing, a huge driver behind consumer spend, is enjoying a massive boom on the island as shoppers have more discretionary income and they are happy to splash out on the services and goods that they feel meets their interests most.
Ireland’s convenience stores, in recent years, have not been afraid experimenting with new technologies or new fresh lines and the latest food-to-go options, to enhance the customer experience. An attitude, which from a global perspective, seems to be keeping them way ahead of the pack. A modern deli serving a range of fresh and healthy meal options is, for example, common place in the majority of Irish convenience stores as retailers respond positively to consumer demand for further choice in the fresh and health categories.
So to conclude this story I have to ask myself, who is learning from who and which is the greater authority on convenience retailing? Is it America, home to the biggest convenience stores in the world like 7-11, which also has the largest number of fuel stations in the US, or is it Ireland with its amazing fresh and healthy food to go options? When I spoke to Damien Byrne, Head of Franchise Operations from Circle K recently, he said it’s a bit of both really and that a lot can be learned from each other. It’s probably the kind of answer that I was expecting to be honest, but more to the point it possibly underlines further why USA operators and Irish ones make such a good fit in this sector.