Captain Vigilante

Understanding. That was the response from the chattering classes when it was learned that Bill Grimsey had, after all, refused to take the leadership job in New Booker, provoking a statement expressing disappointment at his decision by Baugur, the new owners.
Despite being responsible for three BFG profit warnings, new Iceland strategies which the new boss has threatened to reverse and re-structuring of the cash and carry operation which lost sales in 2004, many in wholesaling believed Bill had made the best of a very difficult job.
On January 22 he was reported in The Daily Telegraph as saying he was “happy with his tenure at the company which was effectively bankrupt when he took charge”.

Talented. The Daily Mail business editor (in reporting his £3m pay- off) had it that Bill was expected to take the Booker leadership role only two days before he declined it. The Financial Times had the same line too.
Received wisdom is that Booker is lean enough and very talented, with the right initiatives in place, to compete. Good news. The industry needs a strong Booker.
Bestway‘s decision to buy Batleys, so becoming the new competing power base, came after the consortium led by Baugur bought Big Food Group, so the new chief at Booker suddenly has a new Champions’ League fixture to play. It will be on terrestrial.

Bejam. Do you remember the name? There’s a link with Baugur. John Apthorp ran it before it was bought by Malcolm Walker who now makes the most wonderful of returns to the establishment, heading up Iceland which he founded – and he is already expressing disbelief at the “suicidal” bid by his Baugur investor colleagues to buy Somerfield.
Vigilante recalls the golden era of grocery and frozen when oven-ready chickens were the new (gold medal winning) product sensation, and Bejam and Iceland were the nicest people to deal with if you happened to be selling the said product.

Courtesy. Sainsbury’s were nice people too. The salesman’s trip to Stamford Street – remembered by many Vigilante readers – with the welcoming quality coffee was never less than enjoyable.
A supplier reader – which narrows it down a little – tells of the similar courtesy with which salesmen are treated at Asda.
The chairman says buyers MUST be punctual in keeping their appointments with reps who MUST NOT be kept waiting, twiddling their thumbs or enjoying the exotic Leeds landscape or both.
It is with much regret that Vigilante reports that this level of courtesy is not a feature of the wholesale trade where suppliers are kept waiting. Why is this?

Shame. Wholesalers who are not in foodservice will warm to this story. These are the wholesalers who are convinced that they suffer hugely from pathetic service levels from suppliers who are conspiring to put them out of business.
We all know these wicked suppliers who prefer to give availability priority to the “mults” (nice pejorative noun, don’t you think?).
Persecuted retail-oriented wholesalers can take some comfort from the revelation that the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, did not have the black pudding promised by its menu available for breakfast on February 11.
This was enough to raise the temperature of one seeker of this delicacy, injected with it as he was during his indenture period at the Bury Times.
Which wholesaler supplies this luxury five star hotel? Who was the supplier who let you down? There is a need to know.

SAD. Wholesalers took the necessary re-call action quickly in the Sudan 1 crisis, especially Booker. Out of the hundreds of thousands of caterers and retailers supplied by wholesalers, it is not surprising that there were some who did not react quickly.
But was it wise for the Association of Convenience Stores to use the opportunity to showboat on its own behalf and appear on prime time tv to CONFIRM there was a problem with independents. Or was it a shot in the foot? All it did was to confirm in the mind of the viewer that independents were inefficient and a potential source of contaminated food.
Instead of stoking consumer fears about independents, ACS should have used the opportunity to advise retailers to contact their wholesalers if they were unsure – wholesalers are the independents’ lifeblood and vice versa.

Milked. Sales of big brand beers went down the pan for some wholesalers pre-Christmas, say the jungle drums. For some too, January sales are Norfolk, that is flat. Why?
Bill Grimsey blamed superstore price warfare. But was it all down to this? Are we suffering from more activity in the “milk run” market round our bigger council house and industrial estates?
Nielsen will tell us that independent beer volumes fall at Christmas – it is expected – and wholesalers understand this.
But big brand sales of beer appeared to have taken a knock in some quarters. Can the brewers – always quick to bang out a press release – tell us how they see it?

Financial. The grapevine has it that Brakes will float on the Stock Exchange somewhere around January next year, according to senior foodservice sources. But will the company meet rumour expectations?
Since he took up the reins, Bill Driscoll, chief executive, has transformed the old frozen empire of the brothers Brake, who made the selling of catering products an art form.
Ask yourself, could you see the former entrepreneurial family buying into Covent Garden and building a luxury show kitchen?
But that’s what the market demands today. The Brakes food centre is an iconic demonstration of confidence by a company which is sure-footed, acquisitive and focused.

Guess. It was a conversational scene. Just Vigilante and a supplier (which narrows it down a bit, again). The topic was wholesaling and the buyers and buying strategies which adorn our firmament. The supplier quoted a recent experience.
The gentleman in the scene volunteered a wholesaler who he thought, as a supplier, had the best buyers, who were fair, intelligent, polite (does this narrow things down?) and generally on the ball.
Then came the killer comment. Said he: “Of course, it’s only when you are half way home after the annual review and agreement on new terms (a euphemism for over-riders perhaps) that you wake up with a big shock, realising what they have done to you…”
Surely he must have been mistaken. Was he confused? Had he been to Cheshunt?

Moratorium. Retailers, for obvious reasons, do not look upon a moratorium on superstore acquisitions with enthusiasm.
They could do well out of the rush-to-buy policies of Tesco and Sainsbury.
But wholesalers see the picture on a wider screen. They seek a moratorium – and have been promised one by the OFT.
When our friend Eoin McGettigan was a wholesaler he supported the moratorium lobby. But now, sadly, he’s with the Co-op…

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