The UK’s biggest wholesaler, Booker, today announced a 1.9% decline in full year total like-for-like sales, but an 11% rise in pre-tax profits.
Like-for-like sales to retailers were down by 2.2% including tobacco, and by 0.3% excluding tobacco, in the 52 weeks to March 25, 2016.
The wholesaler blamed the fall on the impact of the tobacco display ban, the new drink-drive laws in Scotland, bad weather and food price deflation.
However, despite this dip, pre-tax profits rose by 11% to £155.1m while profit after tax increased by 9% to £127.8m.
Total sales were up 5% to £5bn with non-tobacco sales up 6.3% and tobacco sales up 2.2%.
Trading at the group, which acquired Budgens and Londis in September 2015, was also up in the first seven weeks of the new financial year, chief executive Charles Wilson said.
Since joining the group, Budgens and Londis had generated £13m of cash The company was close to selling off the last of its company-owned Budgens stores, with some being offered to existing Budgens store owners and some 15 others offered to the Co-Op. The regulatory authorities were investigating the latter deal, said Wilson.
The Booker chief was upbeat, but anticipated challenging times ahead.
“We anticipate that the challenging consumer and market environment will persist through the coming year and the UK’s food market remains very competitive,” he said. “Whilst there is increasing price competition in the UK grocery and discount sectors, we will continue to deliver our plans to offer our customers even better choice, prices and service supported by the continued delivery of our efficiency programmes. We are on track to deliver an outcome for the new financial year in line with our plans and to make progress in this challenging environment.”
The company was committed to growing all four of its retail brands, Londis, Budgens, Premier and Family Shopper, in 2016 and would do this by improving its fresh offer and strengthening its own brand and the supply chain, Booker’s managing director of retail Steve Fox added.
The Premier and Family Shopper brands have continued to grow in the past year, with non-tobacco sales to Premier customers up 10% and store numbers up by 131 to 3,213. There are now 42 Family Shopper stores trading and the response to the format had “been encouraging”.
“Our retail business has had a good year. As our customers have grown, we have grown too. Customer satisfaction has improved and the integration of Londis and Budgens is on track. Although the outlook remains challenging, I’m looking forward to continuing to grow our customers business through increasing choice, lowering prices and improving our service,” Fox added.
Wilson said that the 5,000 Budgens, Londis, Premier and Family Shopper stores were responsible for £1.7bn in wholesale turnover.
On the subject of the upcoming EU referendum and a possible “Brexit”, Wilson said that this would not materially affect customers, but added that the National Living Wage and pensions enrolment were “real’ issues.
“We have to concentrate on helping our catering and retail customers to make more with Booker and save more with Booker,” he said.
We’ll have more on Booker in the June issue of Wholesale News.