Booker has revealed plans to open a depot in Mumbai, India, and announced further sales growth.
Chief executive Charles Wilson, who was in India three weeks ago to meet suppliers and see the team working out there, said the new depot would be open by the end of the summer.
He said a team of more than 10 staff were in Mumbai and were being led by Zunaid Bangee, who is Indian and has worked for Booker for 20 years, most recently as north west regional director responsible for 30 branches and £600m turnover.
The new depot will be a converted former factory, providing 35,000sq ft of space and 100 jobs. Wilson said the brief was to develop something tailored to the needs of food stores and restaurants in Mumbai, but bringing in aspects of Booker such as branch operating systems and some of the own labels which might work well.
He said: “We have a good relationship with the Anglo Indian business community and quite a lot of them have asked whether we have considered opening in India because they thought we could do well there, and this is our response.”
He said Booker would monitor the results of the first depot, possibly for as long as a year, before deciding whether to open more branches.
Booker also announced sales in the final quarter ending March 27 were up 6.4% on the same period last year. Non-tobacco like-for-likes rose by 10.2%, while like-for-like tobacco sales were up 1.2%.
Wilson said surveys of 40,000 customers showed they recognised an improvement in choice, service and pricing, and had rewarded Booker with more of their spend.
He estimated about two thirds of the extra sales were down to existing customers spending more and one third new customers.
He said beer sales had been affected by competition from duty fraudsters and the major multiples, but otherwise the non-tobacco sales growth had been across all categories.
Total sales in the 52 weeks to March 27 were up by 3.3% and total like-for-likes up by 2.8%. Like-for-like non-tobacco sales rose by 5.7%, while like-for-like tobacco sales declined by 1.5%.
He said net debt was cut to around £25m compared with £47m a year ago and profits remain in line with management expectations.
Internet sales reached £250m, compared with £93m the previous year.