buyer’s diary


The overnight snow and impassable roads sent droves of consumers into their local stores on Sunday morning.

Usual panic buying resulted hitting supplies of bread and milk, but worse still was the absence of newspapers, with news wholesalers unable to get through. The cost to the independent trade must be enormous.

Steve Parfett’s revelation in The Grocer that one of his customers purchased more than pound;20,000 of booze from multiple outlets over Christmas, came as no surprise. We have all witnessed both retail and catering customers, publicans in particular, taking advantage of retail deals at price points we can only dream of. And who can blame them?

The words ‘level’ and ‘playing fields’ don’t mean a lot to most manufacturers and suppliers these days. What the wholesale trade does for these organisations is amazing, getting their products into tens of thousands of independent retail and catering outlets in every corner of the country outlets they could not possibly reach any other way. The same edition of The Grocer reported that average wholesale margins have been squeezed to just 0.8%. It’s about time suppliers rediscovered the vital role we play in the distribution of their brands and reward us accordingly.


Last year one of our multiple competitors strengthened its drinks business.

It acquired a small delivered trade wholesale business with over 2,000 trade accounts, a move that will not only help increase its influence in the on-trade, but also provide opportunities to expand its highly regarded foodservice programme.

It takes time for the impact of such an acquisition to be felt in the marketplace, allowing us to react and plan our response to their developments. The independent free on-trade is under considerable pressure. Pub beer sales are down by over 3% in volume and creative competition from restaurant chains, many linked in to pub groups, is drawing these declining volumes in their direction. Can we expect further acquisitions in the future?

One imaginative local operator rewarded every Christmas booking with an envelope containing a discount voucher to be used to reduce the cost of a future purchase between 20% and 50%, a huge incentive to return to the venue. Now they are adding a voucher for every pound;10 spent to reduce the cost of a further meal in their restaurant.


Asda is opening 25 stores and three depots, creating 5,000 new jobs in 2012.

At what cost to the independent sector? Asda says the jobs are part of a pound;500m expansion drive, including the refurbishment of over 40 existing stores. If I am angry, it is because both government and the media praises Asda for creating new employment yet forgets that thousands of jobs will be lost in the independent sector, not to mention the demise of hundreds of small businesses.

Philadelphia with Cadbury milk chocolate. Who could ever have dreamt this coming together from the recently merged Kraft and Cadbury businesses. A pound;3.2m marketing spend suggests this could become the spreadable snacking sensation of the year. What’s next? A Kraft Dairy Lea Creme Egg?

Mcvitie’s Jaffa Cake brand activity over the past few months suggests it is out to make a huge impact in the biscuit category market share. The giant long pack at Christmas sold through retail very well and the current 100% extra packs, seen widely through independent channels, is adding to the brand’s momentum.


The FWD is calling for industry cooperation and government intervention to prevent the illegal sale of duty-unpaid alcohol.

This follows a National Audit Office report criticised HMRC for failing to engage the supply chain in getting to grips with the problem.

Wind back the clock nearly 20 years when representatives of major suppliers and wholesalers met with MPs and government officials at Booker headquarters to draw attention the plight of the independent trade who were suffering substantial sales losses as a direct result of duty fraud. That day the wholesale trade failed to convince our Westminster friends to take action. That we are still fighting for action 20 years on is a sad reflection on the way government deals with multi-billion pound revenue losses and massive wide scale criminal activities.


Praise to The Grocer for introducing its Hidden Heroes of Grocery feature.

The fat cats pull in the big bonuses but individuals at the shop face make the shopping experience special for consumers.

Men’s grooming is a category independents have had little success in so it’s hard to know whether there is a worthwhile opportunity for Unilever’s new Lynx shampoo and haircare range in our sector. We’ll sit on the fence for a while and see what happens.

I am surprised to see a leading foodservice player urging customers to forgo branded products in favour of its own label to save money or should that read ‘make more profit’. I don’t know what kind of relationship this company has with its suppliers, but we depend on major brands investing in us, supporting our promotional programme and working in partnership, using their expertise to help us grow our business. And as for the taste of tomato ketchup, it has to be Heinz.

It appears that no alcohol and low alcohol drinks have grown by 5% over the past year. The launch of 0% alcohol Equator is pitched at ‘affluent males in their late 20s, looking for a healthier and premium alternative to alcohol’. Ever thought about a delicious glass of Tropicana orange juice or fresh milk?

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