Sales to Booker’s catering and licensed customers returned to growth for the last quarter, according to director of catering development Ron Hickey.
He said 18 months ago quarterly sales fell by 6%, but since then a new policy focusing on greater choice, keener prices and improved service had produced a turnaround in the business. Sales were up 1.9% in the last quarter.
Hickey said one of the ways Booker had improved its service was by doubling its delivery fleet over the past 18 months.
He said only six out of its 172 depots across the UK did not offer deliveries and it even had vehicles delivering into these areas.
“We are giving local service and local accountability from local branches,” he added.
Choice had been increased in a number of ways, said Hickey. Availability of local products was one priority. For example, Cornish branches provided Cornish ale, ice cream, cheese, beef, confectionery and even fresh ham.
Another innovation was with the introduction of a Polish range of 300 lines to provide for increasing demand for food from eastern Europe.
On own label, Hickey said Booker’s Chef’s Larder range was the largest range for caterers with 1,800 lines, “but that wasn’t enough because customers wanted more choice so what we delivered was a new range called Booker Basics”. This covered cheaper, commodity type products, he said.
A range of Fair Trade products such as chocolate, coffee and wine had also been introduced, he said.
A new service for licensed customers, offering kegs, was being also being rolled out. He said: “We are not trying to compete with brewers, but offering a top-up solution for our customers.”
On prices, he said the rollback programme was permanently reducing prices on hundreds of best selling lines.
He said Booker had also reacted to customer demand by simplifying promotions, with fewer, bigger offers.