Booker boss: ‘Tesco deal is not a betrayal’

Charles Wilson has strongly dismissed claims that the merger with Tesco in any way betrays Booker’s customer base.

The Booker Group CEO was speaking on the day that rocked the business world and which saw social media go into meltdown following the revelation of the UK’s biggest wholesaler and UK’s biggest supermarket priming themselves for a £3.7bn merger.

Some retailers expressed their shock that Booker had partnered with a company that they perceive works to put them out of business, even if Tesco CEO’s Dave Lewis rationale for the deal is the opportunity Booker presents to Tesco in terms of tapping into the booming out-of-home food market.

But Wilson countered: “It is not a betrayal. We are very lucky that we are privileged to service a huge customer base, and we have earned that. Our customers compete with Tesco on the high street, and they have for a long time, but at the moment the challenges are far more than that – The Co-op, Aldi, and Lidl. And they are seeing rates go up, costs of labour going up, pension auto-enrolment and a whole lot of other factors.

“We are very confident that this enlarged group will be able to help them compete in the years ahead and do a better job for their consumers. But customers are ultimately free to do what they like.”

Wilson said that the chance to take advantage of Tesco’s fleet of 5,200 vehicles was an exciting opportunity for the wholesaler; while he would not be drawn on what the move might mean for the business’ depots, he did note the potential the merger creates to put more volume through Booker’s regional distribution centres.

Wilson also noted:

  • That while he and Booker chairman Stewart Gilliland will join the combined business’ board, Wilson also expects Booker COO Guy Farrant – who said that this move represents “the most exciting time I have ever known” – and finance director Jonathan Prentis to remain within the new, enlarged group;
  • Talks over shared use of technology and apps are due to be held at a later date;
  • That the possibility of the Clubcard scheme being deployed in Budgens, Londis and Premier stores is yet to be discussed;
  • That he expects no problems with regards to the deal getting the green light from the Competition and Markets Authority.

The business’ combined sales last year amount to £53.4bn – Tesco accounted for £48.4bn of that figure.

Booker’s wholesale rivals have largely responded positively to the move, spotting the opportunities that it opens up for them in terms of marketing themselves to independent retailers and caterers.

Whether this is a sign of mergers to come for other wholesalers/supermarkets remains to be seen.


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