While committed to offering the leading brands at the best prices, own-label is a key part of Booker’s offering. Half-year sales of entry-level range Chef’s Essentials were £55m, up 33%, with Chef’s Larder up 26% at £124m.
The ‘good-better-best’ approach that has served the group so well in its retail offering is proving effective in catering, too. David Cattrall, Booker’s sales director for catering, talks through the different bacon choices as an example: Chef’s Essentials at £6.99 a kilo, Chef’s Larder at £7.99 and Chef’s Larder Premium (a thicker cut with a drier cure) at £8.99. But the cheapest still has to be good enough for a professional caterer to use.
He says: “Chef’s Essentials is our leading price-point. It’s something we feel no other competitor has. It’s still a good thick cut of bacon. You need to make sure that when they put it in the frying pan, it does the job properly, so it doesn’t curl up, it doesn’t rip apart when you pick it up. So it’s a really good quality product even though it’s our entry price, and that’s the same throughout the range.”
However, Booker is now giving its depots greater scope to be individualistic and come up with offerings that will appeal to the customers in their localities. For example, Watford area manager Stephen Cadwell has struck a deal with a local greengrocer to offer year-round pre-peeled vegetables. It is something Booker cannot afford to run nationally, but here it works.
Farrant says: “We’ve talked about good, better and best ranging, and in the past that may have been good enough. But now independent caterers want to differentiate in all sorts of other ways. A lot of them want more local products. In other locations, they want more organic or more Fairtrade products. And in others, they might want gluten-free offerings.
“So we are working out the core proposition we stock in the cash & carry and what we have in our portfolio that can be ordered for delivery within 24-48 hours.”
He says that there is great potential for suppliers to reach the foodservice market: “We can give them a new channel for their market that they never had the opportunity to do before – it’s new ground, new volume, and a new and exciting market for them.”
For any venue serving food, cleaning products are a must and Clean Pro is Booker’s recently developed own-label range. It covers everything from general purpose products to those for heavy-duty, deep fat fryers. The brochure also has a section for keeping complete records of cleaning and staff training.
The UK is heading towards the point where all eateries will be obliged to display their food hygiene ratings in their windows – it’s already compulsory in Wales. Wholesalers have a role to play in helping customers get top marks in health inspections.
“The key thing is that if you don’t have the right cleaning and hygiene records, the environmental health officer can shut you down and you will be out of business,” says Farrant.
The foodservice market is driving growth for Booker and the group has plans to up its game in the on-trade. “We are putting Classic Drinks together with Makro and Booker to become the new force in the on-trade,” says Farrant.
There is an opportunity here to respond to customer needs – particularly in fast-growing categories such as gin.
“The pubs that are doing well are selling food, but they’re bringing in people who want to drink something with their food,” says Cattrall. “With gin, for example, it’s no longer just about Gordon’s – we’ve seen the likes of Tanqueray, Saffron Gin and Hendrick’s coming into the market to give more premiumisation.”
Farrant is uncertain whether the on-trade market will grow overall, but he says that by getting its offering right, there is certainly room for Booker to increase its share.