After getting the green light from the majority of members of Today’s Group and Landmark Wholesale, the Unitas Wholesale buying group has been officially confirmed.
“Through enhanced scale, relevance and capability, Unitas will be the sustainable wholesale business partner for its supplier base, creating an alternative route to market in the face of the consolidation happening within the wholesale sector,” says Today’s managing director Darren Goldney, who will assume the role of MD of Unitas, with Landmark MD John Mills becoming deputy MD.
Where does this merger leave the sector’s other buying groups, though?
Neil Turton, the former boss of Nisa-Today’s before the two groups went their separate ways, recently joined the Sugro buying group as MD.
On Unitas, Turton says: “Anything that makes independent wholesalers and the customers they serve more profitable and sustainable has to be a good thing. I am open to cooperating to those ends, but without compromising Sugro’s DNA and identity.”
Building on his point, Turton is bullish about the future for Sugro, highlighting that his appointment, along with Yulia Goodwin’s as head of trading, marks a fresh start for the group.
“Sugro’s future is as an independent group with a distinct identity,” Turton says. “We will not be the largest group, but I am working with the board to create a new strategy based on being the best group. ‘Best’ in this sense means delivering growth; helping our members be the best wholesalers they can be; creating customer demand for them; and being the most agile, the fastest, having great people and so on.”
With Landmark having become more focused on the foodservice market, as encapsulated by the Fairway Foodservice buying group joining Landmark earlier this year, what does the Unitas merger mean for the channel’s foodservice experts?
Nick Redford, MD of foodservice specialist buying group Caterforce, has been a keen observer of what is going on. He says: “It will be interesting to see what additional benefits can come out of it given Today’s and Landmark were sizeable groups in their own right. I can see the rationale for the retail-focused business in reaction to the Booker/Tesco merger, but I am not sure the additional complexity will help create a common foodservice solution.”
Redford is adamant, though, that the creation of Unitas changes nothing for Caterforce. “Our strategy is 100% based on the requirements of delivered foodservice, and while scale may shave a few pence off a can of fizzy drink, delivered foodservice is about synergy, compliance and tailoring a customer-focused solution alongside the right commercial structure for this channel,” he says.
“The customer is always the primary focus, and having a high customer overlap enables greater synergies – 80% of our total group sales go to just seven types of caterers,” Redford notes.
Palmer & Harvey
As an associate member of Landmark, the Confex buying group is in a different boat. It will continue as an associate member of Unitas. Confex members will have an allied national promotional plan with Unitas. And the buying group will continue to combine terms with Unitas where it is in the interests of Confex members.
“Overall we see this merger as a positive move from a Confex perspective, with the combined turnover increasing to £8.5bn, resulting in improved buying power where scale is applicable,” says Confex marketing manager Jess Douglas.
“It was the right time to merge and form a group which can win over ex-Palmer & Harvey business while being able to leverage the same deals as the merged Booker/Tesco, and perhaps even a merged Asda/Sainsbury’s. There is a new world order in wholesale and Confex is excited to be at the forefront of this going into our 47th year of trading.”
Douglas thinks the creation of Unitas offers Confex more opportunities than challenges, singling out the integration of a new Unitas head office as the biggest of them all.
She expects the administration side of things will take a bit of time to bed in, but points to the fact that Confex’s management had pre-empted the merger, and has held positive discussions with Goldney and Mills, making Douglas confident that “we can all work towards the November deadline to achieve a great platform for 2019 trading”.
With wholesale continuing to face myriad threats and always having to adapt and evolve, the channel requires strong, battle-ready buying groups.
What is clear from the messages delivered by all parties is that whatever major developments happen in wholesale, or which affect wholesale, these groups believe themselves to be fighting fit.
Read more: Unitas leadership team revealed