Booker flourishes with late boost in hot March

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The UK’s biggest cash-and-carry wholesaler recorded annual sales of nearly £4 billion yesterday after a mini heatwave gave a late flourish to trading.

Booker, which has 172 branches and supplies nearly half a million businesses including corner shops, pubs and restaurants, said sales rose 4.8 per cent in the 12 weeks to 23 March.

The resurgent company has consistently outperformed the grocery market in recent months, but said the warm weather in March gave sales a further lift by encouraging consumers to buy more food and drink from its independent retailers and catering customers.

The strong performance means Booker, which supplies customers including Marks & Spencer, Odeon cinemas and WH Smith’s shops in transport hubs, notched a 7.3 per cent increase in full-year sales to £3.9bn.

It was helped by winning 22,000 more customers than the year before – up 5 per cent to 481,000 – and strong sales of fresh products after it improved its range and pricing in a bid to make greater inroads into the catering market.

Booker has seen its share price quadruple in the past three years after a turnaround led by chief executive Charles Wilson. It said internet sales increased by 21 per cent to £635 million in the year, while its delivered wholesale businesses are doing well. It will launch a business delivering to restaurants in the summer.

Meanwhile, the group has also branched out into India, recently opening its fourth depot and has potential for further expansion.

Matthew McEachran, an analyst at Singer Capital Markets, said full-year sales were a little higher than his expectations. But with many of them coming from lower margin tobacco products, he did not expect this to significantly impact on his full-year profit forecast for a 22 per cent increase in underlying profits to £82m.