Steve Fox is in a good mood. And as sales director for retail at one of the UK's most successful grocery wholesalers, it's pretty easy to see why. (Oh, and also helping is the fact that after our interview at Booker's 88,000sq ft depot in Rochester, Kent, he's off to celebrate a landmark year for the company at its glittering Bollywood-themed party.)

In a year which has been tough for many businesses, Booker has flourished. The wholesaler, which recently opened its first depot in India (hence the Bollywood-inspired party) saw a 12.1% increase in half-year pre-tax profits to £29.7m in October, driven by an inexorable increase in sales.

Fox attributes the climb to a number of things, but in his opinion it's price that has helped the most.

"It's not rocket science, we just have a better pricing structure than our competitors," he says. Fox and his team have been busy extending the number of core staples which have had their prices locked down, (bread and milk have been at the same price for two years and eggs for three) and they even froze the price of alcohol in the three weeks leading to Christmas so retailers weren't engaged in a last-minute scramble for the best booze prices.

Booker has also been extending the number of pricemarked products it sells, particularly in the fresh produce section, which is benefiting from the extension of the chilled warehouse at Booker's Hatfield distribution centre.

At 4,000sq m the new site is double the size of the previous facility. "We have spent a lot of time on fresh produce and seen huge growth as a result," Fox says. "Extending the chilled warehouse has helped us to add 30% more lines, meaning that c-stores can now offer a full range of goods which gives them a real competitive advantage," he adds. "Shoppers are looking to eat more healthily and retailers are investing in their chilled ranges as a result."

The new chilled facility has also led to improvements in the quality of fresh produce on sale, which Fox says is behind a 20% jump in sales since its November opening.

And, of course, we couldn't mention low prices and quality without touching on Euro Shopper. Fox is enormously proud of the range, which has 140 lines at 99p, and is earning the company more than £1m a week in sales.

It's just introduced a new 22p chewing gum and plans to extend Euro Shopper further in 2010 as shoppers continue to focus on price. "The economy will be just as challenging in 2010 and shoppers will continue to look at ways of cutting costs. However, this is a trend which definitely plays into the hands of independent retailers. People are shopping more regularly and more locally, which is great news for those c-stores which have the right range at the right price."

This brings us to Booker's Retail Best Sellers. Booker claims that retailers who stock all 500 of the carefully selected products can increase total sales by 24%.

Such a claim means that it's vital availability at the wholesaler's depots is as high as possible. And changes in the way out-of-stocks are measured mean it is.

"Availability is the best it has ever been," says Fox. "Thanks to a new hand-held gun, most branches now have 99% availability, which is really important for customers. There's nothing more frustrating than an out-of-stock on a key product."

Fortunately, further improvements with the Booker website mean that kind of scenario can now be avoided. "Independent retailers can go online to check if a certain product is in stock at their local depot before coming in."

Bigger and better

It's not just independent retailers who have benefited from service improvements of late. Premier retailers are also reaping the rewards of the recently relaunched fascia, including the burgeoning Premier Express format for stores under 800sq ft. More than 300 retailers have joined Premier since March 2009, most under the Express fascia.

"Many of our new stores were former CTNs that we have transformed into c-stores. They are now seeing increases of about 30% in their profits," Fox says.

As well as recruiting from the CTN sector, Fox says he's also nabbing stores from other symbol groups. "Just like shoppers on the high street, the recession is prompting retailers to shop around for the best deal, and Premier is it," he says. "They can see that with us they will make more bottom line profit.

"Premier retailers also benefit from much greater flexibility. They may get one or two deliveries a week, but they can also come into the cash and carry to top up, chat to other retailers and get advice from our depot managers. Price and service, that's what it's all about."

In addition to the 173 branch managers, the team at Booker head office has been restructured to include six retail development controllers, where there were previously only two. "The change has meant that our people can spend much more one-to-one time with the retailers, which is of huge importance to both parties."

And Fox is a man who definitely practices what he preaches. Before tonight's bash he's hitting the roads around Rochester to pay a visit to a number of Premier retailers.

"The retailers are by far the best thing about this job," he says. "I want to see our customers succeed, and I get enormous pleasure from helping them to do so. There are some truly fantastic entrepreneurs and seeing them thrive gives me the greatest satisfaction."

And with that kind of attitude Fox and his team can look forward to a Bollygood year ahead.