The illicit tobacco trade is barring convenience store retailers from achieving the predicted £1bn boost to their sales following a display ban in large stores, Booker’s chief executive Charles Wilson has said.

Announcing an overall impressive set of annual results for the wholesaler, Wilson blamed “higher than expected” duty rises and the “strong growth” in the UK’s illicit tobacco trade for sluggish tobacco sales through independent retailers.

Like-for-like sales in the 52 weeks to March 29 rose 3.3% while tobacco sales grew at just 1.3%.

The wettest summer on record and a hard-hitting government campaign to reduce smoking had also contributed to the slower sales Booker’s sales director retail Steve Fox added.

Wilson had previously predicted that the three-year lag between the display ban in large and small stores could see small stores benefit from £1bn of extra sales a year.

“I’ll take that one on the chin,” he said. “We were hoping to see much stronger growth in tobacco sales through small stores when the switch happened, however the problem is growing illicit tobacco market. The tobacco manufactures themselves are reporting a rise in illicit tobacco sales to almost 22%. They are worried and rightly so. The increase is having a big impact on the independent sector.”

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