The ban on smoking in public places, poor weather conditions and continued price fighting by the multiples combined to make 2007 an exceptionally challenging year for Booker, according to chief executive Charles Wilson.
The wholesale giant reported a fall of 7.9% in its like-for-like tobacco sales for the 16 weeks to January 4, which it blamed on the smoking ban. Like-for-like non-tobacco sales rose 2.4% in the same period, while total sales, including those through Blueheath, were up 1.3% on the same period last year.
Wilson told C-Store that he did not expect to see a let-up of the challenging market conditions in 2008.
"We are expecting this year to be equally tough, which is why we are putting so much weight behind the new Euroshopper range," he said.
Launched in July, the economy range is designed to help independents better compete with the supermarkets and discounters. Wilson said It had been a huge success, with more than £300,000-worth being sold a week.
Wilson said the company would also focus on improving availability: "We are working hard to get the right products in the right branches, and this has been the best January for availability for four years."
Booker will also focus on improving distribution of its new fresh meat and prepacked fruit and vegetable range, with a view to boosting the number of lines this year.
The company has recently recruited Garry Stimpson as merchandising controller. He joins from Morrisons and will be responsible for developing formats and layouts of independent stores.