Booker-supplied independent retailers have reacted with a mixture of optimism and apprehension about the wholesaler’s proposed £3.7bn merger with Tesco.
Announced on Friday 27 January, the deal is expected to complete by early 2018, subject to regulatory and shareholder approval.
Arjan Mehr, a Londis retailer in Bracknell, Berkshire, said the deal was “one of the best things to happen” to the convenience sector.
“Some retailers are annoyed about ‘sleeping with the enemy’, but people need to move away from tribalism. Customers want the best service, range and decent prices – so who better could we be partnering than Tesco?
“I’d rather be on the inside and enjoying some of Tesco’s leverage than on the outside. The market has forced people to do these things. Retailers need to take 25-30% margins to be profitable now, given rising costs.”
Premier retailer Sam Coldbeck, of Wharfedale Premier Stores in Hull, also welcomed the move. “It’s exciting. The independent sector needed to do something dynamic, and it’s great that Tesco chose Charles Wilson. He’s kept every promise he’s made since the Musgrave buyout.
“At the end of the day we’re independent and can jump ship if we want to. But if there’s an opportunity to offer the prices and technology that Tesco can offer, then bring it on!”
But Robert Byford, managing director of Byfords Food Hall, a Londis in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, expressed reservations. “Are we going to be independent if Tesco takes over? It does worry me what the service will be like. We could still go with someone else, but I’ve been with Londis 20 years and we’ve worked well together.
“I think it will be like Brexit. Half [of symbol retailers] will be suspicious of what’s going on and half won’t worry as long as they get what they want when they want it, and the prices are fair and service good.”
A Budgens retailer, who wished to remain anoymous, said: “I want to know how the deal will affect our independence, especially as there’s a Tesco opposite. I’m concerned Tesco could have access to our data. I also think Booker handled it poorly - our customers come in and ask us what it all means but I don’t have the answers. Some people have even asked to use their Tesco Clubcard.”
Andrew Thornton, owner of Thornton’s Budgens London, wrote on Twitter: “ Shocked by news that Tesco is buying our wholesaler Booker. [We] will fight… to retain our independence. ”