Wholesale sector shake-up set to transform food supply chain

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The UK’s wholesale food supply chain is set for major shake-up with Booker becoming part of Tesco and Nisa becoming part of the Co-op. Not only that, Palmer and Harvey is now in takeover talks with private equity firm The Carlyle Group.

Tesco has been given the go-ahead by the Competitions and Markets Authority for the £3.7 billion takeover of Booker, the wholesale group that owns Makro, Premier and Londis.

And members of the Nisa, the delivered wholesaler and convenience retail specialist, have given their backing to a £137.5m takeover by the Co-op. This deal still requires CMA approval.

The Tesco-Booker deal is expected to be completed in early 2018. Tesco is seeking £61 million in annual cost savings from distribution and fulfilment – about 35 per cent of the total £175m saving it is looking for.

Setting out the logic of the deal, Tesco said: “Optimising a joint national distribution system of Tesco and Booker is expected to lead to material benefits, including sharing parts of the fleet and expanding click and collect services. Tesco also anticipates savings in relation to final mile delivery to customers.”

An even larger proportion of the synergies (55 per cent) are expected to come from procurement. It pointed to the potential for improved purchasing cost efficiencies and sharing best practice across each of the three main types of supplier: fresh, own label and branded.

The CMA found that Tesco as a retailer and Booker as a wholesaler – supplying to caterers, independent and symbol group retailers including Premier, Londis and Budgens – do not compete head-to-head in most of their activities. In particular, Tesco does not supply the catering sector to which Booker makes over 30 per cent of its sales.

A number of competing wholesalers had expressed concern that Booker would benefit from improved suppliers’ terms after the merger, making it difficult for them to continue to compete. They argued that as a result, in the longer term, Booker might be able to raise prices to the shops that it supplies.

However, the CMA also concluded that the wholesale market would remain competitive in the longer term, noting that Booker’s share of the UK grocery wholesaling market – at less than 20 per cent – was not sufficient to justify the longer-term concerns.

The Co-op is hoping to get CMA approval for its Nisa deal by the end of March 2018. Some 75.79 of Nisa Retail members backed the deal

Nisa chairman Peter Hartley said: “The convenience store environment is changing rapidly, and is unrecognizable from that which existed when Nisa was founded more than 40 years ago. Co-op will add buying power and product range to our offering, while respecting our culture of independence.”

Along with taking on the existing Nisa debt of £105m, the combination is expected to bring significant immediate and long-term benefits for Nisa members including access to greater scale, the Co-op’s and own label proposition. Nisa members will still enjoy the independence to operate their stores as they wish, and will be able to remain part of a member-owned organisation.

Wholesaler Palmer and Harvey is in takeover talks with private equity firm, The Carlyle Group. It has signed Heads of Terms and entered a period of exclusivity with The Carlyle Group, with the intention of securing significant capital investment. This would include Carlyle taking control of the equity of Palmer and Harvey McLane (Holdings) Limited.

Palmer and Harvey’s biggest customer is Tesco – it is estimated that the retailer accounts for some 40 per cent of P&H’s revenue. P&H expressed its concern at the Tesco-Booker deal in evidence to the CMA.  In its report, the CMA noted: “It [P&H] said that although it is comforting that Tesco has expressed that it has no current intentions to end the P&H contract, P&H must be prepared for every eventuality.”

In a statement on the Carlyle deal, Palmer and Harvey said: “The company looks forward to securing this Potential Transaction which will provide a strong financial platform from which to build upon its 90 years of experience in the wholesale industry, its strong customer relationships, and its unrivalled scale to take full advantage of the many opportunities across its markets.”

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