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    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends

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    Wholesalers are the key link for independent convenience retailers. They keep supermarket giants from taking over, ensuring that every shop—big or small, independent or affiliated—gets a fantastic variety of products, top-notch service, and fair prices across the country, every single day.

    Also, think of smaller suppliers, like craft product makers, local farms, and cool new start-ups. They team up with wholesalers to get their goodies into more stores. These partnerships help them find the best paths to market, allowing them to grow steadily and surely.

    No wonder, wholesalers are the superheroes (without capes!) for independent retailers and small businesses.

    The food and drink wholesale industry is a powerhouse for the UK economy, turning over £31 billion, employing nearly 90,000 people evenly across the country, and generating gross value added of £3.4 billion annually, according to wholesale body Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD).

    FWD, whose eight members are also buying groups, representing almost 600 independent wholesalers between them- also states that UK households spend £48.1 billion on products (fresh, chilled, frozen and ambient food and drinks) supplied by its members to more than 50,000 local shops spread across the country.

    Wholesalers come in all shapes and sizes. In 2021, Statista reported that there were 17,294 food, beverage, and tobacco wholesalers trading in the UK.

    A major slice of the wholesale market is dominated by the Booker Group. Its sprawling empire includes the UK’s largest cash and carry business and a raft of well-known convenience brands including Londis, Family Shopper, Premier and Budgens. The group supplies thousands of product lines while operating from 190 cash and carry branches across the country, eight distribution centers and six support center locations.

    A survey for Lumina Intelligence’s Wholesale Markets Report 2021 found that 47 per cent of convenience retailers shopped with Booker. Almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of symbol retailers used Booker during the period while the figure for non-affiliated independents was 57 per cent.

    Hot on Booker’s heels is Bestway Wholesale. The group attracted almost 20 per cent of all retailers, 14 per cent of symbols and 28 per cent of non-affiliates, according to the report. It has 56 depots spanning the length and breadth of the UK, serving over thousands of independent retailers.

    Bestway Wholesale also operates Best-one symbol group which has 1,400 members throughout the country. Its other fascia groups are Costcutter, Bargain Booze, Select Convenience and Wine Rack.

    Other prominent names in the wholesale world are Parfetts, Dhamecha Group, AF Blakemore, JW Filshill, CJ Lang, Costwold Fayre, Lioncroft Wholesale, Millennium Cash & Carry, Wanis International Foods, alongside online wholesaler Faire UK. Dunns Food and Drinks, Taylor Wholesale, United Wholesale (Scotland) and United Wholesale Grocers are also some reliable names in Scotland.

    Following the launch of a new 100,000 sq ft site in Birmingham in March last year, employee-owned Parfetts is on an expansion mode. The wholesaler operates depots in Aintree, Anfield, Birmingham, Halifax, Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Somercotes and Stockport.

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends
    Steve Moore, Head of Retail at Parfetts

    Parfetts’ Go Local and The Local symbol estate continues to go from strength to strength, with over 1,300 retailers in the group.

    Steve Moore, Head of Retail at Parfetts, explains, “We offer free delivery with low minimum order levels, plus next-day delivery for our delivered customers and are investing heavily in our OCS, both desktop and app, to ensure delivered customers enjoy the best possible experience.

    “We believe our order system is the best out there, and we are working hard to improve it all the time.”

    Riding high on delivered model is SOS Wholesale, a family-owned discount wholesaler which is on a double digit growth year on year.

    Vipin Patara, MD at SOS Wholesale, tells Asian Trader, “SOS Wholesale and our loyal retailers are engaging in cross-value-chain collaboration to strategically focus on incremental growth.

    “Our typical customer at SOS is an independent convenience store and therefore the need is often born from distress or top up shop and therefore a potentially unplanned shopping visit. We service those needs by providing PMPs, appropriate pack sizes and NPDs.”

    Another emerging new name here is Sandea Wholesale, a group that came into being during Covid-19 crisis.

    Sanjeet Manek, founder of Sandea Wholesale, tells Asian Trader, “The market has evolved significantly, especially through the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Wholesalers have had to adapt to the shifting landscape, with a notable increase in delivered wholesale services and the rise of specialist cash and carries.”

    In the present times, wholesalers are more focused on data-driven insights to enable better decisions and growth.

    Industry expert Tanya Pepin, Managing Director at TWC (a data insight expert of wholesale, foodservice and convenience) acknowledges CJ Lang Spar Scotland, Booker, Dhamecha Group, Parfetts and United Wholesale Scotland as strong performers against challenging macro-economic conditions.

    Pepin tells Asian Trader, “Each of these operators has evolved their proposition and/or managed costs and margin to ensure their customers are getting competitive prices and great service.”

    Who is doing what?

    The wholesale side of convenience is a vibrant world, filled with innovative ideas and interesting promotions. Their arms into the convenience groups, symbol groups are another interesting equation which keeps things profitable for both retailers and wholesalers.

    Booker is trialing loyalty cards for its fascia stores. It will be interesting to look out for the results.

    Pepin from TWC points out, “Just this weekend, Londis and Premier stores have started trialing loyalty schemes with deep discounts for card holders. Considering how to compete – and it might not be via price – is essential for retailers who cannot access these discounts.”

    Bestway in particular has been doing an amazing job when it comes to symbol groups with its refreshing innovative approach of store-in-store format.

    Kenton Burchell, Group Trading Director at Bestway Wholesale, tells Asian Trader, “We have opened over 100 new stores since July 1, 2022. Our new format of Bargain Booze in a Costcutter store continues to perform strongly, with average sales over 30 per center YOY.”

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends
    Kenton Burchell

    The wholesaler’s own label line, that enables retailers to give their customers brilliant value, is pushing further sales for Bestway. Most recently, Best-one own-label range got rebranded as Best-in.

    Best-in range offers retailers a margin of 30 per cent to 75 per cent, and is accessible to all Bestway customers, regardless of the fascia. Early sales are already showing double-digit growth compared to the former Best-one range.

    Meanwhile, Parfetts is making progress both towards delivered as well as in cash and carry model. The wholesaler is aggressively spending new investment in an electric vehicle fleet, driver resources and web and app improvements to drive its delivered segment too. Alongside, retailers are also encouraged to visit the depots.

    Moore tells Asian Trader, “Our deep dive promotions, including daily and weekly deals and our biggest seasonal trade weeks, are all depot-only, and one need to visit the depot to access them. These deals have proved to be a significant incentive for retaining and boosting depot footfall.

    “Most of our customers are ‘hybrid’ customers who like to take advantage of our free delivered service but combine that with exclusive depot deals they can’t get anywhere else and an ability to top up between deliveries.”

    Investment in technology has also been a key factor for Parfetts, specifically in mobile application apart from supplying a wide range of “price-mark packs” of own label products.

    Expanding its reach, Dhamecha Group is set to open a new purpose-built depot in Liverpool, enabling its reach into Northwest of England. This move further propels Dhamecha Group’s successful expansion northwards from its London roots. The Dhamecha Group has hinted that its expansion plans will not be stopping here.

    The brand new 80,000sq ft facility on Merseyside will introduce hundreds of new retailers to Dhamecha Group’s “customer first” cash and carry business model which combines competitive pricing with excellent stock availability and customer service, backed up by the UK’s largest buying group Unitas.

    Trade shows and promotional events are in vogue among wholesalers as they coming up with interesting themes to catch retailers’ fancy and bring them to depots.

    CJ Lang & Son, the wholesaler behind Spar Scotland, is set to showcase its annual tradeshow this September at the MacDonald Hotel and Resort in Aviemore. Unveiling the theme, “Raising the Bar”, for this year’s show, the wholesaler pledged to deliver a “groundbreaking experience” for all retailers in attendance this year including suppliers looking to connect with SPAR retailers and store managers from across all of Scotland.

    Delivered model through mobile app or website ordering is also picking up. To keep up with the changing times, many wholesalers are ramping up their websites and mobile apps.

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends

    To meet the demands of the growing number of tech-savvy retailers joining its award-winning KeyStore fascia group, Glasgow-based JW Filshill recently relaunched its website. The new design and upgrades include features that are mobile-friendly to accommodate the needs of busy retailers who like to order on the move via their phone or other hand-held device.

    Retailers can also benefit from online order management giving visibility of orders and delivery tracking, plus account management for payment notifications. The new website is also linked to the Filshill app which features time-saving features such as instant barcode scanning for convenient ordering, user-managed favourites, and instant notification of current promotions.

    Filshill, one of Scotland’s oldest independent food and drink wholesalers, relocated from Hillington to Westway Park near Glasgow Airport in March 2023.

    Seasonal Trends

    Like any other industry, food and drink wholesalers are prone to seasonal trends and economical factors.

    Inflation has fallen but the fact remains that the cost-of-living crisis is far from over yet. Consumes are being bombarded with “best value” across the high street, in out-of-town retail parks and online, further compounded by loyalty cards.

    Own label lines seem to be working well for everyone- wholesalers as it opens a new avenue for sales, retailers as they are able to offer cheaper lines and customers who are able to cut down their grocery bills.

    Despite the falling inflation, several industry reports point out that the popularity of own label brands is here to stay.

    Tom Fender, Development Director at TWC, adds, “Customers are increasingly buying own label as they are looking for value. At the same time, the quality of own label products is also improving.”

    On how wholesalers can best merchandise to retailers, Pepin from TWC states, “This depends on the method of ordering, but highlighting must-stock and bestselling lines to retailers is always helpful.

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends
    Tanya Pepin, TWC

    “For more complex categories, like wine, it is helpful if wholesalers produce educational leaflets on how to range, how to price and how to promote to ensure this high value category is optimised in store.”

    Many retailers are now ordering online so wholesalers need to ensure their online marketing presence is as slick as their in depot experience. United Wholesale Scotland in partnership with TWC now allows suppliers to analyse orders made online in comparison with sales made in depot.

    Retailers are often on Whatsapp groups so this needs to be considered, points out Fender, adding that retailers still like visits from sales reps.

    The wholesalers should also encourage and empower retailers to make best use of national events like The Euros, by highlighting products that should be featured in store to capitalise on this activity.

    Impressively tapping the football fever is Bestway Wholesale with the launch of a major Euro campaign across all its nationwide depots and online.

    The wholesaler has recreated the depots so that retailers enter through impressive football stadium entrance-like tunnel emerging onto a football pitch-like depot. Bestway is making sure that visiting retailers shopping will be able to enjoy the atmosphere and join in the fun by showing off their own football skills as well as “scoring big” on impressive deals and promotions from over 14 major supplier brands and their winning deals.

    Speaking about the trends and what works best in c-stores, Moore from Parfetts lists soft drinks, snacking ranges, sharing packs, larger format beer packs and chilled beer and wine as products that work consistently. Impulse and food-to-go ranges continue to strengthen, especially with innovations such as Tango Ice Blast, slushes, and milkshakes, which play well in convenience, arguably more so than any other retail location, he adds.

    Moore says, “There is also an increased emphasis on healthy options as consumers look for products and offers to suit their lifestyles. On the flip side, there has also been a big drive towards American-style candy and confectionery. If the summer weather is good with the sun shining, the potential for margin maximisation is even greater.

    “Also, don’t forget zero alcohol lines, which are becoming increasingly important as part of the wider mix. Additionally, lines such as frozen pizza, sausages and beef burgers alongside fresh lines are import as people want to eat outside with family and friends,” Moore adds.

    Manek from Sandea Wholesale pitches in by saying that there is a growing demand for health and wellness products, driven by an increased awareness of personal health post-pandemic.

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends
    Sandea Wholesale

    “Sustainable and ethically sourced products are also gaining popularity, reflecting consumers’ environmental concerns.

    “Sandea Wholesale has responded to these trends by diversifying its product range to include eco-friendly and health-oriented items, ensuring that independent retailers can meet the evolving demands of their customers,” Manek tells Asian Trader.

    2024 summer is unique in itself, filled with back-to-back sporting events. Snacks and drinks are going to fly off the shelves.

    Patara from SOS Wholesale tells Asian Trader, “Seasonal trends, customer feedback and market insights are all pivotal to the decision-making process. The summer holidays are in sight and consumers are looking at their budgets to cover feeding the family throughout the day and ensuring there are enough snacks and drinks to keep the kids happy.”

    Stuart Grice, Buying Director at SOS Wholesale, pitches in, “Pack size is the key as our customers cater to top-up or a distressed model consumer base. The key here is that to list the right range so that retailers can better serve their customers.

    “NPD becomes so critical in our sector. Whilst multiples can build impressive monoliths when the newest product comes out, how many of us see it and are prepared to deviate from our route map and budget? Whilst consumers may be more time poor it is more apparent that focus on new products display in a smaller setting is more beneficial than a large multiple.

    Grice from SOS Wholesale adds, “Apart from PMPs, appropriate pack size and NPDs, breadth of range and offer is also where we pride ourselves.”

    Typically, when people think convenience store, they think of confectionery, crisps and soft drinks. However the expectations of customers are changing as everyday grocery items are becoming more and more important in this channel.

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends

    Grice points out, “We know that people top up on pasta, rice and cooking sauces. People need burger sauce at a BBQ, want beans for their toast and might run out of gravy for their Sunday roast. Plus, the list of need states goes well beyond some snacks for those watching England win the Euros!

    “As wholesalers we need to be geared up for those diverse need states of our customers and the changing use of convenience stores in a post Covid era. Therefore, ranging broadly across key grocery top up occasions is something we feel really aids our customer and the sector” Grice tells Asian Trader.

    Supporting Retailers

    Both retailers and wholesalers have faced challenging conditions over the past five years. They have also had to adapt to changing consumer trends (e.g. rising health consciousness) and buying patterns (especially during COVID-19).

    Pepin from TWC explains, “A retailer does not necessarily have to be cheapest in everything, but they do have to have strong offers on the right lines. Again, knowing what products to have deep discounts on and getting the right level of discount is in a wholesaler’s DNA. If a wholesaler knows and understands their customer’s retail business, they will certainly support that retailer with the right activity.”

    Most wholesalers are supported by their suppliers with strong price mark packs that guarantee the consumer knows they are buying at a fair price, Pepin states, adding that high-performing wholesalers have recognised for some time that growth is best delivered by serving retailers who are keen to grow.

    Keeping in pulse with changing needs and retailers’ needs, wholesale giant Booker continues to grow and deliver excellent offerings.

    A Booker spokesperson tells Asian Trader, “NPD, group exclusives, Fresh 4 and meat promos- all of these allow retailers to offer great pricing to the shopper with strong PORs. Alongside all of this, having credible own brand is essential to help retailers to be successful as shoppers are always looking for quality at a good price.

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends
    (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

    “Booker also offers mega deals which are available to retailers to help promote key volume lines. These are designed to help retailers stand out, drive footfall and deliver strong cash profit. PMPs work well for convenience as it gives consumers confidence in the product and brands.”

    Booker runs a comprehensive promotion programme throughout the year to ensure that the wholesaler continues to offer excellent value to not only the shoppers but also to retailers. This includes EDLP and long-term deals enhancing amazing everyday value, with the support of sale kits including posters, shelf barkers, stack cards and many more all FOC, adds the spokesperson.

    Booker supports their retailers with key events and seasonal campaigns throughout the year all with the aim of driving footfall and increased cash profit, like for its upcoming ‘Summer of Sports’ campaign.

    Full and comprehensive POS kits from Booker is available completely free of charge (FOC) for retailers to use in their stores. Easter and Christmas are key seasonal events where Booker supports retailers with upweighted and increased promotions and access to extended ranges through pre-sells.

    “Outside of the standard seasons Booker also run extra events to drive further footfall and profit, these include their famous Beer & Cider Festivals, Wine Festivals and this year their very first Cocktail festival featuring some incredible deals on RTDs and cocktail mixers along with POS highlighting cocktail recipes,” the Booker spokesperson tells Asian Trader.

    On the other hand, Bestway too continues to remain determined to provide the right products at the right price.

    Burchell from Bestway states, “New for 2024, we will be bringing our customers and shoppers impactful and engaging ‘Group Wide NPD’.

    “We will continue the conversion of some of our Costcutter stores into our innovative ‘store within a store concept’ with a Bargain Booze within a Costcutter store. To date we have completed 10 stores and we are aiming for at least 100 stores by the end of 2024.

    “We will be supporting our retailers in Scotland to be prepared for the new legislation coming in, Deposit Return Scheme prior to the October 2025 compliance date.

    Burchell adds, “Our message in 2024 remains firm: whatever your store and whoever your shopper, Bestway Retail has the right offer.”

    Speaking about promotions, Parfetts’ depots too remain buzzing almost throughout the year, thanks to its promotional activities.

    Moore explains, “We have at least six or seven deep dive trade weeks happening every year coupled with daily, weekly and tri-weekly promotions, all designed to help independent retailers to increase their margins and offer value for money to their own customers.

    “One highlight is Parfest which takes place in July and is a real chance for retailers to engage with the business and see what we’re all about.”

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends

    This year, Parfetts has many scheduled activities themed around this summer’s busy sporting events, bank holidays and summer activities. Exclusive offers and promotions are happening across its depot network, which will help retailers maximise value for their customers and increase margins through every event and occasions.

    Apart from the bigger giants, emerging players like Sandea Wholesale are also eager to offer competitive pricing, a diverse product range, and reliable delivery services.

    “Moreover, our deep understanding of the convenience channel’s needs, allows us to provide tailored solutions that enhance operational efficiency and customer satisfaction,” Manek adds.

    To support retailers, Sandea Wholesale is launching several new campaigns and offers.

    “We recently partnered with Ego Pharmaceuticals UK to distribute QV skincare samples at the ‘Punjab Thumakda 2023’ event, enhancing brand visibility and consumer awareness. Additionally, our participation in the 2024 Gulfood Exhibition in Dubai has opened new avenues for innovative product offerings and partnerships, which we are excited to introduce to our business partners.”

    Working on the delivered model, SOS Wholesale banks on digital platform to merchandise to retailer though also invest in printed brochures.

    Grice tells Asian Trader, “Its critical for the technologically advanced generation that the digital business is on point. We partner with our supply base to ensure that we are using the best descriptions to help customers find the products they need, the best images available for the product so people know what they are going to get and critically that the product appears in the correct subcategory.

    “However, we also recognise that not everyone wants to use screens so we invest in printed brochure’s every month so our customers can see our best deals and NPD. We go to lengths to ensure our web site is easy to navigate we also do the same with our publications.”

    Race is on

    The competition is heating up among wholesalers to capture a bigger share of the convenience channel. The race is also on among wholesalers to find the best retailers and lock them into a fascia agreement.

    Pepin explains the reason, “Great retail performance leads to great wholesaler performance. But equally, some wholesalers recognise that if you can continually deliver great pricing alongside brilliant service, you will continue to attract retailers in their droves.

    “The challenge is the wholesalers in the middle who do not have the scale to buy at the very best prices and are not offering a differentiated service – they are sure to find it tough over the next few years.”

    Wholesale Superheroes: Giants, new players, trends

    The sector has largely survived and thrived through a series of huge knocks – Brexit, Covid, Cost of living crisis. The economy appears to be improving (albeit slowly, and many consumers remain financially challenged) but there are reasons to be optimistic.

    Fender from TWC emphasises the use of data to understand the industry.

    “Use data to identify trends but also spot gaps in ranges. Use data to identify optimium pricing. And to truly measure the impact and ROI of promotions.”

    Pepin says, “Experts have been predicting the decline of the wholesale channel for at least 30 years and, yet, it continues to thrive despite the challenges of Covid, Brexit, the increasing dominance of the retail multiples and, particularly, their move into becoming a wholesaler – Tesco, Asda and Morrisons all now have wholesale divisions and Bestway shareholders have taken shareholding in Sainsburys so the lines are blurring.”

    With Tesco acquiring Booker and Bestway gaining shares in Sainsbury’s, the lines are blurring indeed and is sure to continue. What is also clear is that good wholesale operators who knows the pulse of retailers and their requirements will also continue to thrive despite temporary economic challenges.

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