Booker cashes in as shoppers look for cheap deals in grim consumer climate

BRITAIN’S biggest cash and carry wholesaler Booker yesterday said it was benefiting from consumers’ “search for value” as it beat forecasts with a 25 per cent jump in annual profit.

The firm, which runs around 172 branches supplying convenience stores, restaurants, pubs, schools and prisons, made a pre-tax profit of £71.4m.

Chief executive Charles Wilson, a former Marks & Spencer executive, said the UK consumer economy was showing patches of growth but demand remained extremely volatile.

“It’s the most patchy I’ve ever seen it. Some markets are growing quite nicely, London is doing quite well, some other parts of the country are very very slow growth or negative,” he said.

Although Wilson, who owns 7.1 per cent of Booker, does not expect the overall wholesale market to improve much in the next couple of years, he forecast the firm would continue to prosper.

“There’s a real search for value taking place, and as a result caterers and retailers are being more canny in terms of the way they buy,” he said.

“Booker stock has been re-rated on merit to our minds. The outlook for the company in the UK is sound in our view,” said Shore Capital analyst Clive Black. Sales at branches open over a year rose 5.1 per cent, while internet sales were up 29 per cent to £526m.