Booker this week vowed to drive prices down and availability up as its boss outlined to the IGD convention how the company was striving to become the biggest and best supplier to small businesses.

Chief executive Charles Wilson, a year into the job, said he had put in place a simple recovery plan. He was now well into the second phase of driving the business and starting on the third phase of broadening it, he added.

In its initial phase, Booker had slashed head office costs by 40% and saved 20% from the supply chain. It was also focused on its goal to be suppliers' preferred route to market, said Wilson. "It will take years to get there but we're making progress."

As a result, the £361m

of debt the company had back in September 2005 had shrunk to £70m. The sales slide had also slowed, he said, from -6.4% in the first quarter of 2005, to -2.1% in the second quarter this year. EBITDA in the second quarter was up 45%.

"In the past few years, choice had been going down, prices were going up and service was worse. Booker lost £500m of sales -clearly that was not a great plan," said Wilson.

Booker's strategy to go back to local market supply for fruit and veg was paying dividends, he added. It had pushed prices down 20% but volume sales were up 60%.

The roll-out of a new 20-line basics range was now bringing in £300,000 sales a week, while it planned to roll out its non-food leaflets to all 176 of its branches.

An overhaul of its website was also in the offing, said Wilson. "It's been a difficult year sorting out the business. Customers want a lot better."