Attendees at this week’s City Food Lecture (which I chaired) were grateful, when I took questions from the floor, for the notable absence of ‘grandstanding’.
I could say the same about the keynote speaker. Many of the top names to have addressed the audience over the past 14 years have included the phrase ‘in a changing world’ in their subjects. But in too many cases they have peered far into the future, and through a CSR prism - while trade, the economy, the business of the moment, were referred to obliquely at best.
“Wilson painted the supermarkets like latterday Gordon Browns, knowing only how to spend, spend, spend”
Adam Leyland, Editor
No such accusations could be levelled at this year’s lecture from Charles Wilson. The Booker CEO’s speech - ‘Growth Outside the Supermarkets’ - was very much in the now, astutely identifying the profound structural changes taking place in the market, and the opportunities they provide. His message to suppliers to “go where the growth is” was very effectively demonstrated by his success at Booker, with his finger in many growing pies: online, convenience, international, foodservice; he’s even developed a discounter fascia.
But it was also a cleverly subversive message, too.
With the pinpoint accuracy of one of fellow panellist Doug Gurr’s Amazon drones, Wilson honed in on the chronic failure of the big four - like latterday Gordon Browns, knowing only how to spend, spend, spend - to deliver a return on the £12bn capex they’ve invested these past three years. And while delivered with typical suaveness, Wilson was bold in his assessment: “You must avoid being ground down by the supermarkets for no growth,” he said. “In this new grocery landscape there will be some huge opportunities for astute suppliers. Better to put your best products, best people and channel support into the growing sectors of online, foodservice, convenience, discount, new formats and emerging countries. If I was a branded supplier, I would rather put my money there than in no-growth supermarkets,” he added.
Supermarkets are difficult to ignore. They are still the 80% in Pareto’s law. Wilson’s point is that suppliers should pay more attention to (and grow) the other 20%.