Majestic Wine's chief executive in waiting Steve Lewis has warned there could be major increases in alcohol prices if the Chancellor of the Exchequer forces through tax hikes in the Budget next week.
Lewis has been the company's chief operating officer since 2005 and will take over from Tim How, who has been chief executive for 19 years and is retiring later this year.
Lewis told The Grocer that he was concerned about the extent of the potential tax rise in this year's Budget on 12 March.
"The Budget is a real worry and we are keeping a close eye on what the Chancellor decides, in particular the effect that any tax increase will have on prices for consumers," he said. Lewis said his priorities as chief executive would be overseeing an expansion plan to increase Majestic Wine's store portfolio to 200 in the next five years.
Last month the chain added six more stores, taking its total to 146, and a further four store openings are lined up for this year.
"We are planning to open 10 stores each year for the next five years and are confident that target can be achieved, especially as some smaller companies are facing tougher competition in the sector," said Lewis. "We can be there to step in."
Lewis joined the wine warehouse chain in 1985 as a graduate trainee. He was promoted to retail director in 1991 and appointed to the board in 1998. How is stepping down to concentrate on non-executive roles. He is already non-executive chairman of AIM investment fund Framlington AIM VCT and a governor of housing charity The Peabody Trust.
"I have an interest in food and consumer issues, which is an area I will be looking at," said How, who was managing director of frozen food chain Bejam and general manager of Polaroid prior to joining Majestic.
Majestic Wine chairman Simon Burke said: "Tim has led Majestic from being a small loss-making chain to the most successful independent wine retailer in Britain."
Last November, Majestic announced a pre-tax profit increase of 16.7% to £7.5m when it revealed figures for the half year.