Wholesale giant Booker has defended its move to supply M&S with brands - which appears in conflict with its stated aim of becoming the biggest and best supplier to small businesses in the UK.

Supplying M&S fitted its other main ambition of becoming branded suppliers' preferred route to market, Booker claimed. "This is a way to help branded suppliers that does not compete with independents," a spokesman said. "We will learn some lessons from M&S that will help improve choice, price and service for all our customers."

Booker is supplying M&S with the 350 branded lines, including Weetabix, Nescafé and Coke, which are being trialled in 19 stores in the north east from this week.

Booker had been able to secure the deal on the back of integrating the delivered wholesale capabilities of Blueheath, which it bought in May last year, the spokesman confirmed.

The two are linked through the close relationship between M&S boss Stuart Rose and Booker chief Charles Wilson. The pair were together when Rose himself ran Booker from 1998-2000. Later Wilson was Rose's right-hand man at M&S before leaving to spearhead Booker's recovery in 2005.