Somerfield revealed the extent of its convenience retailing ambitions when it swallowed Scottish Mace chain Aberness this week.
Aberness’s new md, David Cheyne, said Somerfield saw huge potential in the convenience sector as did Tesco and Sainsbury. “Aberness is on top of many opportunities that we are looking at,” he said.
Echoing Sainsbury’s comments when it took over Bells, he said Somerfield planned to tap into Aberness’ expertise and experience of c-store and franchise retailing.
But the development leaves independent operators in Scotland increasingly exposed, with Tesco as well as Sainsbury already looking for acquisitions
in their sector. One convenience chain particularly affected by the deal is The Grocer Top 50 independent chain Morning, Noon & Night. Aberness distributes to 50 Morning, Noon & Night stores in Scotland. Aberness supplies 45% of MN&N’s stock and 55% is sourced direct from suppliers.
As The Grocer went to press, MN&N founder Eddie Thompson said he was finalising arrangements with Somerfield. He said: “We were not totally surprised at the news as this is the way the trade is going at the moment. We had heard many rumours that Aberness might be next to go. We were surprised it went to Somerfield though.”
Scottish Grocers’ Federation chief executive Scott Landsburgh said the news was “a knock” to the independent trade. “There was a creeping consolidation of the independent sector in Scotland but now it is at a faster pace, which is worrying,” he said.
Other players in Scotland were more resolute about holding onto their independence, he said - “providing they don’t get a crazy offer. Everyone has their price”.
Verdict senior analyst Steve Gotham said it was “just another piece in the consolidation jigsaw There’s more to come.”
Harris International marketing chief executive Mike Greene warned that it was a case of when not if the next c-store operator got sold to a multiple.
FWD director general Alan Toft said: “You can’t really lump this into the Tesco bracket, but it will add pressure on the true independent.”
The acquisition would alert wholesalers to stiffen up their stance, he said.
Meanwhile City analysts said the purchase was a good strategic move for Somerfield as it would raise volumes in its supply chain.
One analyst said: “It will drive more volumes and expand its banner through franchises but you must manage them well.”
Anne Bruce