The Grocer’s OC&C 150 ranking is always a cracking read. Like all the best charts, our list of the UK’s biggest food and drink suppliers has a new no1: Hilton Food Group. And it’s intriguing to see the likes of JBS (5), KTC Edibles (36), AG Barr (65), William Jackson (68) and Dairy Consumer Foods (83) soaring up the table.
Another essential ingredient is seeing new entrants in our rankings: HelloFresh (42), Huel (127), Fine Lady Bakeries (132), Dairygold Food Ingredients (135), English Provender (139), Strathroy Dairy (146), Paynes Dairies (150), welcome to the club!
Conversely, watching the decline in the fortunes of Wm Morrison Produce (44), G’s Group (49), Oscar Mayer (69), Vibrant Foods (96), Dr Oetker (97), Angus Soft Fruits (109) and John West (121) causes a chilly frisson.
But a supplier’s position in these rankings tells only half the story, with inflation-linked gains often flattering, as there was rarely a commensurate increase in profits and very often a decline. In fact, one of the most telling statistics from the report is that just 17 of the 150 suppliers in our rankings this year managed to increase both sales and margins, with McCain (32), Refresco (56) and Haribo (91) among honourable exceptions.
But the headline finding from the report is the slump in profit margins, from 6.2% to just 3.9%, its lowest level in our survey’s 40-year history. The popular narrative among supermarkets is that suppliers are raking it in, but those sorts of margins are unsustainable for any supplier hoping to maintain relevance for retailers and customers in the long term, and as negotiations around deflation intensify.
And while it’s true that some of the big multinational branded operators are more profitable, and have more successfully recovered margin as opposed to just cost, through their CPI negotiations, there’s a dawning realisation that this is leading to a vicious spiral of declining volumes that ultimately is equally damaging. There’s an old adage that says sales is vanity and profits sanity. But if big brands do not recover the volumes they’ve lost – to discounters, to M&S, to supermarket own-label ranges, to eating out – that is a calamity.