booker depot

Vocal protests from two prominent Tesco shareholders over the supermarket’s proposed £3.7bn Booker merger will have given the latter’s investors something to chew over.

It comes as Booker reported a strong end to its financial year in a trading update on Thursday, with non-tobacco group like-for-like sales up 4.7% in the final quarter.

The display ban and plain packaging restrictions hampered tobacco revenues, which slumped 7.9% in the 12 weeks to 24 March. It left total sales for the quarter up 0.5% and like-for-likes 0.7% higher, helped by inflation, Musgrave growth and a good performance in retail and catering.

Despite the strong performance, Booker shares fell 0.6% to 198p by Thursday lunchtime - still 8.1% higher than before the Tesco announcement.

“We continue to expect the Tesco deal to complete,” said Charles Hall at Peel Hunt. “These numbers should reassure that Booker provides stronger growth than the food retailers, as well as access to the foodservice market for Tesco.”

Clive Black at Shore Capital, who labelled the merger as “non-transformational for Tesco and possibly a big risk for Booker”, reiterated a ‘sell’ rating on Booker shares.

Premier Foods slashed pension costs by £32m over the next three financial years after striking a deal with trustees this week. The Mr Kipling maker previously expected to spend up to £157m to plug the £320m pension deficit but will now pay £125m thanks to new actuarial valuations.

Moody’s analyst Eric Kang said: “The cost savings will notably help mitigate the impact of rising input costs, including the weaker British pound.” Shares in Premier are up 1.5% for the week at 45p.

Shares in Irn-Bru maker AG Barr fizzed 3.7% higher to 568p - and are up 6.2% this week - after it revealed annual profits surged 4.4% to £43.1m as it slashed sugar across its range of fizzy drinks. Analysts at Société Générale lifted the target price for the stock from 538p to 573p as AG Barr gears up to reformulate its entire range.