Taking the industry by surprise is something Charles Wilson, chief executive of cash & carry giant Booker, has got rather good at.
But today Wilson had a triple-whammy up his sleeve – a brace of acquisitions and, perhaps most intriguingly, the capture of former Marks & Spencer director of food Guy Farrant.
This morning, Booker announced the purchase of fine food supplier Ritter-Courivaud for £14.5m, plus a £4m swoop for on-trade wholesaler Classic Drinks.
The companies aren’t well known, and Wilson was the first to admit he only recently learned about Ritter-Courivaud.
“We had a meeting with our restaurant and catering customers and the operations director of Rick Stein Restaurants told us the best supplier was Ritter-Courivaud,” Wilson says.
“I wasn’t aware of them [but] we met with the team and were so impressed by the business. We’re going to keep it separate and also see opportunities for introducing Ritter products in certain branches.”
The deal will help Booker broaden its business into speciality foods, just as Classic Drinks will allow the wholesaler to deliver kegs to its pub customers.
Meanwhile, bagging Farrant as MD of Booker Cash & Carry reunites Wilson with a former M&S colleague.
But in true Wilson style, he revealed that Farrant has been helping Booker with its fruit and veg offer for the past two years.
Fresh sales have been storming along at Booker in recent years – up 46% in the past six months alone. And with 30 years at M&S under his belt, including two as director of food, it’s no wonder Wilson was trumpeting the capture of “one of the best food people in the UK”.
Earlier this week, Wilson won The Grocer Cup 2010 as the industry's top achiever over the past 12 months - and Booker's shares today hit a 52-week high. What does Wilson have up his sleeve next?
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