Independents don’t have to look too far for help, says Rod Addy

Independent retailers may sometimes feel like they are on their own in the battle against the big supermarkets, but the reality is, of course, very different. Today’s retailers can choose whether to trade under their own steam or opt to align themselves with one of the many fascia, franchise and symbol groups doing the business for independents.
Given their size and their growing importance for the industry, it makes sense for The Grocer to include a list of the top fascia, franchise and symbol groups within its annual Top 50 report.
So here it is: the first ranking of the main contenders, listed in order of store numbers, as this is the only common currency when assessing the sector.
Spar UK tops our list, with 2,724 stores now trading under the famous red, white and green banner. Many of its retailers and the wholesalers who operate the Spar network are running chains of stores - and they are a powerful force within our Top 50. For instance, the top 10 features CJ Lang, Henderson Retail, Waynes Foods and Tates.
The group’s importance is also reflected in the industry statistics compiled by IGD, which reckons Spar chalked up £2.35bn in sales, accounting for more than a third of the entire symbol group sector.
In terms of store numbers, Spar’s closest UK rival is Musgrave. Our figure below includes the stores operated in Northern Ireland by Musgrave under the SuperValu and Centra brands and the stores run in Great Britain by Musgrave Budgens Londis.
MBL is in a period of transition, as it looks to complete the franchising of the Budgens estate, so the figure does not include the stores still held within its corporate portfolio. In addition, we have opted not to include figures for Budgens within our Best of the Rest feature on page 36, as the changing shape of the MBL portfolio makes it difficult to paint an accurate picture.
Despite this period of flux, there’s no denying the fact that MBL is a major player with Budgens and Londis clocking up £1.5bn in annual sales. And the business has announced plans to double turnover in the next three years.
MBL’s confidence in the future was underpinned last summer when Londis shop owners received their final payout from the buyout of the group by Musgrave. There had been widespread expectations that Londis retailers would leave MBL in droves after they received their cash. But in the end, only a handful left.
Last year was also an eventful one for Booker, following its acquisition by Baugur. The Premier symbol group operated by Booker generates annual sales of £805m through 1,900 stores. And the wholesaler continues to develop its retailer package, with recent initiatives including the launch of a range of discounts on stock and equipment in August and teaming up with Kerry Foods Direct to Store to revamp its fresh and chilled delivery service.
The other group on our list that has been creating headlines recently is Bargain Booze, which supplies 550 stores under the Bargain Booze and Thorougoods fascias.
After what must rank as one of the longest courtships in corporate history, Bargain Booze was acquired by ECI Partners in January. The new owners are keen to see the group keep expanding its franchise business across the UK, with plans to recruit 50 to 60 stores every year for the next 10 years.
“The core area for growth will be from Birmingham to the south coast,” says joint MD Matthew Hughes.

Fascia, franchise & symbol groups

>>figures provided by the operators themselves
OperatorNumberStore typesBrands
1Spar2,724C-stores, forecourts, off-licencesSpar, Eurospar
2Musgrave (incl MBL) 2,247C-stores, forecourts, supermarkets, off-licencesLondis, Budgens, SuperValu, Centra
3Booker1,900C-stores, forecourtsPremier
4Costcutter1,370C-stores, forecourtsCostcutter
5Nisa-Today’s 1,015C-stores, forecourtsDay Today, Today’s, Nisa
6Bestway920C-stores, off-licencesBest-one, Best-in
7P&H Retail760C-stores, CTNs, forecourtsSupershop, Mace, Mace Express, Your Store
8Bargain Booze 550Off-licencesBargain Booze, Thorougoods
9Key Lekkerland342C-storesKeyStores, other Key fascias 10Landmark 248C-stores, off-licencesLifestyle Express, Drinks Express