Asda Cannock

Blue Ocean lists all the major mults, discounters, foodservice wholesalers and symbol groups as partners on its website

Third-party distributor Blue Ocean owes a number of challenger brands upwards of £100k for products supplied to Asda since the collapse of Tree of Life.

Invoices are understood to be months overdue, in a scenario that has put Hampshire-based Blue Ocean and Asda at loggerheads. 

Blue Ocean said the delays came down to queried invoices that had not been resolved by Asda - but Asda said all due payments had been made to the distributor, and was “disappointed” by the late payments.

Asda had recommended Blue Ocean, with which it had a pre-existing relationship, to seven brands that used Tree of Life before the distributor’s collapse into administration last year.

The switch to Blue Ocean – which lists all the major mults, discountersfoodservice wholesalers and symbol groups as partners on its website –  was designed to provide the suppliers with a quick return to shelves following Tree of Life’s failure.

However, a number of the affected suppliers told The Grocer they had been chasing payments that were months overdue, and had been unable to get a response from Blue Ocean.

It is understood Blue Ocean owes two suppliers about £50k each, while the rest are chasing smaller amounts.

“It’s a real scandal to lose a big chunk of money to Tree of Life and now be out of pocket with Blue Ocean,” one supplier told The Grocer. “It is just adding insult to injury.”

Asda said all payments due to Blue Ocean had been paid and it continued to engage with the affected suppliers while they resolved outstanding sums.

“We are disappointed that Blue Ocean has missed a number of payments to manufacturers of products that make their way on to Asda’s shelves,” said a spokesman. “We are regularly in contact with them to ensure this is being resolved.

“We never require any manufacturer to work with a specific third party, and we are supporting suppliers who have been affected wherever we can.”

However, Blue Ocean CEO Hamish Gibson said the business was in “regular contact” with all seven Asda clients, “and all the clients know exactly what the queries are with Asda”.

He added: “Blue Ocean is deeply disappointed in the performance of Asda in resolving queries where a great deal of information has been supplied, often more than once.

“Whilst Asda has paid cleared invoices on time, and Blue Ocean has made payments to clients, Asda has not paid Blue Ocean for the many invoices in query.”

Gibson said Blue Ocean continued to work with Asda and the suppliers to resolve these issues and bring payments up to date.

“Following the sudden collapse of wholesalers Tree of Life and The Health Store, Blue Ocean was approached to assist seven companies to continue to supply products to Asda,” he added.

“Under the previous model, the wholesalers purchased products from the suppliers, and then sold them to Asda. Blue Ocean, as a sales broker, operates a different model, whereby Blue Ocean arranges direct supply into Asda.

“Due to the need to maintain product on Asda shelves, all parties worked with a degree of urgency to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible.

“Unfortunately, a number of issues arose largely resulting from that urgency and the transition occurring around the busy Christmas season, such as inaccurate data, new pricing requirements, changing to direct supply, delivery issues, duplicated and cancelled orders, product changes, suppliers working to a new business model and more.”