blakemore wholesale

Roll up, roll up! Twelve highly desirable cash & carry depots for sale! Offers in the region of £100m.

The grocery industry’s worst-kept secret was revealed this week when AF Blakemore & Son confirmed it had put its cash & carry operation up for sale. The confirmation came a mere eight months after it was first reported it had engaged KPMG to explore the sale.

A £100m price tag was a figure from the original Daily Telegraph story and in the current climate seems a little far-fetched – but it reflects the fervour and raised expectations in the wholesale and convenience sector since Tesco agreed to pay £3.7bn for Booker last year.

The key to this story is not likely to be the price but rather who will want the sites. There is clearly a reason why AFB is looking to exit the cash & carry game, and that is the shift towards delivered wholesale.

The majority of the leading c&c players have long been developing their delivered and foodservice offerings and there are few pure-play cash & carry specialists left beyond Dhamecha and Parfetts – both of whom, to be fair, still appear to be making it work well.

So who will buy these depots? My feeling is they will be sold off individually or in parcels rather than to one buyer swooping for all 12 sites. It is understood AFB had been in talks with Bestway, but The Grocer understands it is more interested in AFB’s delivered Spar operations and therefore may have considered buying the cash & carry division as part of a bigger deal. However, AFB’s chairman Peter Blakemore is not looking to sell the Spar operation or its stores.

It looks as if the failure to advance this deal is why AFB has publicly declared the sites are on the market. Indeed, a note in the wholesaler’s statement yesterday – that anyone interested in the sites should contact its property director Mark Titley – also suggests a piecemeal sale is the most likely option.

The geographical spread of the depots also makes a single bid unlikely. There are four sites in Wales, three in the north east, three in the Midlands and two in Yorkshire.

At the moment we are ruling more bidders out than in – Bestway looks set to be a no-go and Dhamecha has said none of the sites feature in its growth plan. But Parfetts may look to add sites in its catchment area, while United Wholesale Scotland and JW Filshill have both expressed an interest in the north of England. I wouldn’t rule out Booker throwing in a cheeky bid for a depot or two, either.

We are likely to get a clearer picture of interest over the coming weeks. My hope is bids come in quickly to give the depot staff some certainty over their future. It has been a turbulent few weeks in the wider UK retail sector and it would be awful if that starts creeping into wholesale.