|Traded as||LSE: BOK|
Richard Rose, Chairman|
Charles Wilson, CEO
|Products||Cash and carry outlets|
|Revenue||£4,753 million (2015)|
|£140.3 million (2015)|
|£117.7 million (2015)|
Booker Group plc is the United Kingdom's largest food wholesale operator offering branded and private-label goods to over 400,000 customers, including independent convenience stores, grocers, pubs, and restaurants. The firm is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index. The company also founded, and was previously a sponsor of, the highly prestigious Booker Prize (originally the Booker–McConnell Prize) for literary fiction, which was established in 1968.
The company was founded by George and Richard Booker in 1835 when they bought their first ship and established the Booker Line which focused on shipping goods. It later diversified into the distribution of goods, and gradually disposed of its fleet of ships. With a new focus on wholesale food distribution, the company had over 100 warehouses across the United Kingdom by 1978, and was trading as Booker, McConnell Ltd.
Among other interests, it operated the sugar industry in Guyana (British Guiana before independence in 1966), running five Booker Line ships, until it was nationalised around 1970. After six months, Booker was called back to market the sugar. Booker had a long history of exploitation of sugar workers through the indentured labour system during the 19th and 20th centuries. At its peak, it controlled 75% of the sugar industry in British Guiana and was so powerful that a common joke was to refer to the country as "Booker's Guiana". In 1952, Jock Campbell took over the chairmanship of the company and his Fabian social politics transformed it dramatically into a benevolent force providing major benefits for sugar workers. Jock Campbell was also instrumental in the setting up of Booker's Author Division, which sponsored the Booker Prize.
In 1986, the company set up a short-lived co-venture between the directors of Siriol Animation to create Kalisto Limited. Kalisto also developed a show called Space Baby (which eventually became Fantastic Max), along with another series called Satellite City (which was co-produced with Fairwater Films) and the animated film The Little Engine That Could. Kalisto barely lasted a year before Booker bought the rights back.
In November 1996, Booker bought Nurdin & Peacock, taking ownership of the convenience store operator and brand Happy Shopper. Happy Shopper's products are sold by Booker to independent convenience stores and off-licences. In 2000, the brand's logo of a smiling face with blonde hair was dropped from products and packaging as part of a redesign by Partners In Communication, a design consultant company.
In 2000 Booker was purchased by Iceland Supermarkets, via its Big Food Group vehicle. Then in 2005 Big Food Group was in turn bought by acquisitive Icelandic group Baugur, which split Booker and Iceland again into different companies. In June 2007 Booker reversed into an AIM-listed wholesaler of groceries Blueheath, to form Booker Group plc.
Baugur sold all its assets in Booker Cash & Carry in June 2008 only weeks after its founder was found guilty of accounting irregularities. Baugur collapsed in February 2009 amidst the Icelandic financial crisis.
In 2009, Booker opened a store in Mumbai, and plans to have 20 cash and carry stores across India by 2017.
On 30 May 2012, Metro Group sold the 30 Makro United Kingdom stores and all operational assets to Booker Group Plc, in return for 9.99% of Booker's share capital, plus £15.8 million in cash; although the merger was referred to the Office of Fair Trading it was cleared by the Competition Commission in April 2013.
Booker author's division
During Jock Campbell's chairmanship of the company, then known as Booker-McConnell, he was also instrumental in the setting up of the Booker's author division. Campbell purchased 51 per cent of Glidrose Ltd, which owned the copyrights of his friend Ian Fleming for £100,000. This purchase was the foundation of the Authors' Division which also acquired rights to some well-known authors' works, such as Dennis Wheatley and the 64% stake in Agatha Christie's works not controlled by her family. In 1998 Agatha Christie's stakeholding was sold to Chorion for £10million, who themselves sold it on in 2012 to Acorn Media UK. The division also co-founded and sponsored the prestigious Booker-McConnell Prize for literature in 1968, now known as Man Booker Prize, the Booker Prize, or simply, "the Booker". This was transferred to the independent Booker Prize Foundation in 2002 and became sponsored by the Man Group plc, who opted to retain the well-known "Booker" name.
Chairmen of the Author's division have included Charles William Tyrell (1960s–1970s), Dennis H. Joss (1970s–1980s) and Agatha Christie's grandson Mathew Caradoc Thomas Prichard (1990s–2000s).
The company supplies approximately 1.5 million businesses across the United Kingdom, through its different divisions. It operates cash-and-carry branches throughout the United Kingdom (as well as a few in India) and operates a national delivery service in the United Kingdom.
The group consists of several divisions each specialising in different areas of the wholesale market in the United Kingdom.
- Booker Wholesale — a cash and carry and delivery businesses in the United Kingdom focusing on independent retailers, grocers, pubs and restaurants.
- Makro Self Service Wholesalers — a cash and carry business in the United Kingdom focusing on caterers and small professional businesses.
- Booker Direct — a delivered wholesale business serving large businesses, such as leading United Kingdom cinemas and the Prison Service.
- Classic Drinks — a delivered wholesale business supplying pubs and bars.
- Chef Direct — a delivered wholesale business.
- Ritter Courivaud — a delivered wholesale business specialising in fine foods serving top United Kingdom restaurants.
- Premier stores — a symbol group of independent convenience stores. The Premier name is owned by Booker Group with the stores owned by individuals who agree to a minimum spend each week with Booker Wholesale in exchange for business support and access to the branding.
- Booker India — a subsidiary of the group operating in India.
- Booker Retail Partners GB — the Budgens and Londis symbol chains.
In popular culture
Booker's Happy Shopper brand is parodied in the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but renamed The Hippy Shopper. The store in the game bears exact resemblance to the real life stores.
- Premier Stores – Booker convenience store chain
- Euro Shopper - Product branding across Europe, owned by Booker in the United Kingdom.
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