Belfast Telegraph

Good weather helps Booker sales jump 9.6%

Cash and carry chain Booker shrugged off competition concerns surrounding its takeover by Tesco to reveal a hot weather-fuelled surge in sales .

The group said non-tobacco like-for-like sales jumped by 9.6% in the quarter to June 16, thanks to fair weather and this year's later Easter.

Tobacco sales remained under pressure amid tighter regulation, down 7.9%, which left overall like-for-like sales 4.2% higher in the first quarter.

Analysts at Shore Capital branded the sales performance "outstanding".

The figures come as Booker holds its annual general meeting for shareholders, which is expected to be dominated by questions over its tie-up with Tesco.

Tesco and Booker asked the competition watchdog last week to "fast-track" its investigation into their £3.7 billion merger, with the deal expected to face an in-depth probe.

The Competition and Markets Authority had been expected to complete the first phase of its investigation by July 25, but the two firms have requested it speeds up referral to a more in-depth second phase.

Booker chief executive Charles Wilson said it was a "good quarter" for the group.

He added that "business as usual is going well" while it looks to overcome the competition hurdles for the Tesco deal.

Competition authorities are assessing whether the deal, announced in January, could reduce competition and choice for shoppers.

Booker is the UK's largest cash-and-carry operator with around 13,000 staff with around 200 stores in the UK, and owns the Londis and Budgens convenience store brands, as well as Happy Shopper and Premier.

Tesco has faced criticism from investors over the move, with some shareholders branding the takeover tilt a "distraction" and urging the Big Four grocer to scrap it.

Shares in Booker rose 3% after the better-than-expected first quarter figures.

Retail analyst Clive Black at Shore Capital said Booker recorded "outstanding non-tobacco like-for-like sales to our minds".

He added that the group's management have been "keeping focused on the day job" despite the Tesco deal distraction.