Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland owner of retail giant Spar reports annual sales of over £750m

John Henderson Holdings also increases workforce to 3,387

By Margaret Canning

The parent company of retail giant Spar in Northern Ireland has reported turnover of £759m during 2017 - up 8.5% from £699m a year earlier.

However, pre-tax profits at John Henderson (Holdings), led by Geoff and Martin Agnew, were down slightly from £20.3m to £20.04m.

Geoffrey and Martin are the great-grandsons of the founder John Henderson, who started the business as a bread and milk wholesaler in St George's Market in 1897.

During 2017, staff numbers also expanded from 2,998 to 3,387. The company is the group company of subsidiaries including Henderson Wholesale, owner of the franchise for Spar, Eurospar and Vivo. It provides marketing and distribution to over 450 grocery retailers.

The subsidiaries also include catering business Henderson Foodservice and Henderson Retail - which owns and operates 79 stores.

John Henderson's highest-paid director received £356,593.

In a strategic report accompanying the results, the firm said that directors were pleased with 3.7% growth in sales across all channels and formats "driven by strong performance in both ambient and fresh food categories, with both footfall and basket spend increasing in our supplied retailer stores".

During the year, it said that 25 stores had been recruited from competitor symbol groups to come under the Henderson Wholesale umbrella.

And another six were acquired into the company-owned channel after trading under competitor brands.

Henderson Wholesale has owned the Spar franchise, which originated in Holland, since 1960.

Economist John Simpson said the group had been growing steadily for a number of years and could become a £1bn company.

"The prospect of reaching £1bn is still at a distance, but may happen," he said.

The strategic report said that the business was operating in a "highly competitive" sector, with competition from local and national operators.

It was also monitoring the impact of Brexit. "The economic environment in which the group operates is expected to remain positive during the next 12 months," the report added.

"However, the future impact of Brexit on the local economy remains uncertain.

"The group is committed to taking a proactive approach by the establishment of a working group to look at the implications, risks and challenges that any changes Brexit may bring to the business and minimise any adverse impact."

Fuel volumes in the 79 company-owed stores had grown by 1.3% on a like for like basis, which had driven increasing footfalls to the stores.

And sales in the foodservice company Henderson Foodservice had grown by just under 18%, "performing strongly across all key market channels, especially food to go and independent accounts".

Underlying gross profit improve to 17.1% from 16.6% - with the company saying that the mix of business was changing.

The lower volume categories of fuel and cigarettes claimed a lower percentage of sales, but were coupled with strong growth in the higher-margin ambient and fresh food, and food-to-go departments.

Other subsidiaries include Henderson Group Property, The Streat Franchising, Henderson Technology and property management company John (Henderson) Mallusk.

At last week's Balmoral Show, the business celebrated the contribution of its Northern Ireland fresh food suppliers with the Henderson Wholesale Fresh Innovation Awards.

Brian Irwin, chairman of Irwin's Bakery, was presented with an award for special contribution to the agri-food industry.

And Tim Graham of Graham's Bakery also became the first ever recipient of the young agri-food innovator award. TS Foods won an award for excellence in product innovation.

Belfast Telegraph

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