Food and drink wholesaler Booker is set to take on the likes of Brakes and 3663 with the creation of Chef Direct, a new distribution network aimed at major food service providers.
The company announced its plans in its third-quarter interim management statement, which also revealed its total sales for the 16 weeks to 30 December 2011 were up 7% on the same period the year before.
Mark Aylwin, managing director of Booker Direct, said: "For years, two players have dominated food service in the UK. Catering chains have been looking for more choice and Chef Direct will meet this need."
Chef Direct will be open for new business in March and will begin operating out of its new 250,000sq ft distribution centre in Didcot in June, servicing restaurants and catering businesses.
Non-tobacco sales for the third quarter were up 6.7%, while tobacco sales rose by 7.6%. On a like-for-like basis, total sales rose by 6.5%, non-tobacco sales rose by 5.8% and tobacco sales by 7.6%. Booker also said that customer numbers and the average spend per customer had improved and fruit and vegetable sales were up 17%.
Stuart Hyslop, sales director - catering, said that the company's catering business had made good progress, but made clear the company would not rest on its laurels.
"The outlook remains challenging for our catering customers. Although we continue to make good progress, we understand there is more work we need to do," he explained. "However, we are grateful that more customers are choosing Booker and we are committed to improving choice, price and service, so we can help them operate a profitable business."
By Janie Stamford
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