Founded in 1847, Booths is a chain of high-end supermarkets in northern England, primarily located in Lancashire as well as Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. In December Booths opened its thirtieth store in Barrowford, Lancashire, ahead of plans to unveil four more supermarkets this year
Committing to fair practice and supporting emerging artisan food producers has gained the upmarket northern supermarket operator wide acclaim, with Booths claiming to be an “enlightened retailer” as a result. Produce Business UK speaks with Chris Dee, its new CEO, and Adam Whalley, head of chilled buying, to find out more about Booth’s approach to fresh produce, both with suppliers and customers.
Chris, you have a long standing career in food and drink retailing; starting out in the wine trade in York and London before establishing your own chain of wine shops in Yorkshire [eventually sold to Oddbins]. What are your plans and objectives in your new role as CEO of Booths?
Chris Dee (CD): Booths is opening four new stores this year [in Hale Barns, Burscough, St Anne’s, and Poulton Le Fylde] and my aim is to ensure the business stays special as we grow. I’m also keen to expand the nationwide online offering we trialled last Christmas and make nationwide home delivery a permanent fixture at certain times of the year.
You’ve been with Booths since 1995 when you joined as a wine buyer. What have you achieved in the last two decades with the company?
CD: I became marketing and IT director in 1997, buying director in 2004, trading director in 2009, COO in 2012 and CEO in 2015. During my time at Booths I’ve had a relentless focus on product and service resulting in many UK “supermarket firsts” – e.g. rose veal, beluga caviar, salt marsh lamb, dry aged beef, Romanesco cauliflower and Amalfi lemons, as well as a wine-tasting ‘machine’ [which offers customers free samples of over 60 different wines] and a fresh herb availability guarantee, to name a few.
I’ve also modernised many of Booths operations and introduced many industry recognised marketing initiatives – such as The Booths Card, Booths Christmas Book and Booths Forgotten Foods campaign in conjunction with the international Slow Food movement [which words to put once-endangered food products back on our tables, such as Formby Asparagus and Lyth Valley Damsons].
I hear you also cook in Michelin-starred restaurants for fun! Looking forward, do you have any specific goals in terms of the fresh produce on offer at Booths?
CD: I want Booths to continue to be at the forefront of British grocery retailing when it comes to Booths’ offer on fresh meat and fish, fruit and vegetables and bakery by drawing inspiration from specialty food shops and markets rather than attempting to imitate the big four [Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons].
Adam, as head of chilled buying at Booths, where do you see the fresh fruit and vegetable side of the business headed in particular?
Adam Whalley (AW): The future for our fresh produce business lies in continuing to strike the right balance between offering great quality product alongside a range that always seeks to be both imaginative with a real focus on seasonality, whilst also ensuring that our price proposition fully reflects the increasingly competitive nature of the market.
Are you adding new fresh produce lines all the time?
AW: By its very nature there is an on-going ebb and flow of new lines coming in and out of the fresh produce category.
How does Booths merchandise its fresh produce? What works and what doesn’t?
AW: The merchandising of our fresh produce continues to cut across many different styles, from traditional on-shelf fixtures (both chilled and ambient), through to more innovative displays utilising wooden baskets, misting tables (at our Knutsford store) and also our impactful front-of-store displays.
What are Booths’ shoppers demanding from your fresh fruit and vegetable category at the moment?
AW: As highlighted above, our customer base is getting increasingly ‘price savvy’, which we fully understand and are endeavouring to respond to, primarily through our weekly promotional deals. Though, it remains our belief that the overriding expectation from our customers remains for us to deliver fantastic great tasting product with particular emphasis on where our produce is sourced, which is where our commitment to working directly with ‘local’ growers gives us a real point of difference here.
So, is going local one way in which Booths is responding to those shopper requirements?
AW: Yes, by continuing to support our local grower base, by offering impactful off-shelf features on “in season” produce, and also through our commitment to offer great value through our promotional package – in particular our weekly “pallet deals”.
How do you engage with fresh produce shoppers and what’s your message when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables?
AW: Through all of the above – offering great value (such as pallet deals), highlighting ‘Best in Season’ via in-store tastings and social media, as well as in-store ‘Meet the Grower’ events. Our message for fresh produce continues to centre on delivering on our three key objectives; these being quality, taste and value.
Is that what Booths is looking for in its suppliers and fresh fruits and vegetable suppliers then? What do you require?
AW: Taste, quality, something different and value. Quality is key. We can’t overstate that. Our aim is to retail the best produce available. Seasonal variety is of utmost importance.
The Booths website features a dedicated section about ‘How to supply Booths‘ – an open and inviting approach that you don’t often see from other UK retailers. Why has Booths chosen this approach and what does it mean for your offer?
AW: We have found this approach less intimidating for smaller suppliers and it allows us to keep abreast of new products and innovation. Booths prides itself on close links with artisan producers and suppliers. Our relative size allows us to work with growers on smaller scales with specialist produce. Small-scale growers and producers are often intimidated by supplying the multiples, but Booths is a much more amenable contract – we aim to work alongside our suppliers to get the best food possible to market.
Other than online applications and ‘Meet the Buyer Days’, how else do you find your suppliers? What tips do you have for fresh fruit and vegetable suppliers looking to work with Booths?
AW: Our Supply Booths website has been designed to help suppliers prepare themselves to supply Booths and offers all manner of information and support to help them be in the best position to make the most of their meetings with buyers. We strive to build long-term relationships with our farmers and growers.
Your CEO Chris Dee has also been described as being instrumental in forging strong and resilient links between retailer and suppliers. Why is it so important to develop close links? And, what does that mean for your shoppers?
AW: Booths trade in largely agricultural areas in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cheshire. Farmers and farming families are not only our suppliers, they are our customers. An excellent supply chain is at the heart of any retailer, it makes sense to look after suppliers and offer them support and advice to build better businesses, both for Booths and the supplier. Close relationships mean better quality and continuity of supply.
Getting a listing at Booths:
The supplier application process at Booths features four stages:
- Getting Retail Ready – complete the checklist.
- Online Application – complete the form.
- Review and Meeting Invitation – Booths will invite you to attend a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event if your application meets its criteria.
- Meet the Buyer Event – present your pitch in 15 minutes (Meet the Buyer events are held every three months at Booths’ head office in Preston – next date is Wednesday, July 8).
- Booths builds its supplier relationships on “trust, integrity and an unwavering commitment to quality”.
- The retailer claims to have adopted an honest and fair approach with all its suppliers; sharing sales information to build a long-term relationship.
- Many of Booths’ fruit and vegetable suppliers are based extremely close to its stores and customers in the northwest of England so the fresh produce is really fresh.
- Booths’ only orders enough fruit and veg to supply its current 30 stores to ensure produce arrives in the aisles from the farm in double-quick time.
- Special produce is displayed in Booths’ wooden display crates to remind shoppers to pick it up while it’s fresh.
- Produce specialities include: dug-today new potatoes from Sean Mallinson at Mere Brow, near Tarleton; and Peter Ascroft’s cauliflowers from Worthington’s Farm, who also cuts his crop to order.
- Produce sourced from abroad (such as exotics, lemons and bananas) are held to the same high standards as local produce.
- Booths says what drives its suppliers is their pride in producing a quality product.
Some of Booths’ current produce suppliers:
A closer look at Booths
- A proudly local food store, family business Booths was founded in 1847 by Edwin Henry Booth who had one simple aim: “to sell the best goods he could buy in shops staffed with first-class assistants”.
- Measuring 18,000ft2 and 25,000ft2, Booths’ stores are considered to be medium-sized, modern food supermarkets.
- Each store has its own unique identity, reflecting the landscape of its location.
- The Booths brand is committed to offering its customers a first-class shopping experience.
Booths across the years
1847 – Tea dealer Edwin Henry Booth, aged 19, opens his first store, the China House, in Blackpool with a loan of £80 in goods.
1847 – Three months later Edwin repays the debt and makes a profit of £50 before extending his stock.
1863 – Changes in the licensing laws allows Edwin to move into the wines and spirits trade.
1879 – A new branch of EH Booth & Company opens in Lytham.
1884 – A new branch of EH Booth & Company opens in Blackburn.
1902 – The business expands under the leadership of Edwin’s eldest son, John, with the addition of cafés.
1920 – Recognising enthusiastic people are vital to a successful business John Booth invites all his assistants to become shareholders after rewarding them with a bonus.
Since then – the Booths family continues to grow and develop the business, expanding into logistics and distribution.
2014 – Booths unveils its 30th store in Barrowford, Lancashire.
2015 – Four new stores are due to open in Hale Barns, Burscough, St Anne’s, and Poulton Le Fylde.