Sadness at reports that Booths may be sold

Edwin Booth opening the current Booths store in St Annes
Edwin Booth opening the current Booths store in St Annes

The family behind the county’s best known up-market grocer has said rumours about its sale are “highly speculative.”

EH Booth, which has 28 stores, has reportedly called in experts to advise on a potential sale of the business.

If so, it could potentially spell the end of 170 years of family ownership in the business.

According to national newspapers, the retailer, sometimes known as the Waitrose of the North, has drafted in advisers from Rothschild to consider takeover bids, with an asking price thought to be between £130m and £150m.

But a company spokesman today said the news reports “contained a great deal of speculation and reports are unconfirmed.”

They said: “Booths has been retailing for over 170 years and it remains a very strong, resilient and well-loved brand.

“One of our strengths has been our ability to adapt to changing market conditions and naturally, we always keep our strategic options open.”

The news has been greeted with concern, not only for the 2,800 jobs across the region, but also from farmers who supply Booths’ much-vaunted local produce.

The company has close ties right across the region with high quality producers and operates a fair price scheme for milk from local farmers.

Many people contacted by The Gazette did not want to talk on record today about the possible sale as speculation grew.

Fylde council leader Sue Fazackerley said if the sale materialised people across the area would miss the family’s commitment to the county.

She said: “I was very sorry to learn that the Booths family is looking to sell their business. The Booths name is highly regarded in Fylde, not only because of the quality of their product and generations of service but also because they have close ties with the borough.

"The first painting to be presented to the Lytham St Annes Art Collection in 1925 was donated by John Booth, the son of the founder Edwin Henry Booth. This generosity was again demonstrated in 2008 when Booths opened the Fylde Gallery within their Lytham store.

“This gallery is used to display a selection of the paintings in a series of themed exhibition and is extremely popular and highly valued.”

Kenneth Hind, Conservative Leader of Ribble Valley Borough Council, said it would be it as “a sad day for the Ribble Valley” if a sale went through.

He said: “Booths has been at the heart of our community for many years and forms an important hub in Berry Lane Longridge at the centre of our main shopping street.

“In Clitheroe the large site on the edge of town is adjacent to the proposed new market development and an important part of the future Clitheroe town centre.

“It is important to the Ribble Valley that we work together with the new owners in the same way that Booths family have done as part of our local communities. We need to make sure sure the new owners continue to provide the same service to the Ribble Valley as in the past.

“Booths as the Waitrose of the north provide a wide range of quality products a part of our retail offering, different from cheaper rivals which we wish to retain.It is also important to make sure that the jobs of the workforce are protected as many local residents work in the stores.”

Shoppers too expressed their disappointment if a company with such substantial Lancashire links became a loss to the high street.

Derek Gardner, has been shopping at Booths for decades.

He said: “I had heard something about it a while back that the company may be in some trouble and I saw the reports at the weekend.

“I would be very sad (if it is sold), it’s different, it’s not like the bigger supermarkets.

“It was only a few years ago they were expanding and building new locations and then they got rid of some managers last year.”

Helena and Bob Elliott are concerned for the staff who may be facing an uncertain future.

Helena said: “The staff are all so lovely and helpful here. I would be very sorry to see it go, that’s for sure. We have been shopping here for 40 years, since the original store on this site.”

Bob said: “It’s a local firm with local produce.”

Judith Rawson has also been a long-time customer but suggests it may be losing its edge. She said: “I have always shopped at Booths because of its delicatessen food but some of that has been scaled back for space.

“Often now there are items not available and I have to go to other supermarkets for ingredients, I like cooking and if the missing items are part of a recipe, that has annoyed me.

“It’s losing its edge on that side of things, I think. It’s going toward more of a basic supermarket. It would certainly be disappointing (if Booths was to close)."

EH Booth, founded in Blackpool in 1847 as a tea supplier, has suffered a turbulent two years after being hit hard by the 2015 Storm Desmond floods which damaged Cumbrian shops at Keswick and Kirkby Lonsdale.

It made a loss of £6.3m in the year ending March 26, 2016, and although it said sales were down by just 0.7 per cent, underlying trading profits fell from £3.1m to £2.6m as a result of the turbulent retail market and the costs associated with opening and supporting four new stores in one year.

The previous year it made a profit of £1.1m.

Part of the losses were due to costs in closing some smaller stores such as those at Lane Ends, Normoss, Marton, Torrishome, Ansdell and Poulton. However, it opened a replacement Poulton store and one in St Annes and has a store at Media City in Salford.

In August, Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC drafted in Grant Thornton to conduct an independent bank review of the business.

Edwin Booth, executive chairman said at the time: “Booths is a resilient 170-year-old family owned retailer with strong brand loyalty and leadership in place.

“These are turbulent times for the retail industry, which is rife with conjecture and speculation.

“We have an effective plan and team in place to ensure Booths remains a much loved retailer for our customers here in the North. We’re focusing on delivering the best service, products and value to our customers.”

Since then Booths has signed a deal with Amazon Fresh to sell its products across the country including ready meals ,cheeses and deli items on home delivery and tied up a deal with Fenwicks Department store’s food hall in Newcastle to supply its goods there too.