Booker has posted a jump in full-year earnings despite suffering a dip in sales to retailers.

The UK’s biggest food wholesaler, which is the subject of a £3.7bn bid from supermarket giant Tesco, said pre-tax profits climbed 15% to £174m in the 52 weeks to March 24.

Operating profit grew at a similar rate of 14% to £176.1m.

Booker’s total sales rose 6.7% to £5.3bn during the period, as sales to its 117,000 retail customers rose 10.1% to £3.36bn. 

However, on a like-for-like basis, sales to retailers slipped 0.6%.

By contrast, like-for-like sales to caterers such as Wagamama, Byron and Carluccio’s increased 4.4%.

The group’s overall like-for-like sales edged up 0.5%.  

Online sales also continued to gain traction, climbing 9.5% to £1.07bn as its digital customer base increased to 569,000 from 490,000 year-on-year. 

‘Business as usual’ 

Booker, which owns the Londis, Budgens and Premier symbol groups, said it continued to be “business as usual” four months after it revealed it had agreed terms on a merger with Tesco.

The wholesaler and retailer added that it was “continuing to assist the UK competition authorities in their ongoing consideration of the merger.”

It reaffirmed its belief that the deal would complete late this year or in early 2018. 

Booker hailed “good progress” on the catering and retail sides of the business during the year – the two core divisions that attracted Tesco to the business.

It said customer satisfaction across the year was “strong”, following work to improve choice, price and service for its customers.

Sales ahead of last year

Booker said it would not be making forward-looking statements while it is in the offer period, but revealed that sales in the first seven weeks of its new financial year are ahead of last year.

Chief executive Charles Wilson hailed the performance as “another good year.”

Wilson said: “Our plan to focus, drive and broaden the business remains on track.

“Customer satisfaction was strong and sales and profits were the best we have ever achieved.”

On the planned merger with Tesco, Wilson added: “We are planning to merge with Tesco to create the UK’s leading food business.

“This merger should deliver significant benefits for consumers, Booker customers, suppliers, colleagues and shareholders.

“We are very grateful for the support of our customers, suppliers and everybody in the Group and look forward to making progress in the year ahead.”