Big Food Group revisited was the first reaction of many – or perhaps the second, after sheer surprise – when news of Tesco’s planned tie-up with Booker flashed up on screens.
The similarities with Iceland’s ultimately ill-fated deal with Booker, back in May 2000, were striking.
Veteran retail comms man and adviser Keith Hann, who today still works with Iceland founder Malcolm Walker, tweeted a photograph of the press release from that time.
Some of the points could have been happily dropped into Tesco’s announcement last week.
It was said in 2000, for instance, that the link-up would “bring together complementary strategies, assets and management teams to create a unique business serving retail and trade customers through both traditional and new economy formats”.
Tesco’s merger with Booker may show in retrospect how ahead of its time Walker’s thinking was. In the context of today’s very different food market, the idea still makes sense intellectually.
People talk about nose-to-tail dining, and perhaps that term could apply to Tesco-Booker.
The enlarged business will make its presence felt right through the food supply and demand chain, from farms to stores to restaurants, as the business exploits the dining out as well as eating at home market.
However, it’s a deal that comes freighted with risk.
“While it’s a crucial part of Lewis’s job to think ahead end ensure Tesco’s continued relevance in future, the danger is that the corporate action diverts attention from the prime focus of rebuilding prowess at the core retail business”
First, while Tesco has made great progress under chief executive Dave Lewis, its turnaround remains a work in progress.
While it’s a crucial part of Lewis’s job to think ahead end ensure Tesco’s continued relevance in future, the danger is that the corporate action diverts attention from the prime focus of rebuilding prowess at the core retail business.
The departure of Tesco non-executive director Richard Cousins, apparently because he disagreed with the Booker deal, is therefore worrying.
Another big risk may be regulatory approval. It’s inconceivable that this tie-up won’t be closely scrutinised, again potentially devouring management time.
But one big difference this time around is that highly regarded Booker boss Charles Wilson seems to be locked in to the merged business. There’s already speculation that he could be Tesco’s chef executive in waiting.
Risks aside, the merger could prove inspired if it goes to plan, creating not Big Food Group Mk II but a bigger, better food group with greater power to sell what people put on their plates.