Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Booker Group

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Booker Group plc, of Bucklersbury House, Cannon St, London EC4, the United Kingdom's largest food wholesale operator with a history in shipping, engineering, and distribution.

1835 The Company was founded by George and Richard Booker when they bought their first ship and established the Booker Line.

Booker had a long history of exploitation of sugar workers through the indentured labour system during the 19th and 20th centuries. At its peak it controlled 75% of the sugar industry in British Guiana and was so powerful that a common joke was to refer to that country as 'Booker's Guiana'.

c.1900 Public company incorporated: Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co[1] which acquired George Booker and Co, John McConnell and Co, and Lucas Cook and Co, in Liverpool, London and Demerara[2]

1949 Rights issue to reduce overdraft; financial resources were being conserved to enable modernisation of the sugar estates[3]

1952 Jock Campbell took over the Chairmanship of the company and his Fabian social politics transformed it dramatically into a benevolent force providing major benefits for sugar workers.

1956 Started to build an engineering group by acquisition of George Fletcher and Co of Derby, sugar machinery manufacturers, and Reliance Manufacturing Co (Southwark) Ltd, maker of high precision potentiometers[4]

1957 Acquired Alfred Button and Sons, which was the start of Booker's food distribution business[5]

1958 Acquired Sigmund Pumps including its subsidiaries Small Bore Heating Systems and Crewdson Hardy[6]

1961 Engineers, pumping and irrigation specialists and manufacturers of pumps, acid resisting, automatic, barrel, bilge, boiler-feed, draining, centrifugal circulating, process pumps, and ThermoPak. 850 employees.

1961 Acquired another pump company, Pulsometer Engineering Co. This combination created one of the largest pump companies in Europe, which became known as Sigmund Pulsometer Pumps, or SPP for short.

1968 Booker McConnell was the parent company of the Booker Group which included Booker Line and Booker Brothers (Liverpool)

1969 Merged the mining machinery interests of Fletcher and Stewart with those of Richard Sutcliffe and A. G. Wild and Co (owned by Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation) in a new company Fletcher Sutcliffe Wild, to supply self-advancing powered roof support systems and other mining machinery; it would be majority owned by Booker[7]

1976 By the time of the Guyanan nationalisation, Booker had diversified into international agricultural management and consultancy, food distribution, rum and liqueur brands, engineering (mainly for the sugar processing, coal, oil, and gas industries), shipping, health products and authors' copyrights.

Among other interests, it operated the sugar industry in Guyana (British Guiana before independence in 1966), running five Booker line ships, until it was nationalized in 1976. After six months Booker was called back to market the sugar.

1977 The fluid engineering division (SPP and Plenty and Son) was the second largest source of profit[8]; food distribution was the largest source of profit[9]

By 1978 the Company had over 100 warehouses across the UK and traded as Booker, McConnell. Acquired the American Health Products business.

1980 Failure of two US engineering companies and recession in United Kingdom food wholesaling led to major reorganisation involving: divestment of businesses where substantial, long-term profit growth was seen as doubtful, including engineering, ocean shipping and spirits; and reinforcement and expansion of the agriculture and health products businesses, which were seen as growth points, and food distribution, in which Booker had substantial commitment and market position[10].

1981 Three engineering businesses (one in USA) were sold.

1981 A sugar machinery factory was closed (and its foundry sold) and the four ships of the Booker Line, as well as a US engineering investment, were sold.

1983 Fletcher Sutcliffe Wild had benefitted from increased business from the National Coal Board; in March it was sold to Dobson Park Industries[11]

1983 SPP was bought out of the Booker Group. Also a specialist confectionery and tobacco wholesale business was sold.

1984 Three spirits, liqueurs and wine interests, a specialised food wholesaling business (Parrish and Fenn), a Canadian health food retail chain and the remaining shipping interests were sold or discontinued.

1984 Acquired a Scottish salmon farm, a UK forestry management company, and a fish curing company; acquired the Bishop's Group retail grocery chain and a delivered wholesale business (Harvey, Bradfield and Toyer).

The company diversified into the distribution of goods rather than merely shipping them, when it gradually disposed of its fleet of ships: the focus was then put on food wholesale distribution.

By 1984 The main businesses were Food Distribution, Health Products, Agriculture and a few remaining engineering activities.

2000 Booker was purchased by Iceland Supermarkets, via its Big Food Group vehicle.

2005 Big Food Group was in turn bought by acquisitive Icelandic group Baugur, which split Booker and Iceland again into separate companies.

2007 Booker reversed into AIM-listed wholesaler of groceries Blueheath, to form Booker Group plc.

2008 Baugur sold all its assets in Booker Cash & Carry only weeks after its founder was found guilty of accounting irregularities.

2009 Baugur collapsed in February amidst the Icelandic financial crisis.

2009, Booker opened its first store in India in Mumbai. The UK chain continued to explore options outside Maharashtra and planned to open 20 cash and carry stores in India over the next five years.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Sep 22, 1950
  2. The Times, Jan 03, 1933
  3. The Times, Nov 26, 1949
  4. The Times, Jun 05, 1957
  5. The Times, Mar 28, 1977
  6. The Times, Oct 20, 1958
  7. The Times (London, England), Thursday, May 08, 1969
  8. The Times, Mar 28, 1977
  9. The Times, Mar 28, 1977
  10. Competition Commission report 1985
  11. The Times, Apr 22, 1983