Bargain Booze: How low-cost off-licence chased Iceland by expanding frozen food offering

Founded in 1981, the British convenience chain originated from a wholesale wine and spirits business owned by Allan Whittle and Robert Mayor. In January 2000, Mr Whittle and Mr Mayor sold the company to BWG Foods and in July 2002, BWG was bought out by Electra Partners, leading to a management buyout backed by private equity firm ECI Partners. Until July 2013, ECI remained the majority shareholder when the company floated on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and the company acquired the Wine Rack, an off-licence chain, with 22 outlets mostly located in London and South East England.

That same year, Bargain Booze announced record sales growth from its frozen food offerings.

The company had experienced its fifth consecutive year of growth in the area after broadening its convenience offering and strong performers across the company’s chain of franchisee-owned stores include ice-cream, potato products and pizza.

Bargain Booze said the investment in the business’ growing product range formed part of its commitment to providing a quality convenience offering across its estate, which includes Bargain Booze, Bargain Booze Plus, Select Convenience and Thorougoods fascias.

Keith Webb, managing director of the company at the time, said: “We have focused on a core range of competitively priced best sellers, in-store point of sale and promotions which have resulted in our strong performance within the frozen foods category.

“It is important for us to continue to provide shoppers with a choice of goods from brand leaders and also lesser-known names so they have the freedom to shop within their budget.

“With household budgets tightening and frozen food being such a popular consumer staple, we recognised the demand for a range to fit in with people’s busy day-to-day lives.

“We are committed to providing our customers with products that offer good value for money and we plan to continue to develop our convenience offering over the coming 12 months.”

From 2013 to April 2018, Bargain Booze was owned by Conviviality plc and in March 2018, the company owner stated that it faced bankruptcy unless it could raise £125million, as it issued its third profits warning in a month.

The company had earlier said it was considering tapping shareholders for funds, and had arranged meetings with institutional investors to persuade them to take part in its share placing to raise the required money.

This was unsuccessful and at the end of March 2018, Conviviality announced its intention to appoint administrators within a fortnight, putting 2,600 jobs at risk.

In early April 2018, the Bargain Booze and Wine Rack brands were acquired for £7million by wholesaler Bestway,

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Today it was announced that accountancy giant Grant Thornton has been fined £3million, discounted to £1.95million for admissions, by the industry watchdog for failures and loss of independence in its auditing of Conviviality.

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) said Grant Thornton had admitted breaching “very important” ethical standards and requirements between 2014 and 2017 to ensure the independence of its audit.

The FRC said the failures were “repeated and prolonged” and saw “numerous breaches”.

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