The Bestway empire grew out of a single shop in London’s Earls Court that was founded in 1963 by Sir Anwar Pervez, who had emigrated to the UK from Pakistan.

In 1976 the first Bestway Wholesale depot opened in Acton, west London since when the company has grown into a multi-billion pound enterprise and is now the UK’s largest independent wholesaler. Bestway Wholesale is part of Bestway Group, which also has banking, cement, pharmacy, milling and property investment businesses in the UK and Pakistan.

The wholesale division includes 65 Bestway and Batleys depots all over the country, supplying over 70,000 independent retailers and 40,000 catering and foodservice operators.

Kenton Burchell, Trading Director, Bestway Wholesale, spoke to Wholesale Manager about how the company and the industry have responded to the Covid-19 crisis and about his expectations for the year ahead.

Tell us about your role as Trading Director – what does that involve?

I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world leading our buying, supply and marketing teams for Bestway. We are responsible for creating the best possible trading offer for all of our wholesale customers spanning convenience retail, foodservice and pet specialist customers.

Our buying team works closely with suppliers to use market insight to provide the best range, promotions and base pricing for our customers and consumers. Our supply team work alongside our buying team to forecast demand and work with suppliers to maintain high levels of availability, whilst managing stocks efficiently. Our marketing team then work closely with our category managers and suppliers to proactively communicate our range, prices and promotions to our customers and consumers, through traditional point of sale and through our industry leading digital platforms.

We have an incredibly diverse customer base of over 40,000 independent retailers and we stock over 14,000 skus across 65 depots servicing all GB postcodes, which creates a really dynamic and exciting environment.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of Bestway?

Sir Anwar Pervez, Bestway’s Chairman, established its first wholesale warehouse nearly 45 years ago in Acton, West London. A while back, his son, Dawood Pervez and Bestway’s managing director highlighted to me that his dad’s number one ambition was to – ‘help the small shops in local communities’. It was that vision to always offer customers a comprehensive range of products and promotions at sector-leading prices, unparalleled availability and first-class service which successfully led to expansion and Bestway now has 65 depots across the country. In 2005, Bestway acquired Batley’s, and in 2018 Bestway purchased Bargain Booze and the Wine Rack brands. Proudly, we are now the UK’s largest independent food and drink wholesaler.

How big is the company now in turnover and numbers of depots?

The wholesale division has 65 Bestway and Batleys depots spanning the length and breadth of the UK. We supply and support over 40,000 independent retailers. As a business with a UK turnover of £2.5bn and a comprehensive logistical infrastructure, we have the scale, purchasing power and expertise to help our customers compete in an ever-changing food and drink sector.

How are consumers, retailers, wholesalers and suppliers reacting to the current Coronavirus crisis and what effect is this having on the grocery industry?

Even prior to the lockdown restrictions being announced, consumers began changing their shopping habits. As a result we saw a change in customer behaviour, with a sudden increase in footfall, new customer enquiries and delivery requests. With shortages of toilet paper, flour, and other essentials in supermarkets, we saw the humble corner shop and local chains like Best-One become a crucial source of supplies, and retailers rose to the challenge to serve their communities safely. Understanding the pressures they were facing, we took significant steps to ensure that our loyal, long-standing customer base were supported, protected and rewarded during the pandemic. The last few months have highlighted to us all the challenges in ensuring fair distribution of stock across the sector and here at Bestway, we lobbied hard on behalf of our customers to ensure availability to independent retailers, as we know they are providing vital lifelines to their local communities.

How has Bestway responded to the Covid-19 crisis – what changes have you had to make in-depot and beyond?

To stay agile, support our existing retail customers and ensure availability of stock, we had to make some changes to our setup. We stopped issuing day passes to unregistered retailers, reduced trading times in key hub depots to allow our teams the time to replenish stock safely before picking for delivered orders. This gave us the added advantage of maximising delivered availability, despite the significant disturbance to supply chains. We have gone further than government guidelines and offered all our staff PPE to ensure they feel safe and valued.

Whilst keeping staff safe throughout this challenging period, we kept all depots open and deliveries on the road, making delivered retail customers a priority, not just in hub depots but across the entire depot network. The business invested in new hires, offered overtime to existing drivers and mobilised some of its sales teams to depots to support its service offering and general availability. We assisted stores to set up local delivery solutions and launch the Food parcel service for the vulnerable.

How is your own brand range performing?

Consumers are realising that the quality of the own brand products is closely matched to that of branded products and represents better value for money. In recent weeks, where some branded products have not been available from manufacturers, even more of our shoppers have tried our own brand and been pleasantly surprised with the quality. This has led to a significant spike in positive consumer feedback and compliments about our own brand. Our top selling own label products include toilet tissues, soft drinks, canned vegetables, biscuits and household laundry and cleaning products.

How is the best-one symbol group doing – are the numbers of retailer members growing, are there any new innovations within the symbol group offering, etc?

There has never been a better time for those forward-thinking convenience retailers who are classically independent to potentially consider a closer affiliation to protect their supply routes. Since March, we have been supporting over 40 retailers convert to the ‘Bestway family fascia’.

Is the Bestway Van Direct business growing in numbers and sales?

Bestway Vans Direct has served local communities for over 20 years, and throughout the pandemic continued to play its part and serve thousands of our loyal customers whilst helping nearly 2,500 new customers transform their business to stay agile. The team have strived, to be the face of our supply partners, representing their brands day in day out, to make sure volume and distribution is as good as it could be, with most brand manufacturers’ salesforces off the road at this time.

We are so proud of our Bestway Vans Direct colleagues, as a result of their pivotal measures we maintained our momentum increasing sales by 24% year on year. This just goes to show that great people and great service can deliver great results.

Do you have any advice for independent retailers to grow sales?

Even when lockdown restrictions are eased people will continue to spend more time at home and in the garden, so retailers should continue to cater for this new trend. We have seen continued high demand for wine, spirits and beer ranges, as well sharing formats of items such as crisps and snacks. We expect the demand to remain high throughout the rest of the summer and through to the autumn as consumers continue to enjoy ‘Big Night Ins’ with family and friends. Convenience stores have become small grocery stores over the past few months, where consumers have been buying larger pack formats and shopping across a broader range than previously, increasing the average basket spend significantly. We believe this trend will continue for many months and will become the “new normal” for many of our retailers’ communities. We have already witnessed our retailers adapting to the changing consumer demand, so we are well placed to grow sales further over the next year and beyond.

What do you see as the biggest trends in foodservice?

Earlier in the year, the key growth trends were focused on health and wellbeing, such as Vegan options.

Authentic favourites, such as handmade pies and fresh foods such as produce, meat and dairy are also key areas of growth and continue to be a key area of focus for us at Bestway. Whilst our fast food categories have remained very strong over recent months, we are looking forward to supporting our customers re-start their business following the re-opening of the foodservice sector in July. Similar to the convenience retail market, this is likely to create new trends in foodservice, so we will be working closely with our customers and using our data analytics to identify any new trends and respond quickly.

How digital is Bestway as a business?

Bestway is one of the leaders in this space, steering the way with its ecommerce platform, advancing its websites, creating three apps, whilst investing in digital analytics platforms. It’s critical to offer the same high level of experience in our depots as we do for our online customers. Our digital platforms have provided Bestway with a real advantage in the market over recent months, enabling us to keep customers up to date with the very latest consumer trends, availability and helping retailers to identify new opportunities to grow sales by prompting retailers to increase stocks across key product formats. One example included a message on our web landing page telling customers multipack soft drinks were growing by 41%. When the retailer clicked the message, they were presented with a suggested range of multipack soft drinks, with product images, pricing and promotions to buy into. This is a win-win for Bestway, supplier partners and our customers, compared to using more traditional analogue marketing point of sale, which is less efficient.

What are the biggest trends in grocery?

Post pandemic, people will still be spending more time at home compared to last year, whether entertaining friends in the garden, watching movies or a Netflix series, with that we will continue to see high demand for sharing formats of items such as crisps and snacks. Sharing packs have been incredibly important over the last few months as consumers looked for larger packets to share with their families at home.

As the lockdown eases, consumers will also be travelling more and returning to the workplace. We believe our customers will continue to win share from the supermarket formats due to social distancing measures, which also provide a fantastic opportunity for sales of instant consumption product formats. We’ve been working with our key suppliers in recent weeks to ensure we have the best possible offer to support our retailers to ensure they are at the forefront to re-engage on the go consumers.

The demand has also been high across most of our wine, spirits and beer ranges, and fully expect the demand to remain high throughout the rest of the summer and into the autumn as the population continue to enjoy ‘Big Night Ins’. At Bestway, we are supporting our customers to maximise the drinks sales opportunity, implementing cross-category merchandising for summer drinks that pair well with BBQ food; whilst promoting mixers to be enjoyed alongside spirits.

During the height of the pandemic, convenience stores saw their footfall increase and consumers shopping across a much broader range, significantly increasing basket spend. This has continued, and we believe will carry on as new customers discovered their local stores as a great alternative to supermarkets.

What are your expectations for the business in the year ahead?

Our expectations are for the business to continue to adapt to consumer trends, provide great service to our customers and deliver continued strong growth over the coming year.

We have strived to provide our customers with the best availability and value possible over the past few months, sustaining everyday low prices and promotions, where other wholesalers have significantly scaled back promotions. We expect our convenience, vans and pet specialist business to sustain strong growth and we are ready to support our foodservice and on-trade customers to re-start their businesses.

We are well positioned and determined to build on recent momentum and emerge even stronger from 2020 and drive sustained growth in 2021.

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