E H Booth & Company Ltd.

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E H Booth & Company Ltd.

4 Fishergate
Preston, PR1 3LJ
United Kingdom
Telephone: (44 01772) 204316
Fax: (44 01772) 251701
Web site: http://www.booths-supermarkets.co.uk

Private Company
Employees: 2,780
Sales: £201 million ($400 million) (2006 est.)
NAIC: 445110 Supermarkets and Other Grocery (Except Convenience) Stores

E H Booth & Company Ltd. is one of England's leading independent retailers, operating 26 supermarkets exclusively in the northwest counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and Cumbria. Targeting the premium end of the U.K. supermarket sector, Booth has also consistently placed among the top ranks of Grocer magazine's list of World's Greatest Food Retailers. In 2006, the company was ranked number two, beating out such stalwarts as Harrods, Waitrose, and Fortnum & Mason. Booth avoids direct competition with the United Kingdom's big four national chains (ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury, and Morrisons) by concentrating on high-quality products and emphasizing service. The company has also long acted as a pioneer in maintaining a strong selection of local and regional products on its shelves. The company's own branded line of products similarly focus on the high-quality, premium price segment. Booth has also established a national reputation for its wine selection, which was underscored by winning the title of Regional Supermarket of the Year at the International Wine Challenge Awards for a second time in 2006. The company's everywine.co.uk web site is also one of the United Kingdom's top wine retailers. Founded in 1847, E. H. Booth & Company remains the oldest family-owned supermarket group in the United Kingdom, now led by the fifth generation under chairman Edwin John Booth. In 2006, the company posted sales of £201 million ($400 million).


Edwin Henry Booth was just 19 years old when he started up his own business as a tea merchant in Black-pool, England, in 1847. An orphan, Booth had apprenticed with a grocer in Preston, who later supplied Booth with goods worth £80 in order to open his own store, called The China House. The young Booth quickly displayed a knack for the business and within months had not only paid back his benefactor but had made a £50 profit besides.

A factor in Booth's success was his commitment to seeking out new and higher quality products, and over the next decade he extended the line of goods sold in his shop to include a variety of items, such as Italian food products and an expanding range of grocery items. A major new product line came in 1855, when Booth brought back his first roasted coffee from France, which he sold as Count Simon's French Coffee. That brand remained a company mainstay through most of the next century. Booth's growing sales allowed him to open his second shop in the town of Chorley in 1855. Four years later, Booth added a third store, in Preston.

British laws preventing Booth's company from expanding into the wine and spirits trade were repealed in 1863, and the company soon began selling alcohol, which would eventually become one of the centerpieces of Booth's later operations. The company, which adopted the full name of E. H. Booth and Company, Tea Dealers, Grocers, Italian Warehouse men and Wine & Spirits Merchants, continued to grow over the next decade. By 1879, the company had added a fourth shop in Lytham, before adding its fifth store in Blackburn in 1884. Booth was joined by son John Booth, who later took over the leadership of the growing company.


By then, Edwin Booth had firmly established the company's business philosophy, summed up as "Sell the best goods available, in attractive stores, staffed with first class assistants." This philosophy remained an essential part of Booth's growth over the next century and played a key role in differentiating the company from its competitors. Under John Booth, the company maintained this commitment, expanding the size of its stores to offer a wider range of products and services. These included the first in-store cafés, introduced by the company in 1902, amid the rising "café society" fashion of the day. In order to maintain the high level of service at its stores, the company became one of the first in England to institute profits-based commissions for its store managers, as well as a profit-sharing program for its employees. These initiatives were later extended in 1920 when the company sold shares in the company to its employees.

The next generation of the Booth family, under Major "Wyn" Booth, took over the company following World War I. The company continued to expand its branch network, opening a new store in Leyland in 1922. This was soon followed by another branch extension, in St. Anne's, in 1924, then by the opening of a Booth's shop in Southport in 1930.

Booth & Company next took a step to establish itself on an increasingly regional level. The company's first move in this direction came in 1937, with the opening of its first store in Cumberland county, in Kendal. For this, the company acquired an existing business, which was then converted to reflect the company's own format and product lines. The outbreak of World War II and the institution of a rationing plan cut deeply into the company's operations; yet throughout this time and through the 1950s, the company continued its operations as a traditional grocer. In 1954, the company reported annual sales of £1 million. By the end of that decade, the company was operating 14 branches in the northwest region.


Service, including delivery services, had long been a major feature of the grocer's trade in the United Kingdom. Grocers not only received customers but also managed their accounts and provided home delivery of their goods. This was true for much of the country's food sector, including the butcher, bakery, and dairy trades. The period following World War II, and the end of food rationing, however, brought with it a revolution in the grocery sector, as the first self-service supermarkets appeared in England. Borrowing a concept developed in the United States, the new store format became especially popular in the London region in the 1950s. The rest of the country, especially the northwestern region, remained focused on traditional grocer's shops.

Nonetheless, the new generation of the Booth family, led by John Booth, recognized the potential for adopting the new format. John Booth, who had joined the family business in 1946, launched the drive to convert all of the company's stores to a self-service format starting in 1961. As part of the conversion process, Booth also expanded the company's average size, introducing a still wider range of grocery items, including fresh meats, cheeses, and other fresh foods. The conversion process was quickly completed, and by 1962 E. H. Booth & Company had become the first to introduce self-service supermarkets to the British northwest. Sales at the company surpassed the £3 million mark in 1969.


Since June 1847, five generations of the Booth family have led E H Booth & Co Ltd from its humble beginnings as one small shop, to its current position as a leading regional supermarket, with 26 stores across the Northern counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria.

The early decision to adopt the supermarket concept enabled Booth to establish itself as one of the leading independent supermarket groups in the region. Over the next decades, the company continued to expand its branch network, adding stores in Cheshire and Yorkshire counties as well, and in 1982 it added its first store in Lancashire, in the town of Scotforth. In this way, the company was able to gain sufficient scale to withstand the arrival of the country's fast-growing national supermarket chains into the region. While these groups battled for market share by emphasizing low pricing policies, the Booths supermarkets focused on the premium sector, maintaining its longstanding commitment to high-quality products and a strong service offering. In this way, the company retained a loyal customer base without succumbing to the price wars waged by such far-larger competitors as Sainsbury, ASDA, and Tesco.


Booth & Company's roots as merchants, and its ability to target high-quality, premium products, also played a role in enabling the company to survive into the next century. This was particularly true in the company's wine selection, and by the turn of the century the Booth supermarkets had earned national recognition for the quality and extensiveness of the wines on their shelves. Booth had also spotted the opportunity to leverage its wine expertise onto the fast-growing e-commerce market, setting up the encyclopedic everywine.co.uk web site. In 2003, the company expanded its Internet presence, adding a portal dedicated to sell the group's core wine range to consumers who were not able to reach the company's stores. At the same time, the everywine.co.uk site was upgraded with new search functionality, enabling consumers to choose among more than 14,000 wines. By the middle of the decade, the company had boosted that total to more than 26,000.

By the 1990s, the next generation, under Edwin Booth, had taken over the company's leadership, while maintaining its longstanding commitment to high quality and service. The company became a pioneer in the movement to promote local and regional products, and by the middle of the first decade of the 2000s claimed that more than 25 percent of the products sold in its stores came from the northwest region. The company also worked with a number of local producers to develop new products. As an example, the company formed a partnership with a regional dairy to launch a nonhomogenized milk, which also enabled farmers to receive premium prices. Booth also supported local produce growers, and boasted that in some product categories, such as strawberries, lettuce, and certain varieties of apples, all of its produce came from local sources.

Booth & Company also sought to expand its supermarket network into new markets at the turn of the century. The company added a new store in Ickley, Yorkshire, in 1997. That store took up the company's local sourcing policy, stocking such Yorkshire products as Jack Scaiffe's Dry Cured Bacon, Black Sheep Brewery beers, and breads from Bradford's Kolos bakery.

Despite the company's longstanding presence in the northwest region, and its ongoing support of the local and regional food industry, not every community welcomed the chain. The company first attempted to enter the town of Settle, Yorkshire, at the beginning of the 1990s, buying the site of a former playing field there. Yet the company's plans to build a store were blocked for more than a decade. Finally, in 2002, the company reached a compromise that allowed them to build. Under terms of that compromise, the company agreed not to carry certain products and services offered by other retailers in the town.


Edwin Henry Booth establishes tea merchant shop The China House in Blackpool.
Booth begins trading wine and spirits.
Store size is expanded and cafés are added.
Chain expands beyond local market with first store in Cumbria county.
Company completes conversion of all 14 Booth shops into self-service supermarkets.
The first Booth supermarket in Lancashire county is opened.
Company celebrates 160th anniversary with £200 million in revenues.

If Booth & Company ultimately won the battle to enter Settle, it continued to meet resistance elsewhere. The town of Barrowford, for example, rejected the company's proposal to build a store there in 2007. As part of its effort to make its expansion plans more acceptable to the region's smaller communities, the company commissioned a design team to develop a smaller store format. The new format debuted in the town of Preston in 2005 and featured its own restaurant, with a menu based on local produce, as well as a specialist Artisan's shop, featuring foods and other products from local and regional producers. The success of the new format led the company to begin rolling it out elsewhere in the region. In August 2007, for example, the company opened a similar store in Lytham St. Annes, in Lancashire. At the same time, the company launched a revamping of its entire network, adapting a number of the smaller store format's features for its larger supermarkets.

While Booth celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2007, it showed no signs of slowing down with age. The company continued to develop plans for new stores, including two new Lancashire stores in Garstang and Hesketh Bank from as early as 2007. Booth also expanded its highly successful everywine.co.uk web site, with plans to increase its total catalog to more than 35,000 wines. In the meantime, the company's commitment to high quality and service not only brought it steadily increasing revenues but also accolades from the industry.

M. L. Cohen


Waitrose Ltd.; Fortnum & Mason plc; Harrods Ltd.


Balchin, Amy, "An Artisan Approach," Grocer, February 12, 2005, p. 32.

"Booths' Seasons to Be Cheerful," Grocer, July 1, 2006, p. 56.

"Booths Set to Shut One of Its Oldest Stores," Grocer, May 26, 2007, p. 6.

"Booths Veteran Clocks Up Half Century," Grocer, February 24, 2007, p. 16.

"Continuing the Legacy," FMCG: The Monthly Magazine for the Food & Drink Industry, January 2003.

Davenport, Rosie, "Booths Boosts Online," Grocer, June 14, 2003, p. 69.

Durston, James, "Booths: Northern Retailer Booths Supermarket Is Emerging as One of the Most Successful Premium Grocers in the UK," Grocer, October 15, 2005, p. 41.

"Former Booths Chairman Dies," Grocer, March 18, 2002, p. 9.

"Rising Sales Push Booths Up Ranking," Grocer, October 7, 2006, p. 8.

"Time to Fuel Passions," Grocer, October 26, 2002, p. 72.

"Triumphant Booths Urges Independents to Take Risks," Grocer, October 19, 2002, p. 51.