Bill Grimsey, chief executive of the UK's Big Food Group (BFG), was quick to put a shine on the company's first half results, but there is no escaping the fact that it has been badly hit by a poor performance from the Iceland supermarket chain.
With first half turnover at BFG down from £2.5 billion to £2.37 billion (€3.7bn) and operating profits down from £33.4 million to £18.2 million, at first glance there is little to be upbeat about, but Grimsey was determined to emphasise the positive.
"During the first half of the current year much progress has been made in the implementation of our strategic initiatives including the important new format trials at Iceland. The excellent performance of these stores demonstrates that we can deliver a step change in performance with this initiative. There was also a solid performance at Booker which continues to improve upon its strong position in the UK wholesale market," he said in a statement.
The new format Iceland stores- just four of the total - showed a marked improvement on the previous year, with like-for-like sales growth of 15.1 per cent during the half, but Grimsey admitted that there was still much work to do at Iceland. "A too aggressive move towards a value driven proposition causeda decline in like-for-like sales of 6.7 per cent for the first half," he said.
Booker, the BFG's wholesale business, showed like-for-like growth of 0.8 per cent, a "satisfactory performance" according to Grimsey and one which was helped by a 2.3 per cent hike in non-tobacco sales, in particular from alcohol, soft drinks and snacks.
The Woodward Foodservice unit was the best performer during the half, however, with sales ahead 10.8 per cent on a like-for-like basis, with most of the improvements coming from the independent catering market in England and Wales and the development of national accounts.
Grimsey seems to have been putting a positive spin on BFG's less-than-spectacular results for some time now, but the market will want to see some real results in the near future. If the success of the new Iceland format can be rolled out to all the group's stores, then there is certainly hope that things will improve, but the cost and the time involved in changing all the stores surely counts against the group.