Newly formed Unitas Wholesale wants to be known for being “the champion of independents”, according to its managing director, Darren Goldney.

 The buying group consists of 179 independent grocery and foodservice wholesalers and has more purchasing power than any other wholesaler in the UK.

Speaking at a supplier briefing in London this week, senior management explained how they will provide core ranging, extended availability and exclusive deals going forward.

Goldney expressed a need to reverse the rise of own-label in the grocery market, to match demand for well-known brands, and to achieve stronger performance in a competitive wholesale market. 

Discussing recent supermarket takeovers, he said: “Tomorrow there are no boundaries and there is increasing market dominance. In the world we’re heading towards, the sector is consolidated and there’s less choice.

“If Today’s Group and Landmark were not careful, independent wholesalers would have been pushed to the extremities of the market.”

Explaining how Unitas plans to fight back against increased competition from multiples, retail director John Kinney told RN: “We need to buy better, we need greater scale and we need to allow this to cascade down to our retailers by pooling our resources and education.

The strategy also relies on support from the new firm’s suppliers. 

“Promotions and margins are irrelevant if retailers can’t sell the stock,” said Kinney. 

“We can’t do this with brands which they’ve never heard of. Customers want brands they recognise and we want to ensure 99.4% of our products are from major suppliers,” he added. 

To ensure convenience stores receive better deliveries, Unitas wholesalers will be asked to provide availability reports on products. This average data will be used to provide a comparison across the market and enable the buying group to hold suppliers to account if multiples are receiving better service levels. 

Kinney explained: “We will examine lines offered to retailers more closely. A supplier might claim a 99% availability rate if a store receives 99 out of 100 lines, but the value of the missing 1% might be significantly higher than those that arrive.

“There will also be a 20-point checklist to ensure if new products are fit for purpose. We’ll examine the average shelf life, quantity and size.

“Why would we tell our retailers to stock something if it doesn’t compare to similar products within the category which are selling well?”

It was also revealed that partnered stores currently using Landmark’s training tools will be switched to Today’s Group’s training format. Goldney reassured stores owners that “symbol brands will continue to operate separately”. 

However, he admitted: “Some need to operate against each other in competitive environments, but the end result is we need a healthy retail estate.”

Going forward, availability is the top priority for the wholesaler. 

Deputy managing director John Mills said: “We are promising 98.5% availability into depots.”

For the strategy to work, Goldney told suppliers that independent retailers are vital. “We must collaborate, we’ve got to earn our stripes,” he said. 

“I think this industry can change and we can do it hand in hand if we work closely together.”

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