Booker Wholesale’s sales growth success was dampened by a strong decline in tobacco sales the group said was “due to changes in legislation.”

While non-tobacco like for like sales increased by 7.7%, an 8.7% drop in the tobacco category took the overall increase to 2.7%.

It’s the second year in a row that Booker’s annual report has blamed legislation for the decrease in cigarette sales, with last year’s display ban being credited for a 5.6% drop in like for like sales in 2016. Booker said the tobacco slump is in line with industry averages.

Booker’s symbol groups met varying fortunes in terms of sales and store counts. Budgens added 26 stores in the last 12 months but despite this 17% increase in store count, non-tobacco sales increased just 3%.

Oppositely, Londis lost 74 stores in the same period but achieved non tobacco sales growth of 21.4%.

The company’s biggest symbol group, Premier added 36 stores and increased non tobacco sales by 11%.

The company’s smallest symbol group revealed the biggest growth in sales, with a 32% increase aided by a 17% increase in store count, taking the total to 61 outlets.

According to the results, Booker continues to beat the industry average on depot pricing, stating that on average it is 3.1% cheaper than its rivals in both retail and food service wholesale.

Describing its retail results, Booker Group MD Steve Fox said:“Overall, our independent retail business has performed well in the half.” He concluded: “I’d like to thank our customers for their support and I am looking forward to continuing to improve choice, price and service.”

Booker CEO Charles Wilson added: “Our plans to Focus, Drive and Broaden Booker Group are on track. The competition review of the planned merger with Tesco is progressing. We continue to help our retail, catering and small business customers prosper.”

A statement by the company reiterated its belief that its merger with Tesco is set to be concluded by early 2018, despite recent opposition from rival wholesalers, life or death takeover talks at P&H and further convergence from Nisa and Co-op.