Symbol groups should enjoy the “painful” uncertainty caused by the Tesco-Booker merger and capitalise on the opportunity to sign up new members, an industry boss has told RN.

Nick Read, chief executive of Nisa, said over the next 18 months Booker retailers are set to suffer an “enormous disruption” – a situation he intends to take advantage of.

“It would be churlish of me to say that in three years’ time, if the deal goes ahead, it won’t be a threat – we’ve all heard Charles Wilson talk about range, service, price and choice,” said Mr Read.

“But I think if you’re sitting there as a Budgens or a Londis business, you’ve gone through the pain of being acquired by Booker and everything that goes with that. And now you’ve got the uncertainty of another 18 months where you don’t know what the upside will look like.

“You can argue that could be quite an exciting proposition, but there’s going to be an enormous amount of pain and, as a result, quite a lot of fall out,” he said. “Our job is to enjoy and embrace the disruption but also present opportunities for our members to grow their businesses.”

The comments come days after it was revealed several of Booker’s biggest shareholders have reduced their stakes.

City analyst Clive Black said this is a result of Booker’s “vulnerability” should the deal be blocked. Tesco shareholders, mean-while, have gone public with their concerns over the £3.7bn deal.

Mr Black also said Tesco signing a new three-year distribution deal with Palmer & Harvey last week is significant because it reduces the pressure the merger has on Booker’s competition.

Writing in RN this week Paul Baxter, NFRN chief executive, said members who are Booker customers will have the opportunity to quiz Booker’s chief executive Charles Wilson when he attends the NFRN spring national council next week.