Blog: Dean BestCan WH Smith bag pick ‘n’ mix deal?

Dean Best | 3 April 2009

UK stationer WH Smith is trialling pick ‘n’ mix counters at some of its stores in a bid to fill the void left in the wake of Woolworths’ collapse.

Woolworths went bust last November under debts totalling GBP385m. The company’s pick ‘n’ mix sales were worth an estimated GBP200-300m a year and WH Smith’s move into the market is a clear attempt by the retailer to bag a share of these sales. 

It is unlikely that WH Smith’s pick ‘n’ mix offering will generate as much revenue as Woolworths – which was perhaps most well-known for its extensive selection of loose confectionery. 

So strong is the nostalgic appeal of Woolworths’ pick ‘n’ mix that the last-ever bag of it was sold on e-bay in February for a whopping GBP14,500.

Nevertheless, even a small proportion of Woolworths’ pick ‘n’ mix sales would likely be a welcome boost for WH Smith, which has found itself cutting back its entertainment offering as consumers reign in their spending.

In these difficult times, the move fits well with the growing consumer demand for childhood favourites. And although the penny sweets of my childhood are probably off the menu, pick ‘n’ mix remains a cheap option for kids to spend their pocket money on.

The news will also likely have been welcomed in certain quarters of the food industry.

The collapse of Woolworths was a serious blow for some UK confectionery manufacturers, including the likes of Zetar, who were left to deal with bad debts and the loss of a key customer.

The return of pick 'n' mix counters to the UK high street therefore seems a win-win situation all round and will likely reap benefits for Smith's, its suppliers and customers.

Katy Humphries, deputy editor


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