Bestway: from London cornershop to Sainsbury’s stakeholder

Founded in 1963, the group includes Well Pharmacy and the Costcutter and Best-one chains

The 87-year-old, who remains Bestway’s chair, had left his native Pakistan seven years earlier for Britain, where he had taken on a variety of jobs including a period spent as a bus conductor in Bradford. Pervez’s convenience store business took off, putting 10 shops in London under his management.

Frustration with wholesale suppliers prompted Pervez and partners to open their own wholesale business, believing they could operate with lower margins than competitors while providing stock to local independent retailers. Thus, in 1976, Bestway Wholesale was born, with a depot in Acton, west London.

On the company’s website, Pervez describes the excitement he felt before the opening. “I did not think then that more than four decades on we would be the largest independent wholesaler in the UK,” he wrote. “Let alone that Bestway Group would grow to become a diversified multinational business with interest across multiple sectors.”

Bestway opened a string of warehouses across Britain in the 1980s and 90s. Over the years, Pervez’s nephew Zameer Choudrey joined the company, and later its board, and today he is the group’s chief executive while also sitting as a Conservative peer in the House of Lords.

The company credits Choudrey with diversifying the business. Its first overseas investment was the acquisition of a rice mill in Pakistan run by Younus Sheikh, who became chair of Bestway Wholesale.

Further business ventures included the creation of a cement manufacturing business in Pakistan, Bestway Cement, one of the country’s largest, while the group also took a strategic stake in one of Pakistan’s biggest banks, United Bank Limited.

Bestway now describes itself as the seventh largest family business in Britain. It is still owned by the Pervez, Choudrey and Sheikh families, and has made billionaires of Choudrey and Pervez, who was knighted in 1999.

More recent acquisitions have included the purchase of the Huddersfield-based Batleys wholesale chain, which made Bestway the second largest UK wholesaler.

A convenience store in Earl’s Court, west London, may seem an unlikely launchpad for a multinational conglomerate, but that is where the Bestway Group began.

The company – which is now one of the UK’s largest grocery wholesalers and also the owner of Well Pharmacy stores and the Costcutter and Best-one convenience chains, has paid roughly £200m for a 3.45% stake in Sainsbury’s, making it the sixth largest investor in Britain’s second largest grocer.

Bestway, which is still privately owned, can trace its origins back to a corner shop called Kashmir opened in the capital in 1963 by its founder, Sir Anwar Pervez.

In 2014, it paid £620m for Co-operative Group’s chain of retail pharmacies, which it later rebranded as Well Pharmacy. Its takeover of the Costcutter convenience store chain completed in 2021.

The group said it had a turnover of £4.5bn in its most recent results for the year to June 2022, from its interests across the wholesale, pharmacy, real estate, cement and banking sectors. It said it has 28,000 employees in the UK, Pakistan and the Middle East, and more than 12 million customers.

Bestway Group has “an uplifting business story”, said Clive Black, a retail analyst with Shore Capital, although he described the Sainsbury’s stake as “a surprise”.

The group said it could buy more Sainsbury’s shares, but for now it has ruled out making a bid for the retailer.

The journey from having one corner shop to being the sixth largest shareholder in Sainsbury’s is an entrepreneurial journey that few could have predicted.

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