By James Atkinson
With 1,600 member outlets generating annual sales of $2.7 billion, Australian Liquor Marketers (ALM) is head and shoulders above Coles as the number two in liquor retailing, according to CEO Fergus Collins.
Speaking as parent company Metcash released its half-yearly results, Collins expressed his frustration at the media portrayal of the liquor price wars as a two-horse race between major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths.
He told TheShout that through its Independent Brands Australia (IBA) brand umbrella, the ALM banner groups of IGA, Cellarbrations and The Bottle-O now have 1,600 member stores, up from just 97 stores eight years ago.
He said this maintains the stores' position as the country's second largest liquor presence despite aggressive marketing by the national chains.
Collins said ALM had continued to build on its strong 2010-11 results by working with suppliers to deliver better promotional pricing that put the company's retail offering "on par with Coles and Woolworths".
Collins said the supermarkets repeatedly took it in turns to outdo each other with one-off promotions but both were "ridiculously expensive" at other times.
"Our pricing is competitive everyday," he said.
Within the next 12 months, he said ALM plans to have between 150 and 200 more stores operating under the IBA umbrella.
"Woolworths is on the acquisition trail, and we've got to keep pace with these guys," Collins said.
ALM's reported sales were $1.11 billion in the six months to September 2011, an increase of 1.2 per cent on the previous corresponding period, the company said in a statement.
But it said this represented a 5.2 per cent increase after adjusting for the tail of its contract with Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group (ALH).
EBITA grew a "very pleasing" 32.3 per cent to $13.1 million over the same period.
IGA Liquor grew 4 per cent, Cellarbrations 3 per cent and The Bottle-O grew by 1.3 per cent compared to the same period last year.
Parent company Metcash Limited's EBITA increased to $203.7 million, up by 2.2 per cent on the previous corresponding period.
Metcash also foreshadowed the possible consolidation of food and liquor activities within single state-based distribution centres.