Esso is set to overtake BP as the most numerous brand on UK forecourts, according to Arthur Renshaw, major account manager, Experian Catalist.

Speaking at Forecourt Trader’s inaugural Summit last week, he explained: “In terms of supplier brands BP has the most sites in the UK with 1,223, but only five behind them is Esso with 1,218, the closest they have been in years. Esso put on more sites in 2019, thanks to the efforts of Greenergy, than any other brand. They put 32 sites on and are very much trying to overtake BP. I fully expect Esso to become the number one retailer in the number of pole signs this year.”

He also highlighted that Total had re-entered the UK market with Harvest Energy, with just one site so far but more promised, and there were other potential oil company entrants. In recent years Puma had been expected to enter the market at the retail level, he said, but were now disposing of some of their retail networks around the world. However, two large Canadian companies were active in Ireland. Alimentation Couche-Tard, trading as Circle K, and Irving Oil have invested significantly and he suggested they might be interested in extending into the British market.

Reviewing the dealer market, he said it had been remarkably stable over the past year with a fractional year-on-year decline year-on-year of seven sites, ending 2019 on 8,390.

Drilling down into the data supermarkets increased their sites by 16, which is their smallest increase recorded in the 20 years of data available. Renshaw said: “Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons have been unusually quiet.”

However, he added: “The oil company sector has been far from quiet with oil companies coming back into the market by operating their own sites, something we haven’t seen for quite a while. Since 2000 the oil companies have lost 71% of their networks, but from a low point in 2015 they have increased their sites every year since then, and added another 26 last year, with Jet, Harvest and Certas as the main protagonists.”

The dealer sector was down 49 sites to 5,421, but he said it remained strong and contrasted the fall with the early 2000s when about 200 sites a year were disappearing from the network. He added: “Dealer sites are in demand, good margins are available and there is a queue of potential purchasers with money to burn and access to funds.”

Supermarkets still have the greatest share of the market by volume and Tesco is the number one brand with 16% of the market, followed by BP on 14.5% and Shell on 14%.

Consolidation has been a continuing feature of the market particularly in the dealer sector. Of the total of 5,400 dealer sites, almost 50% - over 2,700 are in groups of three or more, and the top four groups have almost 1,700 sites between them, representing one third of the dealer network.