The independent retail community is mourning the loss of leading retailer Raj Aggarwal who passed away on the morning of Thursday 9 April.
Aggarwal, 51, ran Spar stores in Hackenthorpe and Wigston with his wife Sunita. A pioneering retailer with more than 38 years’ experience, he launched the UK’s first Insomnia coffee shop and sat on the independent board of the ACS since 2010.
More recently, he had become one of the first retailers to partner with online wholesale start-up LocoSoco to offer a range of eco-friendly and sustainable products.
He was also an active member of several supplier panels, such as KP Snacks’ Snackpartners, Ferrero’s Your Perfect Store, and was one of the original members of Procter & Gamble’s Shelfhelp programme.
An announcement by Spar read: “He will be sadly missed by all his colleagues across the Guild. We would like to send our sincere condolences to his wife Sunita, his family and all of the colleagues at Spar Hackenthorpe and Spar Wigston.”
‘Always positive, always smiling, always helpful’
Harj Dhasee of Mickleton Village Stores in Gloucestershire, said: “Loved every moment, loved every meeting. I will hold you dear in my heart, until we meet again, my friend, peace be with you.”
Atul Sodha, owner of Londis Peverills in Uxbridge, said Raj was a “true pioneer in building the bonds that we feel within this wonderful industry”.
“They broke the mould when he came into this world,” he added.
“Raj was at my first ever retail networking event, an Independent Achievers Academy discussion group in December 2017,” said Amrit Singh, who runs Nisa Local High Heath with his dad Harjit and his brother Pav. “He made me feel welcome and encouraged me to get more involved. We have lost a retail legend.”
Harris Aslam, managing director of the independent Eros Retail chain, said: “Heard of Raj’s passing last night and still not processed it. Much much loved gentleman, with the ability to bring any gathering to life. A look at his final tweets, always being there for others, speaks volumes. Will certainly not be forgotten Raj.”
‘A huge influential loss to Spar and the retail sector’
Tributes were paid this week (14 April) by Raj’s friends and colleagues within Spar. Jerry Marwood, AF Blakemore, group commercial managing director, said: “The feeling of sadness that has overwhelmed our team at Blakemore’s since hearing of Raj’s passing is testament to the role that he played in the life of our business. Whether as a guild board representative, a customer or friend, Raj was ever present in the world of Spar and convenience retailing – to say that he will be missed by all of us is an understatement of massive proportion.”
“Raj was not only one of our retail colleagues, he was a real supporter of both the Spar brand but also the independent retail sector, added Louis Drake, Blakemore Trade Partners sales director. “His sense of charity and wanting to do the right thing was best demonstrated by his most recent charitable donation to the Glenfield hospital supporting the local NHS team when they needed it most.”
Sarah Ellis, AF Blakemore, Group marketing director, called Raj an “innovator” who was “constantly looking to understand what would be the next thing that he could bring to convenience. “A huge personality who lit up a room, Raj will be sorely missed by all who knew him,” she added.
Fellow Spar retailer and Meridian & Welsh vice-chair Julian Taylor-Green, added: “Raj was not only a great friend to many, but also a champion of our sector. He was always ready to challenge his team, suppliers and colleagues and never failed to support us.
“Always proud of his retail heritage, family and their achievements, Raj was a true gentleman and businessman. A huge influential loss to Spar and the retail sector.”
‘This man was a legend’
Simon Robinson, managing director at Pastorfrigor, said: “Such tragic news. Raj was one of the loveliest guys in the industry and a good friend. My heart goes out to his family and I hope we can all come together to celebrate him when all this is over. Going to miss you, mate.”
“Always funny, relentlessly charming, incredibly knowledgeable and just an absolute pleasure to be around,” said Sam Gunston, head of the Independent Achievers Academy, which Raj was a longtime supporter of. “Raj, you were so giving to your community and will be sorely missed by all.”
“This man was a legend,” said Clare Sutton, associate director at communications agency Clarion, who previously worked with Raj on KP’s Snackpartners programme when she was at Mercieca. “Whether he was dancing, getting awkward selfies with Wyclef Jean or being the star of the silly photo booth pic at every awards I went to. An absolutely tragic loss. He’ll be missed that’s for sure.”
Matt Elliott, franchise operations director at One Stop, said: “Terribly sad to hear the news of Raj passing. We had so many great times over many years, endless fun and laughter and he was a true gent, who will be sadly missed. Sincere condolences to Raj’s family.”
“I could fill a book with nice things to say about Raj, such a terrible loss. Sincere condolences to his family,” added Michael O’Loughlin, ex-managing director of Motor Fuel Group and current non-executive director of Freshly Chopped.
“Shocked & saddened at the loss of my friend Raj Aggarwal yesterday,” said Richard Tyler, who previously held customer marketing manager positions at Kerry Foods and JTI. “A larger than life character, the life blood of convenience, a true family man and so, so much fun.”
NFRN national president Stuart Reddish, who was friends with Raj, said: “I am shocked and saddened. Raj was such a lively character and a legend when it came to retailing.
“In recent months he had expressed an interest in becoming more heavily involved in federation activities and had so much to offer. His death is a huge loss to the industry. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Raj’s family at this time.”
“Raj was a wonderful example of a forward-thinking retailer who wanted to serve his community,” said Karl Turner, national account manager for FrieslandCampina
“Raj was one of the happiest, forward thinking and charitable people in retail,” agreed Kate Harding, who held senior marketing positions at Cadbury, PepsiCo, Little Miracles and My Local between 2007 and 2016. “He was the first to want to help me in my career in any way he could. Nothing was ever too much trouble.
“He was passionate about his stores, his family and his customers and wanted to be the first for new ideas. Whenever we were fundraising for Grocery Aid (then Sweet Charity), he was always so happy to help and one of the first to come forward. I could always count on him.
“My thoughts are with his wonderful family, our industry friends and his customers who will miss his amazing smile, laugh and energy,” she added.
“Raj was a legend, both as a retailer and a friend, especially on the dance floor,” said Julie Twelvetrees-Aird, convenience channel manager at Nestlé & General Mills Cereal Partners. “His support to me, my team and Cereal Partners was incredible. We will miss him terribly.”
Kate O’Dowd, head of field force at Philip Morris, said: “Such sad news. Our condolences from all at PMI to his family at such a loss of this wonderful man. You will be missed Raj.”
“He was all heart. Huge smile and a networker who was always looking to share insight and experiences. A real cheeky side to him too that made him such good company,” added Fraser McIntosh, senior communications manager at Lucozade Ribena Suntory.
“I’ve known Raj since 2006, when I met him as a Londis retailer. His smile lit up every trade dinner and he was truly the heart of his community and his industry,” Neil Turton, managing director of Sugro told betterRetailing. “A couple of years ago, he went out of his way to organise a curry night in Leicester to raise money for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). It was a friend’s restaurant and Raj pulled it all together.
“He was always positive, always smiling, always helpful, always interested, always there for others and always a brilliant friend. If I was placed next to him on an industry dinner seating plan, I’d know it would be a fun night. Top bloke.”
Fellow MAG ambassador Tom Fender, development director at The Wholesale Company, added: “I’ve known Raj for about 15 years. Not once did I see him without that beaming smile. He was hugely passionate about his business, staff, customers and the sector as a whole.
“He could be described as a retailers’ retailer. He was universally liked and respected by all retailers. He also gave up a lot of time to suppliers, particularly those coming into the sector for the first time who needed to be shown the ropes. He was as generous with his time as he was with his money.
“I pass on my deepest and most sincere condolences to his family and friends – of which there will be hundreds (if not thousands) – that’s how many people he had an impact on.”
Amy Searle, head of trade at Cirkle, which manages communications for Ferrero and its Your Perfect Store programme, described Raj as “one of life’s most generous souls, who was always the first to offer a helping hand and offered so much to the industry and his community”.
Newtrade managing director Parin Gohil said: “The industry has lost a leading, high profile, entrepreneurial retailer and one who was fun to be around and kind hearted.”
“Really sad to hear this news. He was a superb retailer and one of the first people I met on an ACS store tour – my heart goes out to his family and friends. A great character with a big heart, the industry has lost a fantastic retailer and all in all a lovely guy,” said Nick Garner, head of convenience, wholesale, OOH and Scottish retail channels at Müller.
“Such sad news and a loss to the sector. An amazing guy, who always had a smile on his face and was the life and soul of the party,” added Chris Moore, new business controller for Nisa.
Jonathan James, owner of James Convenience Retail, called Raj a “lovely man with a heart of gold and the most amazing smile”.
“I’m grateful for some wonderful memories and lucky enough to be able to call him a friend. Thinking of his family and friends at this terribly sad time,” he added.
“When I first started at Convenience Store magazine 16 years ago, he was the first retailer who always picked up the phone for me,” said David Visick, director of communications at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors. “No matter if it was on the record, off the record, gossip, insight, whatever – he was just the best for giving you time in his busy day.”
This sentiment was echoed by Grandflame publisher Glen Izzard and Joanna Tilley, who both previously worked at Asian Trader. “There were a select group who went out of their way to help with articles and news, and were light hearted and friendly. He was definitely one of them,” Tilley said.
PepsiCo wholesale trading director Matt Goddard said: “Raj was a massive advocate for independent retail and the pivotal role it has at the heart of the community. He was a progressive entrepreneur who was always looking for the next big idea.
“Most importantly, and maybe his best attribute, he always had time for anyone and everyone who needed it.”
Aman and Joga Uppal of One Stop Mount Nod in Coventry, said: “Deeply saddened by the passing of Raj Aggarwal, one our industry’s best and someone I was lucky enough to call a friend. Raj lit up any event he attended and was always there for anyone who needed advice or help. A true gent.”
NFRN’s chief operating officer Greg Deacon said: “Raj was a larger than life character, with his booming smile and laughter. Incredibly passionate, caring and a bright retailer that our industry will dearly miss, but never forget. He was a true gentleman and retail legend. My thoughts with his family, friends and colleagues at this time.”
Stefan Appleby, trade consultant at Hanover, which manages communications for Mondelez, Camelot and Lucozade Ribena Suntory, said: “Raj has spent the last few weeks delivering essential food & supplies to hospitals and homeless shelters, just hammering home who he was. One of the good guys.”
Jeremy Blackburn, who worked as JTI’s head of communications for 10 years until 2017, tweeted: “Raj was a top guy with a great sense of fun and a fantastic retailer with his community always at the heart of his business. Sincere condolences to his family.”