BW Year in Review Series: Buying Groups

Wholesale buying groups

As we approach the end of a difficult year, Paul Hill speaks to leading industry figures from buying groups to find out what they’ve learnt from this unique 12 months:

Tom Gittins, managing director, Confex: It’s been a tough year not just for wholesale, not just the UK, but the entire world, so in a way it doesn’t feel quite so bad as we are all in this together. From a Confex perspective I feel the group has ridden the wave and come out stronger. We implemented our member-led board just as Covid hit and they have led the group in a very collaborative way that has in turn helped 99% of our membership to stay in business. I think we are all now better prepared should there be another shutdown of the economy in the future. I am proud of the way Confex head office has responded to all the challenges and we are excited as a Group about the opportunities for growth post Covid combined with a UK trading outside of the EU.

Chris Binge, chief executive, Fairway Foodservice: In April the prognosis was
dire with all profit sector foodservice outlets other than take away closing. This meant that around 75% of our members customers closed their doors. Home delivery, click and collect, digital marketing, social media marketing, video meetings have all come to the fore as new initiatives to keep businesses working. In August business returned with a vengeance- and it felt that suppliers couldn’t cope with stock availability becoming the top priority as sales returned strongly. September then saw the schools return and business started to steady but what will happen at Christmas? Planning is week to week now not year to year. Flexibility and openness to change are essential.

2020 Vision- The leading names in wholesale predict what next year will bring

Darren Goldney, managing director, Unitas: Diversity of membership and aggregated scale of Unitas is a strength we can leverage and that is something we have done throughout this challenging and unique year. The proof point has been our ability to offer our foodservice and on trade members sustained services and extra support as overall the group of independent wholesalers has grown during the pandemic and lockdown. Heading into next year, we will be more efficient and more effective and our supplier council will help generate ideas into action. In 2021, now that we have removed complex and non-value added affiliations to other groups, we are better enabled to have members executing to the same standards on the same programmes

Coral Rose, managing director, Country Range Group: 2020 has been such a turbulent year and the wholesale sector was been very much forgotten in terms of financial support from the government for long periods. However, the resilience of the industry and our members has been incredible. Our members have had to be agile and quickly innovated in terms of range and offer, providing flexible services as well as delivering into consumers. We have learned that we all need to embrace the opportunities that technology can provide to our businesses to create efficient, processes and tap into essential additional revenue streams. Collaboration and communication have been key – working more closely with members, customers and suppliers than ever before.

Yulia (Goodwin) Petitt, head of trading & marketing, Sugro: Our group performance has been remarkably strong in 2020 with cumulative year to date growth as of the end of September of a 9% increase year on year. The pandemic has taught us that providing advanced solutions to help connect and network both members and suppliers is crucial to success in a rapidly transforming strategic environment. Our virtual conference and video networking meetings between members and suppliers was a huge success for the group which saw over 250 delegates attending the event with over 700 appointments taking place across a three day period. There has also been a huge shift to online this year, with many of members diversifying and supplying direct to general public using a B2C digital platform.


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Paul Hill is the Editor of Better Wholesaling. He can be found on Twitter at @BW_PaulHill, or contacted via and 07960935659.


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