As we approach the end of a difficult year, Paul Hill speaks to leading industry figures to find out what they’ve learnt from this unique 12 months:
James Bielby, chief executive, FWD: “It’s been a very difficult year for the foodservice and on-trade wholesalers within FWD, as the restrictions on hospitality have reduced their turnover by up to 80% in some cases. In the last quarter of the year, with the furlough scheme coming to an end and tougher restrictions likely, we will see the full effect of this loss. Members have been resilient, agile and innovative, but they were initially let down by Government, and it’s our job at FWD to put that right through our engagement with Defra and The Treasury.
Colin Smith, chief executive, Scottish Wholesale Association: It’s certainly been a year like no other and it’s been extremely tough for our wholesale members, particularly those operating in the foodservice and drinks sector. Scotland’s foodservice wholesalers lost, on average, 81% of their business when Governments closed hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses in March. On the flip side, our members operating predominately in the retail sector have, in many cases, grown their businesses as the public shunned the queues and big crowds at the supermarkets and turned instead to their local convenience stores. The pandemic has shown that wholesalers can not only adapt quickly but come together at a time of need. Through necessity, it came as no surprise to see some of our foodservice operators think on their feet by diversifying into home delivery to see them through the tough lockdown months, or partner with competitors to share resource and keep the country fed.
Katy Moses, managing director, KAM Media: We’ve tried to look for a positive in every challenge that has been thrown at the industry this year. The pace and agility with which both wholesalers, suppliers and operators have adapted has been simply astonishing and will certainly set the precedent for years to come. Some of our foodservice and retail clients have pivoted their entire businesses to adapt to the, often weekly, changes in their customer needs. The sheer speed of change has really super-charged the need for credible, relevant customer data which can be acted on quickly and effectively. As an insight business, KAM has made it our aim to share as much actionable, useful information to the channels we work in to assist them to survive and thrive in 2020 and beyond.
Tanya Pepin, co-founder, TWC: 2020 was the beginning of the coming of age for digital in wholesale. TWC has been assessing the e-commerce offerings of most UK wholesalers and will begin to consult with wholesalers on how to integrate data and digital to get a total far greater than the sum of the parts. Our digital leadership series with Salih Sheikh was particularly well received in the industry. 2020 has also demonstrated just how vital wholesale is – whether for consumers who sought to shop local or access products that were in short supply, or for catering departments who needed to stay open during Covid and for those pubs, restaurants and out of home outlets who needed support to get going again – Wholesale has been essential. However, it is a shame this has not been recognised via Government support.