Opinion: How Unitas dealt with the Covid-19 crisis and what the future holds

Unitas managing director Darren Goldney

Darren Goldney is the managing director of Unitas


 

2020 has been interesting so far! But so was 2019 for Unitas Wholesale, as we navigated through the first year as a new organisation.  And while the Covid-19 crisis has had significant implications that are still unfolding, it is time for us to begin to think into the future.

In 2019 we set out a compelling vision of an independent wholesale route to market that would grow, develop and genuinely be the first-choice collaboration partner focuses on selling as much as on buying.

But in order to be serious about those words, we had to makes changes in order to make ourselves more efficient and effective. We have made good progress with ‘less’ now delivering ‘more’.  Less offices, less contact points, less account administration, less duplication of events, less costs. Are now coupled with more core range schemes and a new digital portal technology driving execution.

Through the Covid-19 period we championed independents and did this by maintaining our promotions versus mass promotional stoppages seen elsewhere, it meant we picked up business beyond the general consumer surge into small stores. It is true that the pandemic has been a distraction and the incredible diversity the impact of the crisis has had, has played out within our membership through threat and opportunity.

61% of our on-trade and foodservice businesses have struggled as customer numbers dropped, while our 100+ retail led members have struggled to supply their customers as demand from independents rocketed.  It has been hugely beneficial for independent wholesale to be together at this time in one group.

Confex and Unitas part ways

On all fronts we have been better together, with one conduit of communication that has changed daily, a divisional structure allowing a tailoring of information and support by wholesaler type, together with a retained infrastructure that enabled buying and marketing support to remain operational.

Furthermore, our supplier council has convened frequently during the crisis sharing concerns and opportunities along the way. The Covid-19 catalyst to virtual technology has really helped bring members and suppliers together and has led to a series of supplier guest sessions with members and a selected supplier partner to “virtually drill” into joint business plans and brand – this is something we will continue.

However, the second half of 2020 is now all about getting back on track to realise our original vision at a greater pace. While we are still physically constrained, that isn’t the case virtually, and our September virtual trade show seeks to bring together hundreds of wholesalers and members focusing on key activity to help reignite businesses and boost NPD as examples.

Moving on from the virtual trade show we have exciting plans to provide greater support to members in the digital space to help step change capability and extend reach and through our new out of home “Bar and Kitchen” programme. Here we plan to influence range and execution in over a hundred thousand foodservice and on-trade outlets.

Separating ourselves from other groups and entities that are not driving in the same forward direction signals a seriousness about what Unitas wants to be known for, what we need to leave behind, and critically how we want suppliers and independent wholesalers to get behind the vision of what our shared future can look like.

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