Special Report: Today’s Group Conference

Gerald Ratner

Partnerships were the focus of last month’s event, report Tan Parsons and Elit Rowland.

Wholesalers and leading brand suppliers gathered in Monte Carlo last month to explore ‘partnerships for success’ at the Today’s Group Conference. Speakers from both sides of the table presented their views on how to work better together to capitalise on the growing wholesale market.

hotel monte carlo
Today’s Group Conference ‘Partnerships for success’ in Monte Carlo

Today’s chairman Mark Windebank set the scene with some numbers, reminding delegates that the wholesale channel is expected to grow by 1.6% to £32bn by 2016.


Wanis MD Sanjay Wadhwani spoke passionately about the huge opportunity for the independent retail sector to capitalise on world foods as the multiple retailers downsize their ranges. He set the scene with some figures: 54% of today’s Londoners were born outside the UK. But world food increasingly appeals to everyone.

He said: “Why stock world foods? It’s simple – ethnic sells. It’s not just ethnic people eating world food. Brits are eating it.”

Simon Harrison, wholesale sales director at Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), spoke about trends affecting the industry and how his company is tailoring projects to suit individual wholesalers.

He explained how CCE had been working with United Wholesale (Scotland) on ‘convenience’ – working on promotions and the right ‘solutions’ for customers; working with Khanjra on ‘urbanisation’ to focus on identifying growth areas; working with Dhamecha on ‘the connected shopper’ to create digital solutions and ‘better for me’, giving a focus to health and wellbeing; and working with Agrimark on ‘smaller households’ to develop a strategy around smaller pack sizes.

“Urbanisation – 15% of the population now live in London,” he said.

“You need pack configurations and pack sizes that apply to urban centres and small households.”


The Today’s Group’s head of trading (foodservice and own-brands) David Sabin reported that brands within the foodservice arm of his business have enjoyed growth of up to 58% and that sales through the foodservice division have collectively grown 5% over the past year.

He said there could be bigger gains by segmenting the sector more precisely and urged suppliers to help work towards this. “We want to start working on foodservice promotions by sector,” he told suppliers.

“I know you guys have products that perform well in certain sectors of the market. Share your experience with us and help us get this off the ground.”

Simon Millard, foodservice director at Premier Foods, outlined opportunities for wholesalers in nursing homes due to the UK’s aging population and in schools following the introduction of free school meals this year.

“There are 1.3m more school children having school dinners than there were a year ago,” he said.

He also told the conference about Premier Foods’ development of food for people suffering from dysphagia, a condition that makes it hard for a person to swallow.

“Dysphagia affects 8% of the world’s population and 22% of over-55s,” he said.


Launching specialist Scottish beer export business Craft Beer Clan last year, JW Filshill MD Simon Hannah has successfully diversified into new lucrative markets while adding new interest to his core business.

He explained that ‘partnerships for success’ means something very different in parts of Asia, where social media is controlled and Twitter and Facebook are banned. Effective relationships are about respecting different cultures, he said. By embracing new ways of doing business, his venture has been able to thrive.


Stephen Watt, off trade sales director at Whyte & Mackay, warned wholesalers to up their game in light of the threat posed by behemoths such as Amazon.

He said: “Amazon Fresh is likely to roll out in the near future. It won’t be long before Amazon is a competitor to every wholesaler in the ­country.”

He said the key to competing would be to provide personalised service, such as tasting packs for customers.

Denys Shortt, founder of health and beauty specialist DCS, said he has used ‘the three Fs’ to help drive successful partnerships.

The digital era has driven consumer expectations for ‘Fast’ (immediate information), while ‘Flexibility’ enables his business to adapt to the needs of the customer. ‘Flowing’ represents the constant availability of products.

Wholesalers did not need to be afraid of Amazon because they will still hold the upper hand, he added.

“The problem Amazon has is the last mile – if stores have the products the consumer wants, consistently at the right price, you will win.”



In two intense sessions over separate days, wholesalers and suppliers had a series of quick-fire meetings that gave them the opportunity to discuss business face to face.

For SOS Wholesale’s Neil Heseltine, the session gave him access to new suppliers that will help him to develop his petcare offer.

“We haven’t previously had a face-to-face meeting with Mars Petcare so it’s a great opportunity for us.”

Tom Hinchliffe, national account executive at Taylors of Harrogate, said attending the conference was critical in ensuring he gives customers what they want. “Hearing first-hand from wholesalers what they need from us is the best feedback I can get.”

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