Food and drink wholesale is a critical part of the British economy. Food and drink wholesale distribution is a sector in its own right, turning over £29 billion, employing nearly 60,000 people and generating gross value added of £3 billion annually. Wholesalers’ depots are located in all regions and devolved nations to distribute goods to independent retailers and caterers in local communities.

There are a number of issues which pose challenges to the future success of the sector including the impending exit from the European Union, food inflation and the automation of manual roles. FWD are already working, along with our businesses in the sector to ensure that we and the sector are well placed to manage the challenges posed by Brexit.

One of the really key challenges for our labour intensive industry will be ensuring a good and skilled workforce. Many wholesalers employ high number of European Migrant workers. It will be critical to us to ensure this supply of labour.

Over 90 per cent of the value of direct purchases by food and drink wholesale distributors are from suppliers in the United Kingdom. However, the food and drink manufacturers that they purchase from import a much larger share of their goods and 70 per cent of their imports come from the European Union. As such, the sector would be best served by a comprehensive trade deal after Brexit which keeps tariffs or trade barriers to a minimum.

If there is no deal agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union and trade is conducted under World Trade Organisation rules it will be essential to ensure tariffs imposed under these rules aren’t overly burdensome. The sectors which they will affect most are related to food, drinks and tobacco. If a free trade agreement is not reached then the food and drink wholesale distribution sector will face further upward pressure on their suppliers’ prices.

Brussels spouts
Five months and counting: No Deal Planning

October 22: The Government has published a further wave of No Deal Brexit guidance papers, some of which are relevant to the sector. These notices intend to allow businesses to prepare for a No deal scenario in March 2019.


The Government has also appointed David Rutley as Minister for Food Supplies in Defra to oversee the protection of food issues through the Brexit process.

Read our assessment of potential tariff scenarios for deal and no deal outcomes

There will be significant changes to food labelling as an EU address alone would no longer be valid for pre-packed products sold in the UK market. Similarly, a UK address alone would no longer be valid for the EU market and an address within the remaining EU member states will be required following EU exit.

From April 2020, the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient of a food will be required on labels as part of EU rules on food labelling. The Government may apply similar national rules in the UK when EU rules no longer apply.

  In the event of no deal, UK hauliers can no longer rely on automatic recognition by the EU of UK-issued Community Licences. The Government has introduced a new Haulage Act to enable the delivery of new systems for road haulage under no deal. The Government has also ratified the 1968 Vienna Road Traffic Convention, for UK licence holders to continue to drive in the EU if there is no deal.

The UK will be a third country for EU member states. This means that to travel to the EU, a person will need to go through a third country procedure for Schengen processes. These procedures limit a person’s stay to 90 days and require that a person has a passport that is valid for not shorter than three months after the final point in which they could stay in the EU.


Migration Advisory Committee European migrant report

The Migration Advisory Committee has published its final report looking into European Economic Area migration in the UK, giving the MAC’s conclusions and recommendations for the UK’s post-Brexit work immigration system. The MAC is an independent body of experts whose job is to advise the Home Office on migration. The purpose of the report was to outline the sectors who rely on EU labour, and to look at the current free movement of labour.

The report suggests the same visa requirements for workers from the EEA as other migrants to the UK, and scrapping limits on higher-skilled migrants to the UK, as well as the system being extended to mid-skill roles, so a degree would no longer be required. With regard to low-skilled workers, the MAC says it is “not convinced there needs to be a work route for low-skilled workers” from the EU to fill jobs in industries such as catering or hospitality.


Brexit timetable

December 13-14 is  the last date for an Article 50 divorce deal to be signed off by Britain and the EU.

By January/February 2019 the House of Commons have to approve whatever Brexit deal that has been agreed and MPs must also pass a Withdrawal Bill that puts the exit treaty into law.

Until March 29 2019 the Withdrawal Agreement will need to be supported at an EU summit by a large majority of Member State leaders and the decision must also be approved by the European Parliament in a vote.

March 29 2019 is Brexit day. On March 30 2019 trade talks will begin between the UK and the EU and the transition period will start.

The transition period is scheduled to end on December 31, 2020.