There are challenges but our industry is up to the task

Andrew Selley, new FWD vice-chairman and CEO of Bidvest Foodservice, looks at some of the challenges of the year ahead.

It only seems like moments ago that I was sitting down to one of the many Christmas dinners that most of us working in the foodservice industry find ourselves at, and yet now Easter is around the corner and the team here are busy planning for Christmas 2016 already.

Andrew Selley, FWD Vice ChairmanThis year has brought its own challenges already. Not least of these are the Government Standards for the public sector, the introduction of the Living Wage and the Sugar tax debate which, despite being scrapped for the moment, has left us all seeking a balance for healthier products to offer our customers. Then there’s the second phase of the Food Information Regulations (FIR), whereby a nutrition declaration on most pre-packed food will be mandatory to enable consumers to make informed choices when buying food from December of this year.

Government and industry standards are vital to ensure best practise across the board, however making sense of them can be a real challenge and so Bidvest Foodservice has launched a guide to help customers understand what they need to do; we’ve also just launched a guide to help customers understand the upcoming nutritional phase of FIR.

Any business is only as good as its people and the Living Wage is about protecting and rewarding employees appropriately, and encouraging us all to be responsible employers. However, this comes as a significant cost to us all and I’m sure that those who’ve signed up will have felt the pressure to make up those costs elsewhere; whether that’s in changing your product selection, expanding your food offer to cover new day parts such as breakfast or by decreasing your back of house space to allow for more tables.

This presents a challenge for the industry to find ways of keeping costs down; from consolidated orders to streamlined supply chains, whilst also offering smaller case sizes and a range of ambient, chilled and frozen products which offer flexibility for customers who need to reduce their storage space to make room for extended service. This will be an ongoing challenge over the coming years as the government seeks to increase the living wage, and thus costs, in a non-inflationary market.

When it comes to sugar, without any official guidance it is difficult to know where to lay ones cards, but as a health-aware industry I’m sure we are all in agreement that we need to do our bit; whether that’s ensuring we understand our product offering to know which products are high in sugar to considering recipes which are more sugar controlled or that use fruit and natural sweeteners as a replacement for sugar. We need to be ready as an industry to respond and offer customers what they are looking for.

Gluten free is also an area that’s worth investing in, as, according to Mintel, sales of free-from foods are expected to grow 13% to £531m this year.

Industry pressures aside, I am delighted to be writing this column, my first in the new role as Vice-Chair. This role presents me with a great opportunity to work with Martin on increasing the integration of the organisation within the foodservice industry and to promote the industry as a whole.

This week our Cannock Depot will be hosting an Introduction to Foodservice seminar, intended for anyone who is new to wholesale and wants to know more about the opportunities that exist. Days like this are so important for promoting the industry and ensuring everyone in it is aware of the opportunities that we can all capitalise on.

The FWD is also conducting research into added value services to understand exactly what customers are looking for from their suppliers. These services change the perception of wholesalers from ‘box movers’ into rounded service providers, and by understanding exactly what customers would like wholesalers and suppliers to focus their offers on, the industry will improve for the benefit of all our customers.

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