Availability, price, relationships and investment were the four pillars of success in the wholesale channel identified by wholesalers and manufacturers at the FWD’s Senior Executive briefing.
Forty Chief Executives and Sales Directors representing the biggest brands in grocery and foodservice joined members of the FWD Council to debate the future of wholesale distribution with perspectives from suppliers, wholesalers and customers.
Pradip Dhamecha, who hosted the event at his company’s Wembley branch, made the case for wholesale as the champion of brands.
”The role we play in building brand awareness and brand distribution is often overlooked and not always understood,” he said. “The multiples and discounters watch whilst you invest huge amounts on NPD, pack designs, advertising and promotions to launch a product on to the market – and once it proves to be a success, what do they do? They copy it. They always have done and they always will do.
“But in the Wholesale Sector, the own label ranges play a much smaller part – the independent and convenience retailer doesn’t have the space in store to stock both, so we consistently support your brands across the range.”
Outgoing Unilever Food Solutions MD Tracey Rogers said that wholesale’s greatest strengths are relationships and customer service. “Wholesale distribution is one of the few industries left where I believe there is a genuine understanding that by working together we align priorities and maximise effectiveness so that we both constantly strengthen our customer base. We can make use of each other’s resources and create demand,” she said.
“We do believe you have a bright future, mainly because of your commitment to manufacturers and to customer service. Great customer service will sort the wheat from the chaff. It means exceeding our customers’ expectations every day. We all need to get the soul of a small company back into the sometimes, muscle-bound, big company body, this will help us all make our customers sticky.”
However it was acknowledged that the trade faces obstacles from an uncertain economic climate and emerging threats to distribution. All the speakers, including Coral Rose of Country Range Group and Jonathan Kemp, Commercial Director at AG Barr, made the case for greater co-operation and simplification in supply chain processes.
Tracey Rogers said: “One thing that scares me to death in this industry is our inability to agree on standards for data synchronisation. I would bet that there is more legislation to come on transparency and on the traceability of products. Manufacturers cannot continue to provide product information manually, by filling out excel spreadsheets, which is what many of our wholesaler customers still ask us to do. There are just too many opportunities for human error.
“At the end of the day this issue is really about customer service, it’s about providing your customers with the information they legally need. On the whole, wholesalers are brilliant at customer service, so providing accurate, real time product information is just another face of this.”
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All of us in this industry know that we are involved in a marathon rather than a sprint. It’s a curious kind of race, one where we can’t see the finish line and don’t al