It’s fair to say that we’re really in a pre-Brexit world right now, with much of the real work ahead. Whilst we may feel that we are leading our businesses in a climate of ambiguity at the moment, there are ways in which we can get ahead of the game and challenges we need to come together as an industry to address.
Whilst we can't affect the adverse exchange rates that are driving the industry- wide food and fuel inflation at the moment, the pressure on our businesses, and profitability right across the supply chain is something we need to voice to Government. There could also be challenges on the availability of food commodities and ingredients where we rely on imports to source. It’s a sobering thought, but the UK doesn't feed itself and carries only around 3 to 5 days' worth of food stocks. In fact our self-sufficiency as a nation has reduced consistently over time which could be a risk in the face of increasingly extreme weather conditions.
In order to feed ourselves, eat a healthy diet, and reduce the amount we import in the face of fluctuating food and fuel prices, we will need to work as an industry to support UK producers and manufacturers, invest back into farming and production, and work with what’s seasonal on our menus. We also need to nurture the fledgling smaller businesses, the backbone of our economy, if we are to meet growing demand and provide surety of supply.
Another pressing issue is that of access to unskilled and skilled labour, which has been a challenge for some time in wholesale, and is a real concern we must raise with Government, along with other voices in the Foodservice and Hospitality industries. We are an industry which the Prime Minister recently praised for its “vital role in our food supply chain, taking food and drink to where it is needed throughout Britain” and as a “key contributor to the UK economy, employing thousands of people and supporting millions more through the food industry.”
It’s probably fair to say that for decades we have failed as a nation to invest in food and operational skills, and the result is a real dependency on migrant workers for the foodservice, hospitality, farming, manufacturing and distribution industries.
Promoting supply chain, catering and foodservice roles as careers has to be a priority- whether it’s though recognition and award schemes, apprenticeships, work placements, taster days, warehouse to wheels programmes, alliances with universities, or induction programmes that help successfully on-board newcomers to our industry.
So what will happen to food standards, guidelines and legislation? Following all the new legislation, and food standards the industry has had to deal with in recent years, there’s a good chance of at least some change to come. And there may be opportunity too, to tailor food law to benefit us in some areas. A Repeal Bill would enable us to keep the EU food regulations that suit us- why wouldn’t we want to address the growing incidence of allergic reactions, provide the nutritional information consumers need to make healthier choices, and have consistent labelling? If we want to continue to trade with European Economic Area countries with the same products, then we will still need consistent product formulations and labelling.
Over the course of time we can then choose which we want to unpick and revise. The key point is that we need to be sufficiently well networked to keep a watching brief and help shine the light on those areas where reform would make sense.
So whilst we wait patiently or otherwise, for Article 50 to be triggered, the one thing that we can guarantee is that Brexit will be an ongoing news story over the next few years. We can’t choose to ignore its impact on our industry, but we can make a difference to the outcomes going forwards. We can stay in tune, advise our members and customers, share intelligence, expertise and insight, and work together to guide our industry and voice its concerns- it’s still all to play for.
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25/01/2018 - FWD helps introduce MPs to sector’s support for wholesale workers
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