FWD column January 2019: Andrew Selley

You wouldn’t necessarily think it, but 2019 has got more than just Brexit on the horizon and FWD Chairman Andrew Selley says that wholesalers should be prepared for change in a number of areas over the next few months

One thing we’ve all learned over the course of 2018 is that making predictions is a dangerous game. Many of us confidently presumed that we’d have clarity on what would be required of us when the UK departs the EU on 29 March this year, and few imagined that we’d still be looking for answers to questions we’ve been asking of government since the referendum in 2016.

Fortunately, we’re a resilient and agile supply chain which understands the importance of working together to share information and collaborate on contingency plans that will see us through, and enable us to maintain continuity of supply in any eventuality.

Hard though it may be to believe, Brexit is not the only challenge we need to overcome this year. Legislation on calorie labelling that could have dramatic consequences for many of our customers goes before Parliament in the spring – you can read more about this in our Q&A on page 42 of this issue.

We should also anticipate a potential change in the law around allergen labelling. Following the death of a young woman after eating a Pret A Manger baguette with insufficient allergen information, Defra Minister Michael Gove has announced that the government will bring forward proposals to change the law imminently.

Public and media opposition very quickly led to a consultation on a ban on plastic straws and stirrers. We should expect similar pressure to reduce the use of plastics. The government is using both carrot and stick, and has introduced a £60m scheme to tackle food waste and plastic pollution. This will include funding for new forms of plastic and packaging made from farming, food and industrial waste.

For wholesalers that sell tobacco, the new track-and-trace requirements will add costs and administration, although, like so much in 2018, we still don’t know exactly what the obligations will be.

Not everything that came out of Westminster last year was challenging. The government recognised the need to support high-street businesses with the one-third discount in business rates for those with a rateable value under £51k, and the £675m Future High Street Fund. The new digital tax from April 2020 may help redress the imbalance between online and physical retailers.

We also have the £15m investment to subsidise redistribution of £1bn of surplus food, a move which recognises that it currently costs more to redistribute food than to dump it or convert it to energy.

As we embark on a new year, I’m confident the wholesale sector will work collectively with government and its agencies to implement achievable food policies and standards that will make a genuine difference to child and adult obesity. I believe we can get real traction on the pressing need to reduce food and plastic waste, and carbon emissions, and, of course, plan effectively through the supply chain to anticipate and mitigate risks, and leverage opportunities from whatever Brexit we end up with.

No less important, I would like to see us promote our industry as a great place to work, drive diversity and recruit young talent into the sector. Whatever else may distract us, we must not lose sight of this crucial element in the success of our businesses and our industry as a whole.

Originally published , updated .

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