Coral Rose exclusive: New FWD chair reveals plans

Country Range managing director named as the latest person to head up FWD’s council

A month before becoming the first woman to lead the FWD’s Council of Members, Coral Rose has to make the first decision of her tenure – is the job title chair, chairperson or chairwoman?

“It’s chairman,” says the Country Range Group (CRG) Managing Director. “It describes the role, not the person who does it, so why would we change it?”

And that’s the last time Wholesale News will make reference to the gender of the new boss, who takes over from Bidfood’s Andrew Selley at the beginning of 2020.

Rose has been a member of the FWD Council since 2014, having brought CRG into FWD when she took the helm at the buying group, recognising the increased prominence for foodservice within FWD in recent years. She has co-chaired FWD’s foodservice group and spoken at the federation’s conference and senior supplier briefings, sharing her passion for encouraging and enabling talented people from all backgrounds to build a career in the wholesale sector.

As well as chairing four council meetings a year, Rose’s job will be to guide FWD’s agenda under its three strategic pillars of representing wholesale, promoting wholesale and bringing wholesale together.

The representative role as the sector’s eyes and ears in Westminster is likely to be dominated by Brexit, but among the six priorities listed in FWD’s election manifesto is a demand that’s close to Rose’s heart: a centralised database for allergen information.

“With the rise of food-on-the-go and the introduction of Natasha’s Law, which requires food pre-packed directly for sale to carry a full list of ingredients, it’s absolutely essential wholesalers provide accurate information to their customers,” she explains. “And the way we ensure that is to ask the government to make it mandatory for suppliers to upload and update data to a central depository.”

“FWD’s remit is to speak for food and drink wholesalers on the issues specific to them and to join forces with other trade associations on wider interests. The team have done an excellent job of raising wholesale’s profile among decision makers and are well placed to be a strong voice for the membership as we negotiate post-Brexit food distribution.”

Rose’s other priority is encouraging great people to commit to wholesale by developing those already on board and attracting a diverse talent pool to the industry.

In the past year, FWD awarded more than £20,000 in training and development grants to help individuals build their skills and knowledge.

The Introduction to Wholesale e-learning module has been invaluable to new arrivals to the channel and the How to Win in Wholesale programme of seminars held in members’ depots has helped more than 250 suppliers understand the wholesale channel better. Alongside this, FWD’s Senior Supplier Briefing put supplier CEOs in a room with their wholesaler equivalents for a top-to-top discussion on how to exploit opportunities for brand growth.

Another challenge for FWD is to make the sector a place where people aspire to work.

“I’ve worked in foodservice distribution all my career and I love it,” Rose says. “It’s about food and people – how could you not enjoy that? There are tremendous opportunities and rewards in an industry where an individual can really make a difference.

“But when you talk to people outside work, they really have no idea what wholesale is. It’s very hard to offer ourselves as a destination career if we’re not visible and I’d like to see FWD leading the way on changing how what we do is perceived in the wider world.”

Steps are being taken. A new initiative, pioneered by Rose’s fellow council member Amir Chaudhary of Indus Foods, is offering week-long work placements for Year 11 students in wholesale businesses next summer, while FWD’s Supplier Council is looking at ways to impress on college and university students that wholesale distribution offers a rewarding career path.

Part of this is about changing the culture within the sector, a process that recently produced FWD’s Dignity at Work charter, which sets out guidelines for behaviour in business and networking settings.

“I remember the first FWD event I attended 26 years ago, as a new starter at Watson & Phillip,” recalls Rose, who joined the wholesaler – later to become part of Brakes – in a marketing role straight from university.

“I was with two other young female colleagues in a room full of older men and there were a lot of sexist comments over dinner, followed by a blue comedian. It wasn’t a very welcoming environment and while we’ve come a long way since then, we can always do more to make this sector attractive to women, with total equality and the same opportunity to succeed. I find that I’m still very often the sole female attendee at senior-level wholesale meetings and events.”

She’s also keen for FWD to continue working closely with Women in Wholesale (WiW) to encourage and inspire women to progress in the industry and address the gender imbalance that still exists, particularly at senior level.

“I’m inspired by the tremendous progress Elit Rowland has made since launching WiW and look forward to greater collaboration to support its continued development,” adds Rose.

FWD’s role is also to be the hub of discussion, networking and knowledge, bringing wholesalers, suppliers, service providers and customers together to find ways to grow sales, cut costs and improve service.

Next year will see an expanded engagement programme, with specific category issues addressed at informal evening gatherings, and additions to the How to Win sessions to provide wholesale sector intelligence for other job functions within the supplier community. This role also involves bringing new insight to the table and in 2020 FWD will conduct research into the economic impact of wholesale distribution, as well as a survey of the way chefs and catering students use digital technologies. FWD is also working on a robust market read and a revised market map to help suppliers navigate the channel.

It’s fitting the new chairman, who sees talented people as crucial to the sector’s continued success, should join the winners of FWD’s Gold Medals awards on stage when her election was announced at the event.

“FWD is a unique forum for competitors to come together and demonstrate the strength of this channel and the opportunity for brands, and for individuals who choose to dedicate themselves to it,” Rose says.

“The team do a great job and I’m looking forward to being a part of enhancing and developing the service FWD provides for the wholesale channel.”

appointment chairman Coral Rose Country Range FWD wholesale wholesaler