Coral Rose column: “If the flow stops, we stop”

I’ve been in the food wholesale sector all my working life because I quickly found out it was a fantastic industry to work in, full of friendly, dedicated and unflappable people.

What we’ve all been through in the past few weeks has demonstrated just how true that is.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has worked so hard throughout this coronavirus crisis. Everyone who has gone to work every day, despite the risk to their own health: to pick, to pack, to deliver and to serve our customers. The government calls you key workers, I think you’re heroes.

For some in the FWD membership, it’s been a tough time meeting demand into the retail sector and you have done an incredible job of ensuring independent stores – especially those serving communities beyond the reach of the supermarkets – got the stock their customers needed.

Most of us in foodservice have had the opposite problem. Our customer base of restaurants, pubs, hotels and cafes has disappeared, many of them without the means to pay for the stock they hold. Cash is king in wholesale, unlike in other businesses where wages are the biggest outlay, we have to pay for storage, refrigeration and vehicles and the huge levels of stock flowing through our warehouses. If the flow stops, we stop. It doesn’t matter how profitable your businesses is, the wheels can’t turn.

There will be business owners, people we all know and respect, who will be making heartbreaking decisions about the futures of their companies. Family businesses, employing thousands of people between them. There is government help in the form of loans and support for wages, but for many, it won’t be enough.

FWD has fought very, very hard for those businesses and taken their case all the way to the Secretary of State at Defra and from there to senior officials in the Chancellor’s team at the treasury. Members have acted incredibly quickly to provide case studies, financial data and business modelling at the request of the treasury team. James at FWD has been in daily contact with decision makers. Members have volunteered to tell their stories on national media to help raise support.

And as I write this, we’re waiting.

I want to say this to our supplier partners; please support us. We know you’re under pressure in your own supply chains, but when we come through this – and we will – there will be restaurants, there will be pubs, there will be hotels and schools and shops. It’s in their interest and yours that we’re here to serve them. Right now, we need you to work with us to keep delivering to the people that need it most, the care sector and our front-line workers.

I count myself privileged to be navigating this crisis with two fantastic, very capable teams.

I am very proud of the team at Country Range Group who are working hard to support our foodservice wholesale members.

The team at the FWD is doing a great job as the conduit between its members and the government, communicating both ways all day, every day and keeping us all informed as new guidance is published to steer us through this. As always, they are making sure our voice is heard. It’s a tough fight and it will get tougher, but we will come through this by bringing wholesale together.

Just a final point. During this period many of us find ourselves working remotely. I would encourage everyone to make sure they make an extra effort to regularly communicate with colleagues, using video where you can, to ensure that everyone feels connected.

Coral Rose coronavirus Country Range Group covid-19 Foodservice FWD FWD chairman wholesale