Rob Mannion, RNF

Guest column: Rob Mannion, RNF

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the wholesale sector in a variety of ways, with retail wholesalers facing challenges to keep up with demand while foodservice specialists have been hit by the closure of customer businesses.

For most wholesale businesses, a global pandemic was unlikely to feature in even the most extensive future scenario planning.

So, given the sector is operating in genuinely unprecedented times, what can wholesalers do to future-proof their businesses and ensure they not only survive the lockdown but emerge ready to thrive when restrictions are lifted?

At RNF, our experience tells us that the arrival of Covid-19 has hastened what was already a compelling shift towards digital wholesaling. 

From the earliest days of the crisis, we have seen a groundswell of demand for customer-ordering apps from wholesalers seeking both greater functionality and innovative ways to keep their businesses going.

Apps have enabled wholesalers to continue serving customers who no longer wished to visit depots, they’ve enabled payments where people increasingly wished to avoid using physical cards or cash, and supported wholesalers to keep receiving and processing orders when sales teams have been furloughed or are following self-isolation procedures.

While retail wholesalers continue to be busy – if operating in new and different ways – many wholesalers in the foodservice sector have furloughed their teams, leaving owners with time to invest in future business planning.

While there is no formal end in sight for the current lockdown, at the time of writing sources suggest that restrictions may be eased, if not lifted, as early as the middle of May. This means all wholesalers may have only a matter of weeks to get their business back on the front foot.

As with many aspects of our lives, I suspect the new wholesale ‘normal’ will look different from how it did just a few months ago. 

Digital has proved itself a reliable modus operandi for retail wholesalers in testing times and those who aren’t already in the digital market are going to need to up their game.

Fully branded ordering apps can now go live in a matter of days, with the biggest barrier to launch now being simple, but time-consuming, admin issues, such as getting product files in order, sourcing product photographs, price lists and so on.

For many foodservice wholesalers in particular, making the move to digital has been on the to-do list for months but the busy nature of running a depot simply got in the way. Now there’s time to invest in getting those materials ready: compiling product lists; sourcing produce photography libraries; and thinking about pricing and promotion.

At RNF, we can advise on the best format for all of the above and, as part of our commitment to helping the sector, we’re offering a free, fully branded ordering app to any wholesaler who doesn’t already have their digital offer in place.

coronavirus covid-19 digital e-commerce RNF Rob Mannion