Food supply issues without wholesaler support

FWD Chief Executive James Bielby has warned MPs food supply will be “extremely challenging” if government support doesn’t arrive for wholesalers.

Bielby told MPs at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee that without giving wholesales access to to the same government support as retail, hospitality and and leisure businesses, they can’t guarantee supply when restaurants, pubs and hotels reopen.

While the government has offered sector-specific aid to other industries – including hospitality, dairy, and fisheries – the wholesale supply chain had been left to fend for itself and Bielby explained this needs to change in order to keep stock flowing.

He told MPs that wholesalers needed local authority grants and business rates relief, just as their customers have been given.

“The lockdown measures have had a detrimental effect on members, who are continuing to operate at a loss in order to continue to supply their public sector and care home customers,” said Bielby.

“They are having to use reserves and the government support that has been generally available, but they haven’t had access to any specific support.

“Hospitality, retail and leisure businesses have had their rates waived and a grant from their local authority of up to £25,000. The businesses supplying into those outlets have had precisely nothing.”

As a result, Bielby argued that reopening the hospitality sector – for which wholesalers would require a clear roadmap for in order to prepare properly – would be difficult without government assistance to allow wholesalers to “support, restock and give credit to their customers as they reopen”.

This isn’t the first time FWD has raised the need for further government support for foodservice wholesalers. And with members struggling to access local authority discretionary grants due to the “opaque” process, issues are coming to a head.

Bielby added: “Without the sort of sector support we’ve seen for the dairy and fisheries industries, as well as hospitality and leisure, food supply into the hospitality sector will be extremely challenging because of the cash flow difficulties our members will face as a result of the lockdown measures.”

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