Support plan needed for food and drink wholesalers – EFRA

The government has been urged to publish a plan to support food and drink wholesalers in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis by an influential parliamentary committee.

In its report on Covid-19 and food supply, which was published on 30 July, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee says the government could have done more to anticipate the supply chain impacts of its decision to shut down the hospitality sector – and says it must work with wholesalers to “understand their concerns and monitor their health” over the next 18 months as the sector restarts.

The report concludes that government should produce a plan for how it intends to support food and drink suppliers to the hospitality and foodservice sector “during this turbulent time” and that “previously thriving hospitality and foodservice businesses remain economically viable”.

The MPs are also critical of the government’s support for wholesalers, which were unable to find alternative markets for perishable goods after the “huge shock” of its decision to close their foodservice customers.

Defra Secretary of State George Eustice admitted to the committee that his department had been “closely monitoring the food wholesale sector” and found “the loss of the service trade has affected certain businesses quite badly”. Despite this, no specific support for wholesalers has been provided by government.

FWD Chief Executive James Bielby, who gave evidence to the committee, welcomed the report’s recommendations. He said: “The government’s support for hospitality and foodservice businesses has not been extended to the distributors who supply them, and consequently many of these wholesalers are experiencing financial distress.

“With the report stating that further financial difficulties will continue for at least a year, it’s essential the government provides a clear indication of how it will support wholesalers during the market’s slow recovery.

“FWD members also supply schools, hospitals and care homes, and while the stimulus package starting next week may help the hospitality sector, the growth will be too slow to guarantee the continuity of these vital contracts.

“The government’s response to the EFRA report must include specific support for these businesses, including the business rates relief that has been given to their customers.”

coronavirus covid-19 EFRA food supply FWD George Eustace James Bielby