Government doesn’t “fully understand” wholesale role – Thakrar

A lack of understanding of the role wholesalers play is undermining the industry’s call for support, according to HT Drinks Director Sanjay Thakrar.

The drinks specialist has seen the on-trade part of his business take a significant hit as the hospitality sector struggles to contend with restrictions.

And with new rules introduced last week to further limit sales in pubs, restaurants and nightclubs, a rocky winter awaits, with hopes of further support to help wholesalers impacted by the changes being lobbied for. But just as earlier in the crisis, the threat is wholesalers will be left out in the cold again.

“I don’t think the government fully understands what role we play in the supply chain and the impact it’s having on wholesalers, so we could do with more support,” said Thakrar.

“No one knows the future so I can’t predict that and we’d like the government to give more support to our sector, but it’s challenging.”

This leaves HT Drinks balancing out losses on the on-trade side of its business, with its successful straight-to-consumer Drink Supermarket and its off-trade business.

But despite that offsetting some of the loses, Thakrar says the business is operating at between 65 and 70% of its project revenue.

“We’ve seen a significant decline in on-trade and it was starting to improve, but since the announcements, we’ll see a decline again,” he explained.

“All the restaurants lose one sitting at least every evening, so it’ll be challenging for them, nightclubs and bars will be set by 10 so they’ll be losing business and that means they’ll be buying less from us.

“In terms of retail, initially we saw a big spike, as has been reported in various press. In the off-trade, a lot of people started purchasing from there. We expect to see that continue because people are concerned about going to supermarkets and doing large shops.”

While support isn’t forthcoming, the wholesaler is now forced to freeze investments and seek efficiencies across the group in the meantime.

But one area that particularly concerns Thakrar is the capital, which the wholesaler supplies from its Park Royal depot on the outskirts of London.

“Particularly central London is suffering massively,” Thakrar added. “From what we’re seeing, suburbs are doing ok but central London is struggling – Docklands, West End, City – they’re dead at the moment.

“With people working from home there are fewer people using the underground, so fewer people travelling in and I think it’s going to be very challenging [for businesses in central London]. Theatres are shut so you haven’t got tourists, hotels will suffer as well. It’s going to be a challenging time.”

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