Coral Rose column: Tough times ahead but cling to the positives
January is always a challenging month for food distribution and I can’t stress enough how proud we all are of the drivers and depot teams who keep their customers’ shelves stocked through snow, ice, floods and gales.
It’s a tough enough job in an ordinary January, which this one is anything but. Even going to your normal place of work involves an added level of stress, and we should recognise the contribution of everyone who has willingly come into offices and warehouses to ensure the wheels keep turning. With schools across the country closed, it’s a huge effort for those with children to be out of the home and not much easier for those who are able work from their bedrooms and kitchen tables.
Of course, there are slivers of light on the horizon, with the promise of widespread vaccinations. Let’s hope they come soon enough. If 2020 taught us anything it is that we are a very resilient and adaptable industry sector, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
In fact, to give the year more credit than it deserves, you might say that 2020’s obstacles forced us to challenge ourselves in ways that were probably overdue. Every aspect of the wholesale offer had to be inspected and refined, from the customer base, to the service offered, and the efficiency of our operations.
Look at how swiftly many foodservice distributors introduced home delivery and click-and-collect models and how understanding between wholesalers and suppliers has been enhanced by better data collection and sharing, and better digital communication.
Wholesalers have upped their game and are beginning to introduce the kind of digital customer interface that we have all become accustomed to as consumers, with the smartphone at the heart of the relationship.
It took a global pandemic to bring about the change, but it’s an example of how, even in the harshest of conditions, we can adapt to survive.
Unfortunately the new year brings very little comfort for foodservice wholesalers. We’re facing the worst restrictions on our customer base over the coming weeks, with hospitality and workplaces locked down again, and school closures adding to the crisis.
The supply chain is again impacted, not only in the last-minute decision to close schools which then have to cancel orders for food already in our warehouses, but through gaps in the £4.6bn support package offered to businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector at the start of this latest lockdown.
The long months without support have taken their toll on all of us and I completely understand the frustration so many foodservice wholesalers are feeling – and the growing fear that our message isn’t landing on the desks of the relevant decision makers.
I can reassure you that through FWD’s efforts we’ve ensured that food supply chains are front of mind with Defra and the Government understands they are a vital part of the UK’s critical national infrastructure. As the UK finally signed a trade deal with the EU at the 11th hour, FWD worked with Defra non-stop over Christmas to ensure goods destined for wholesalers in Northern Ireland were able to flow freely from 1 January. That wouldn’t have happened if the wholesale channel wasn’t recognised and valued.
But this won’t immediately translate to Covid financial support, beyond what is available to all businesses, without detailed data on its impact on the wholesale sector. FWD members have risen to the challenge time and again to respond to the government’s information requests. They know that sentiment won’t save jobs or businesses at this stage – only full, honest and comprehensive data – and wholesalers’ commitment to continually provide it is invaluable and inspirational.Coral Rose coronavirus Country Range covid-19 Foodservice FWD hospitality wholesale