Wholesalers appear on BBC and ITV to raise key issues

More wholesalers have taken to TV screens to speak about the devastating impact the lack of government support is having on their businesses.

FWD members Savona Foodservice, Harvest Fine Foods and Dunsters Farm – as well as FWD Chief Executive James Bielby – appeared on the BBC and ITV in recent days to speak about mounting stock issues and dwindling reserves.

The problems the sector is facing has been exacerbated this year following a further national lockdown, the eleventh-hour closure of schools in early January and the move towards vouchers to replace free school meal boxes.

And Harvest Fine Foods Managing Director Richard Strongman is just one of the people spreading the word about much-needed support.

“We’ve basically suffered a loss of about 80% of our revenue and trade,” said Strongman to ITV News. “We’ve got a 56,000 sq ft warehouse here and a freezer that’s the size of four tennis courts which costs a lot of money to keep running.

“We recognise the need to protect public health and wellbeing, that has to take priority, but all we’re asking for is a little bit of support for our industry to compensate us for the massive losses we’ve had to sustain in the past 12 months.”

Strongman also appeared on BBC News to speak about the disastrous impact last week’s palaver surrounding school meal food boxes had when the Department for Education recommended vouchers as a reasonable alternative.

“We’ve gone down from 3,000 to just over 1,400, so 1,600 meals have been cancelled now,” Strongman said.

“The impact now is that we’ve brought stock is so we’re not faced with potentially throwing away or give it away to food charities – but that causes us to take a loss.”

It’s a sentiment Dunsters Farm Director Tom Mathew reiterated as he told the BBC that he’d be forced to furlough a significant number of staff – a move that would have a big impact on support for vital public services, such as supply to hospitals and care homes.

“It would mean potentially having to furlough 40% of our team if this continues,” Mathew said.

“Our teams have moved mountains to make this work for schools – we’ve sourced new lines, so what it means we’re sat on more stock when we’ve already been sat on stock from the quick shutdown of schools, the lockdowns last year, having to stockpile for the Brexit negotiations going to the last minute. It just adds to the problem.”

Bielby, who penned a powerful response to the voucher news last week, was on hand to spell out the repercussions that decision has had on the wholesale industry.

“It’s going to have a devastating impact on a sector that’s already on its knees,” he added.

“What we’re seeing is that the move to the voucher scheme is essentially giving yet more income to the supermarkets. Our sector has received no support from government whatsoever and this is a body blow.

“Unfortunately, the reserves are running out so it’s only a matter of time before those businesses will have to close their doors.

“When hospitality hopefully reopens in spring and beyond, without a supply chain there to provide goods and food and drink to these businesses, there won’t be a hospitality channel.”

Things continue to be moving at pace to the detriment of foodservice wholesalers as Savona Foodservice Managing Director Mike Morgan pointed out in an interview with ITV subsidiary, Meridian.

“Having followed the government guidelines pre-Christmas to get ready for Brexit, we stocked up,” Morgan said.

“The noise was schools are returning, so typically we need to stock up ahead of schools returning and at 8pm when the announcement was made, most of our vehicles were loaded with stock we knew wasn’t going to be wanted in the main and we had to find another outlet for, which has caused us significant disruption and difficulty.

“It’s something we could have planned for, had we known a fortnight in advance.”

coronavirus covid-19 Dunsters Farm FWD Harvest Fine Foods hospitality ITV James Bielby Mike Morgan Richard Strongman Savona Foodservice schools Tom Mathew