School food distributors need certainty… or compensation

Wholesalers who supply food to schools have urged the government to make every effort to ensure the re-opening of schools does not result in a similar shambles to the previous attempt to return pupils to the classroom in January.

The distributors were left with millions of pounds of unsold stock when schools were shut after just one day on 5 January and are concerned they will be similarly exposed if the government revises its re-opening schedule at short notice due to a rise in Covid-19 cases in schools.

January’s one-day opening saw fresh and chilled products that were unsuitable for donation to charities being disposed of and other stock sold at a discount as it approached its best-before date. After a year of last-minute lockdowns and u-turns, wholesalers have again stocked up to supply schools, but fear their businesses cannot absorb the cost of yet more wasted food.

“This is such an important day for those wholesalers who supply schools, as it’s the first time in months that they’ve had a source of income for their education customers,” said FWD Chief Executive James Bielby.

“But it’s absolutely crucial that they have the confidence and clarity they need to stock up, bring staff off furlough and return mothballed vehicles to the road.

“Above all, they need at least a week’s notice if schools are to close again – and if that’s not practical, we would expect the government to compensate wholesalers for the stock in their warehouses that can’t be sold elsewhere. This could be through Local Authority Additional Restriction Grants, for which food distribution should be a priority, or a bespoke Excess Stock fund.

“We support the return to the classroom and the roadmap to the re-opening of hospitality, but wholesalers feel they have been overlooked for financial support for a year now, and another u-turn would once again leave them yet again footing the bill for government’s poor decision making.”

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