Coral Rose: Support here but work to be done

It has come late, some might say a year late, but spring finally arrived for the foodservice wholesale sector in March, with the announcement that they would have access to almost £2bn in additional government support.

The £1.6 billion business rates discount and the £425m Additional Restrictions Grants are not sector-specific, and they are awarded at the discretion of Local Authorities. There is plenty of work still to be done to ensure that funding goes where it’s most needed, which is to the distributors whose supply and service are crucial to the successful re-start of the hospitality sector over the next few months.

In both cases, the government has specifically indicated that wholesalers should be considered for the funding and it’s FWD’s job to ensure the local authorities follow that guidance.

But let’s just take a moment to reflect on what the FWD team and the members have achieved here. A year ago our sector was so little known that it was overlooked in the grants and rates relief that were liberally awarded elsewhere. Now it’s been mentioned in speeches by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, both of them acknowledging it was an industry that had fallen between the cracks in support. It’s been featured on the evening news and the media business pages.

On the 2021 Census form, sent last month to every household in the UK, the Government gives six examples of “the main activity of your organisation, business or freelance work.” They are clothing retail, general hospital, primary education, civil service, local government – and food wholesale.

It’s remarkable that an industry sector which even the FWD website calls ‘the hidden world of wholesale’ has risen so much in the public understanding over the last year that it’s now considered one of the country’s most recognisable source of employment.

Member businesses have been battered by the pandemic and the damage will take years to repair, but when we look back at the dire forecasts of business and service failures that were coming from our sector a year ago, we just have to admire the resilience wholesalers have shown. Among FWD’s members there have sadly been some redundancies, but no involuntary closures. No care home resident has been left without food, and no hospital, hospice or school has even temporarily lost its supply and support.

Of all the remarkable things that have happened in the last twelve months, that’s the most positive, and the most impressive. So I think we have to take forward that positivity as the economy begins its long slow recovery. Our customers are coming back, and have had enough Government support to hopefully clear their debts and invest in stock. The pent-up demand for eating and drinking out of the home will be unleashed, this time with the safety net of widespread vaccinations and the extended furlough scheme giving us the confidence to fill the warehouses and get the vans back on the road.

FWD is partnering Women in Wholesale this year and helping to deliver its development and wellbeing programme with the theme of ‘Onwards!’. I think that’s a great rallying cry for the sector as a whole. Wholesalers have been overlooked and under-valued, but we are still here, and our voice is now louder than it ever was. The next few years will be different from anything that has gone before, and how we influence or respond to the changes is entirely in our own hands.

Coral Rose coronavirus Country Range Group covid-19 FWD Government