Hospitality is back but damage hasn’t healed – Coral Rose

FWD’s chair explains that strong figures from hospitality’s reopening doesn’t repair issues exposed by pandemic

Hospitality is back and some of our foodservice members are reporting sales figures that are better than the equivalent month in 2019, the last time we had any semblance of normality in the foodservice supply chain.

In the past month we’ve had Freedom Day, some proper summer weather, a fall in Covid cases which is boosting consumer confidence and the announcement that double-jabbed US and EU tourists are welcome back to the UK.

That’s all good news, but we can’t overlook everything that’s happened over the past 18 months, with FWD members ploughing all their capital reserves into staying open so that they could still be in business now, when their customers need them more than ever. It’s going to take more than a couple of months of healthy trading to make up for the damage the pandemic has done to good, viable businesses, and with the worst implications of Brexit still to reveal themselves, we’re far from out of the woods yet.

This month has shown us the scale of the labour shortage in the food supply chain and in our own sector in particular. With drivers and other staff forced to self-isolate, we’re all suddenly very conscious of just how thinly spread our teams can be when there isn’t a ready pool of talent to turn to. Magnify that up and down the supply chain – from the pickers on the farms to the waiting staff in restaurants – and it’s clear there will be plenty more bumps in the road before we get back to anything like the fluid distribution that customers and consumers expect.

Simply put, we’re going to have to invest in our people. We’ve got to make wholesale and hospitality in general, a more attractive career choice. Working front of house in a restaurant is seen as a job that you have to do rather than something that you aspire to, and I think we need to change the attitudes towards that. Our customers are desperate for back-of-house roles too and are looking at pay and conditions for chefs.

It’s no different in our own environment. Perhaps as a result of the pandemic – or after months of furlough – many people are re-evaluating their lives and particularly their attitudes to work. Suddenly working the night shift or spending days away on the road in a lorry or working split shifts, doesn’t seem like a viable career choice. We need to work out how to structure work around these new expectations, which will only increase as more younger people enter the job market, with very different ideas about their work/life priorities. If we don’t, we can be sure other employers in an increasingly competitive recruitment market will.

The government has a role here, particularly with drivers, making HGV haulage an attractive proposition with apprenticeships, offering training support and better conditions on the roads and at rest stops. There are actions FWD can take too in raising the profile of wholesale and I want to acknowledge the great work [Chief Executive] James Bielby and the team have done putting our industry into the headlines in recent weeks.

But individual wholesalers will need to take most of the responsibility. We’ve recently seen Tesco offer drivers a substantial bonus to join them and most of us have already acknowledged that pay, benefits and conditions are the levers we will have to pull if we want to keep our own delivery teams.

Unless there’s a significant change in the government’s immigration policy – and the chances of that are minimal – the wholesalers who do best in the coming years will be those who quickly adapt to this power shift in the job market, as willing manual workers become a scare resource with high demands and plenty of choice of how and where they offer their labour.

It’s an enormous challenge, as if we didn’t have enough of those already. But just as we have seen our members rise to the challenge of the digital and delivery revolution that is also transforming their businesses and I’m confident they are already investing in strategies to secure a strong workforce.

Coral Rose coronavirus Country Range Group covid-19 Foodservice FWD hospitality pingdemic