‘Work from home’ rule devastates food distributors – Bielby

New restrictions on social gatherings could lead to mountains of wasted food and leave food and drink wholesalers to pay the bill, says FWD.

The introduction of work-from-home guidance means food already in distributors’ warehouses will not be purchased by workplace canteens, city centre cafes and sandwich shops, and office Christmas party venues.

The move is a huge financial blow for food wholesalers who have overcome labour shortages, stock shortages and spiralling costs to provide the UK’s restaurants, hotels and pubs with food for Christmas parties – and it’s the fourth time in less than two years that short-notice restrictions on trade have left them footing the bill for the government’s last-minute decisions.

“All across the country, warehouses are full of Christmas stock bound for the hospitality sector,” said FWD Chief Executive James Bielby.

“At such short notice and because fresh food is time and temperature sensitive, it’s just not possible for it all to be re-purposed. If it can’t be sold on, some of it will be given away, some will be thrown away, but all of it has already been paid for.

“These restrictions once again punish food distributors who have worked so hard to deliver Christmas and have had very little support from government despite making massive losses when the hospitality sector was closed in 2020 and the first part of 2021. They have been relying on a busy Christmas just to break even this year, let alone start recouping those previous losses.”

FWD members report that demand from restaurants and pubs is holding up for now but they fear that if work colleagues are told to work from home, office Christmas parties will be cancelled or moved away from city centre venues. Hotels will also lose trade as a result.

Wholesalers have received very little financial support from government despite staying open during three lockdowns to supply schools, care homes and hospitals. With labour, stock, energy and fuel prices rising rapidly, many face a cash flow crisis going into the new year without a Christmas boost, and fear that their customer base will also be reduced as hospitality venues close their doors in the first quarter of 2022.

Having been excluded from both the Business Rates relief offered to supermarkets, and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants given to their customers, wholesalers are still waiting for a share of a £1.5bn business rates discount fund which was promised by the Chancellor nine months ago but has yet to be released.

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