Wholesalers call for support for vital food supply

The UK’s food and drink wholesalers have issued a Food Supply Survival Plan ahead of further restrictions on their customers in the hospitality sector

The wholesalers, who supply schools, care homes and hospitals as well as pubs, restaurants, hotels and workplaces, face losing millions of pounds if a new lockdown is announced, with millions of tonnes of food currently in warehouses going to waste.

Having had little sector-specific support from government since the start of the pandemic, members of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) say they can no longer absorb the losses caused by last-minute closure of their customers. With distribution depots full of Christmas stock, the timing of the new restrictions could not be worse.

FWD is calling on the Chancellor to ensure vital public services receive the food they need over the Christmas holidays and into the new year, and recommends three actions he must take:

1. Give wholesalers immediate access to the £1.5 billion Covid Additional Relief Fund already allocated for losses in 2020/21
2. Any new support for the hospitality sector must include its supply chain
3. Defer government loan and duty payments due in January

FWD Chief Executive James Bielby said:

“The timing couldn’t be worse. Businesses have invested huge amounts and found workarounds to get stock available for Christmas in the most difficult of circumstances. A lot of that is still sitting in warehouses and unable to move – sales are down 15% on the equivalent week in 2019.

“It’s really difficult to see how we’re going to get through this, because a lot of that is seasonal stock in big catering volumes, things which can’t be donated to food banks or repurposed elsewhere.

“In January, we had schools closed at one day’s notice, which was an absolute disaster for the industry. The big difference between then and now is that there were a lot of schemes in place from government to help businesses, not all of them directed at us, but things like furlough and grants from government. None of that is in place now.

“However the Treasury has just last week given Local Authorities £1.5 billion for businesses like ours who weren’t able to access the business rates relief given to hospitality, leisure and retail companies. We need that money released now.

“We also want any support which is offered to the restaurants and the pubs to be given to the supply chain as well. That might take the form of business rates relief.

covid-19 Federation of Wholesale Distributors food waste Foodservice Government hospitality James Bielby