Let’s get wholesale together again – Coral Rose

The light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter as we emerge into a more optimistic 2022 and as FWD’s Chairperson Coral Rose celebrates, that means the chance to spend more time together after two years apart

Is it over? Not quite, but the days are getting longer and the sun’s a little warmer, and perhaps as spring arrives we can look forward to something very much like what we used to call business as usual.

For nearly two years many of FWD’s wholesalers have had to contend with having too much demand and not enough stock; then no customers and too much stock; then sky-high demand, followed by a sudden lockdown; then stock and no customers, then no stock and no fuel; then neither enough stock nor enough staff. It’s exhausting just writing it down.

There will be time to explore all of this and look at exactly how the food distribution supply chain fared and what we and the government need to put in place to ensure we’re better prepared if a similar crisis occurs in future.

FWD is already starting the debrief process, with a view to demonstrating how this industry’s resilience was tested almost to breaking point by government’s poor decisions, last minute u-turns and, initially at least, its ignorance of the role that food and drink wholesalers play in keeping the country fed and vital institutions open. Having fought hard to get their members some recognition for the sacrifices they made, via some rather late in the day financial support, the FWD team have helped ensure we won’t be overlooked again.

For now however, let’s look forward to rebounding, rebuilding and re-bonding with our customers and suppliers. FWD has a role here too. After 18 months without a live event, we’ve recently hosted two very successful gatherings of the industry, with more 1,100 people attending our conference and Gold Medals. This year we’re planning a further 11 face-to-face networking and education sessions for wholesalers and suppliers, including the How to Win in Wholesale orientation days for new arrivals in the channel, and the return of our Category Focus dinner and discussion evenings.

I’m delighted that Women in Wholesale, which is attracting extraordinary levels of support from across the sector, is back in the real world with the Speed Mentoring day on 28 April and conference on 22 September. This unstoppable movement is still gathering pace and driving change, building confidence, resilience and awareness, and changing attitudes in the workplace.

As this extended period of daily firefighting hopefully comes to an end, we can lift our eyes from the desk and look beyond the immediate trading environment. FWD’s Supplier Council has already reconvened this year and is looking at how we increase communication, co-operation and knowledge-sharing across the board.

Every employer in the country is now discovering what happens when you take a cheap, plentiful labour force for granted ­– and we’re no exception. We’ve got to find ways to attract the brightest talents into our channel, help them learn and develop, and offer them incentives and opportunities whatever level they join us at. We will also have to learn to adapt to their expectation of employment in what is now a sellers’ market.

The Supplier Council is setting up the Future Leaders’ Forum, a group of younger wholesalers and suppliers whose understanding of their generation’s habits and expectations will, we hope, immediately start challenging established practices and processes in our businesses. We’re also starting to compile a series of online How to Win resources to help suppliers who are new to the channel, or employees joining an established supplier, understand how wholesale operates and crucially why they should be pouring their investment and attention into it. We’re in the early stages of establishing the FWD Academy, a meeting place for sharing knowledge and experience.

We’re not completely abandoning the world of Zoom and Teams calls – they will have their place, for example in FWD’s Bringing Wholesale Together webinars. But as the final Covid restrictions are lifted, it’s this programme of face-to-face events and meetings that will get us properly talking again, forming professional and personal bonds, turning ideas into action, and ultimately creating a better, more efficient, more sustainable and more engaging service for our customers.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. See you soon.

2022 Coral Rose coronavirus covid-19 events Foodservice Government hospitality wholesale wholesaler