Coral Rose: FWD Chair’s final column

In her final column as FWD Chair, Coral Rose looks back on her three-year tenure, celebrating the triumphs and looking at what will be on her successor’s agenda

My three-year term as chair of FWD comes to an end in December and it’s been quite a ride. Back at the start of 2020, I didn’t expect that a few weeks later the role would require me to stand in freezing warehouses at 6am waiting to speak live to several million breakfast TV viewers. Or that I’d be attending countless meetings with government ministers and officials where FWD fought with incredible skill and tenacity for the wholesale sector to get the support it needed and deserved.

Looking back, we can be immensely pleased with what the team achieved during those three years. When Covid hit, FWD rose to the occasion, setting up central communications hubs to feed government information to members and vice versa. 

A huge political engagement programme cut through to the highest level and resulted in both the prime minister and the chancellor making specific reference to food wholesale in the House of Commons. Defra and Treasury officials were converted to our cause through patient and relentless lobbying, and we were awarded Trade Campaign of the Year by the PRCA for our efforts.

At the same time, our media profile grew astonishingly, with members appearing on the national news almost weekly at one point and FWD becoming a prominent voice in the media – not just for the sector but for the entire food and drink supply chain.

All this effort resulted in millions of pounds of financial assistance for wholesalers being distributed through local authorities. For a small team representing a perhaps previously overlooked sector of the economy, it was an extraordinary effort. FWD even managed to offer wholesaler members a substantial reduction in membership fees at the height of the financial crisis.

Our higher profile is reflected in FWD’s role in encouraging MPs to form the Food and Drink Supply Chain All Party Parliamentary Group, which investigates and makes recommendations on issues affecting the entire food supply chain. FWD’s involvement in setting this group’s agenda ensures that the needs of our members are reflected in this influential committee’s outputs.

Along the way we also managed to fulfil some of the projects I outlined as priorities on my first day in the chair. We formed a partnership with Women in Wholesale, offering administrative support and encouraging wholesalers and suppliers to support the initiative, which has allowed Elit Rowland’s brilliant programme of events to expand and thrive. 

More recently, through the efforts of Head of Engagement Lyndsey Cambridge, we’ve established the Future Leaders’ Forum, a launching pad and sounding board for the best young talents in the wholesale family. We’ve backed this up with online resources, helping new starters in the channel get to grips with how wholesale works. 

All of this work takes forward FWD’s three strategic pillars of Representing Wholesale, Promoting Wholesale and Bringing Wholesale Together. On the last of these – and despite all the adversity of the Covid/Brexit era – the team managed to achieve record attendance at the 2021 conference and Gold Medals and have gone on to exceed those numbers at the 2022 events. 

The number of suppliers and service providers forming relationships with wholesalers through FWD has never been higher and we’ve only just started to expand the post-Covid engagement programme.

There’s always more we can do and one of my initial objectives – to see FWD driving sustainability in the distribution chain – unavoidably took a back seat during the pandemic. I’m pleased to say that as I leave office, it’s very much at the top of the agenda, along with another passion of mine, recruiting, retaining and developing the brightest talents from all backgrounds and regions.

I will remain on the FWD Council of Members as the representative of Fairway Foodservice. I wish my successor every success and best of luck to them, and thanks to the FWD team for all the incredible things they have achieved during my term in the hot seat.

Coral Rose coronavirus cost of living crisis covid-19 Foodservice FWD Government HGV drivers Wholesalers Women in Wholesale