James Bielby, FWD Chief Executive

Bielby: Suppliers reap rewards from investment in wholesale

Give the wholesale channel the attention and investment it rightly deserves and suppliers will reap the rewards, says FWD chief executive

In the final presentation at our Business Lunch, held earlier this month, Nisa Managing Director Peter Batt said: “Wholesale is the place you want to be.” In fact, he said it several times, and our audience of suppliers had already heard variations on that statement repeatedly from wholesalers, insight providers and FWD Chairman Dawood Pervez.

There’s plenty of reasons why we were making this point so emphatically to our supplier partners, and we asked everyone in the room to take our message back to their senior management teams.


“Investment in this channel by suppliers has never been more important for your brands, as brand-focused wholesalers and their customers together form the largest distribution infrastructure in the UK,” Dawood told the 150 attendees.

Before you can get volume you need visibility, and wholesale offers the most distribution points in the greatest geography: 72,000 retail outlets and 330,000 foodservice operations – every one of them a shop window for your brand.

This was a theme that developed in our panel sessions, with Kirsty Cooper, who spent much of her career with suppliers before swapping to Greene King’s wholesale operation, saying: “When I was on the supplier side, we didn’t recognise the spread of wholesale. Everyone looks at the volume coming through the grocery channel but didn’t see the incredible distribution wholesale gives you.”


“We operate in a diverse array of sectors and customers, most of whom are B2B and have differing needs and legislative requirements,” said Janice Rockwell, Category Director at Sysco GB.

“We can be a great partner for small suppliers and SMEs. With the right investment and proposition, you can promote, and you can engage online and with digital and social media platforms, or directly with sales teams.” Janice added that in some respects wholesale is immune to seasonality and demographic.

“We can be bulletproof,” she said. “You may be quiet in January if you’re in hospitality but not if you’re in schools as well. And, if you serve schools, you can switch volume to holiday parks, and the travel and leisure sector in the summer

“Like any investment, you need to speculate to accumulate and pivot in times of adversity. We, like you, need to stay agile and adjust.”


Unitas MD John Kinney laid out a template for working with wholesalers that resonated with all our members present. We know that prices have to rise, but signpost those rises, keep them fair and equitable, and don’t expect us or our customers to compromise margin. If there are going to be availability issues, tell us in advance as that lets us plan and builds trust. Support the channel and maximise your investment with packs, promotions and PMPs. Keep your terms simple and focused. Retain the expertise of your wholesale team by letting them stay in post and develop their career as channel champions.

We also had a chance to illustrate the reasons to invest in wholesale with some big numbers, courtesy of our recent research project carried out by CEBR. The public spends £48bn in our customers’ businesses, more than they do in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose combined.

Allowing for retailers’ and caterers’ margin, that means FWD wholesale members spend nearly £26bn every year on products and services from suppliers.

The message is clear: wholesale is a huge, diverse, resilient and flexible market, and a huge opportunity for brands.

Dawood Pervez FWD Greene King and Belhaven James Bielby Janice Rockwell John Kinney Kirsty Cooper Nisa Peter Batt suppliers Sysco Unitas Wholesale