FWD Live! focuses on sustainability and growth
With ‘Sell more, to more’ as a theme for this year’s FWD Live! conference, it was clear from the outset that it would be firmly focused on opportunities, growth and future plans
This year’s FWD Live! conference promised delegates a day of thought-provoking, sector-specific content and it didn’t disappoint.
Held at the Midland Hotel in Manchester for the first time, James Bielby, CEO, FWD, explained the change in location: “We’ve held previous conferences at St George’s Park in Burton, but we outgrew the venue for 2023. It was fantastic to be at a great new venue and being in the centre of Manchester made it really accessible for guests.”
The annual conference has always provided delegates with the perfect opportunity for wholesale and supplier members to connect and hear about the recent work of the FWD, new legislations set to impact the channel, and topical discussions around the wholesale sector.
A range of speakers from suppliers, independent wholesalers, buying groups, foodservice operators, retailers and FWD’s Future Leaders Forum at this year’s event gave a 360-degree view of the sector, including its challenges, threats and opportunities.
While wholesalers such as Parfett’s Guy Swindell, Bestway’s Dawood Pervez and Booker’s Jonny McQuarrie shared the struggles their businesses have experienced around stock availability during the past three years, Premier Foods UK Customer Director Ellie Krupa embraced the opportunity to respond, urging delegates to consider the complexities of the supply chain rather than jump to conclusions that suppliers prioritise the multiples as a favoured route to market.
“I can’t speak for every supplier but I can answer for Premier Foods and say that is absolutely not the case,” she said. “Why would we do that? For foodservice, if you don’t have a product available, the consequence of that is the customer has to change their menu and their allergen information, and once they have done that – because they can’t get your product – when your product becomes available again, are they really going to change it again? No, probably not. And that is a lost sale forever.”
She also commented on poor availability in the convenience channel being greater than in supermarkets: “If I can’t supply Bisto to a convenience retailer, then they probably won’t have a gravy option to sell, so again it’s so much more important and that is absolutely the reason we do not make these decisions [to prioritise supermarkets].”
Issues around availability were much more likely to be due to the complexity of supplying the wholesale sector, she said.
“We all strive for that 100% availability, but we also strive to create good complexity in this channel to meet the needs of the customers, and this can create vulnerability in terms of availability.”
Nic Storey, Wholesale Field & Sales Director, PepsiCo, agreed: “There have been so many challenges to navigate since Covid.
The supply chain challenges we’ve all had, whether that be system-led or the fact that demand has been so volatile, have meant that it’s been hard for us to get our forecasting right. Speaking to some of our peer companies, I know it’s the same for them – there isn’t a stable norm, so we’re resetting our supply chain.”
When Jonny McQuarrie took to the stage, his focus was one thing: customers.
“Our customers are at the heart of everything we do. We hear the challenges being faced across the trade and we are constantly looking for ways to support them,” he said.
To deliver this support, he outlined the importance of Booker’s pursuit of four key elements for success: availability; customer service; colleagues; and price/quality. He also shared Booker’s priorities of people, communities and planet, stating: “Every single day, we actively support our people – both customers and colleagues – and the communities our stores are in, some of which have been there for more than 50 years. To include planet was a wow moment for the business, given its size and scale. To deliver, we know that we have to work together as a group to get action, such as electric vehicles for HGV and getting hydrogen fuel for HGVs. It’s a big journey.”
He also shared a new initiative, created in direct response to customer demand. The On Trade Club provides licensed customers with the opportunity to buy more than 80 of the most popular on-trade products at discounted prices, similar to Booker’s existing clubs for retailers.
“We launched the scheme in the Midlands seven weeks ago and it’s been incredibly popular,” said McQuarrie. “We are thrilled to launch this new Club format, which we believe will help our customers save money on their core products across food and drink.”
GROWTH AND ACQUISITION
Bidcorp UK CEO Andrew Selley was clear about the business’s primary objective, which is ‘to provide the best foodservice solution to every customer in the UK’.
He went on to say that: “It’s all about 38 individual businesses in individual countries doing what’s right for their customers, their culture, their legislation, and reacting to what’s happening with their competitors.”
As part of this bid to do right by its customers, he revealed Bidfood’s plans to grow its depot network, opening smaller warehouses in locations closer to customers, including Bedford and Worcester, over the coming months.
Selley focused his presentation on Caterfood, its foodservice buying group, which is made up of seven Bidcorp-owned foodservice wholesalers, addressing claims that the group is not an independent buying group.
“Are we independent?” he asked. “Well, independence is about attitude and aptitude, it’s not about ownership. If you have a business where you can sell what you like, to whom you like, at whatever price you like, and deliver it how you like, then I call that an independent business.”
He also revealed that further acquisitions were still to come in order to strengthen the geographical reach of the group.
“We are well-known as an attractive exit route for founders who have made a fantastic business, but the gift is in the seller’s hand, not the buyer’s,” he said. “It’s a genuine buying group, and we think it will do very nicely for us in the future.”
What came across loud and clear throughout all presentations and panel discussions was the need for great relationships and improved communication right across the supply chain.
Communication at every stage of the supply chain was widely agreed to be essential in order to work within the channel to meet customers’ very different needs, whether that’s discussing product types, case sizes, packaging, price-marked pack margins or regulations for different sectors.
For Jonny McQuarrie, increased communication will yield improved transparency and efficiency: “We can move about 300 million boxes a year and we want to do it more efficiently. We want to make it easier working with our suppliers to make our demand more accurate so that when you deliver into our distribution centres and branches, you’re happy with what’s going on.”
Emma Senior of Sugro echoed the sentiment, saying: “It’s all about collaboration. If wholesalers truly collaborate with suppliers, that’s when you’ll get the wealth of information and real understanding, which can only benefit everyone in the sector.”
“Consumer behaviour is changing,” stated Nic Storey. “Consumers are choosing cheaper products and buying fewer products. While that sounds bad, there are green shoots in this channel, particularly with convenience as where you choose cheaper products or perhaps a smaller pack, selling those small packs is what this channel does really well.
Consumers may be buying fewer products in grocery, but they then need to do a top-up shop and consumers do that in this channel.
“There are new norms being set. We need to ensure we are pivoting our focus towards the fastest-growing categories because that has changed enormously over the last 6 to 12 months.
FWD LIVE! IN NUMBERS
- 470 guests – the largest guests – the largest conference to date
- 4 panel discussions – Retail Supply Chain, Foodservice Supply Chain, Future Leaders Forum, Wholesale Leaders Forum
- 8 presentations including the launch of The Road to Net Zero, FWD, Pepsico, Bidfood, Premier Foods, Booker, Using Data to Win, and AMEX
- 10 two-minute challenges – event sponsors pitch their services to the audience in two mins or less! Featuring Circana, Verlingue, Akeron, FareShare, Austrade, Cerve, Mirakl, Orderlion, Inspire and IFE