The latest in the FWD-organised series of MP visits to wholesalers took place last Friday (September 9) as Shabana Mahmood, the Labour MP for the Birmingham Ladywood constituency, paid a visit to JJ Food Service’s Aston depot.
JJ welcomed Ms Mahmood to the branch to support her mission to promote and develop Birmingham’s future economy.
Group general manager Terry Larkin and deputy branch manager Ruhel Ahmed gave her a tour of the 30,000sq ft site, which employs 56 staff and supports 3,000 caterers in the Birmingham area.
Ms Mahmood has a background in wholesale, with one of her first jobs visiting cash and carries with her father who owned a convenience store. “I am a great fan of wholesale,” she said.
The MP has launched an investigation into businesses into Birmingham to see what more can be done to support jobs and skills in the city, ahead of the election of Birmingham’s first directly-elected Mayor next year. “Food has a great place in the story of Birmingham,” she said, adding that there was great scope to develop opportunities around food exports in the city.
Group general manager Terry Larkin said JJ was very proud of its ability to at look at future trends and adapting the business accordingly. “Our focus is on our independent customers, helping them to develop their business,” he said.
Mr Larkin highlighted the work JJ has done to promote healthier eating options in London and said the wholesaler would be keen to work with Ms Mahmood to extend its Healthier Eating initiative to Birmingham. This would see JJ offering discounted rates on fresh fruit, vegetables, lower-calorie cooking oils, soft drinks and other related products. Ms Mahmood said she would work to promote the initiative with Birmingham’s new mayor next year.
Chief executive of FWD, James Bielby, who helped host the visit, said JJ’s Aston branch played a vital role in supporting its 3,000 catering customers.
“Wholesalers like JJ Food Service are a vital part of the UK economy, both locally and nationally, but often under recognised as such,” he said.
JJ used the meeting to raise key challenges facing their business including a shortage of HGV drivers and business identity fraud. Larkin said business identity fraud was a huge issue, which has cost the business tens of thousands of pounds.
“Our reputation as a business potentially suffers as a result”, he said.
The National Living Wage and the soft drinks levy were also highlighted as key issues, with a potential increase in sales on the fraudulent market of particular concern.
The information shared will be used in her report on Birmingham’s future economy, as well as informing her work in Parliament.
[Pictured top, left to right, at JJ Food Service’s Aston depot: Terry Larkin, James Bielby, assistant branch manager Ruhel Ahmed, and Shabana Mahmood MP].