john murphy Director General federation of wholesale distributors

Snowdrops have already appeared, so hosts of golden daffodils are bound to follow. Would that the green shoots of an economic recovery were as predictable and evident as these welcome harbingers of the English spring.

Although the wholesale industry is braced for a difficult year ahead, there was generally positive news about wholesalers’ progress in 2008 from The Grocer’s Big 30 survey published late last month. This revealed that sales and profits for our largest companies were on an up trend as we headed into the recession. Overall, they posted an annual turnover increase of 3%, with pre-tax profit up 3.8% and profit margins edging a shade higher from 1.58% to 1.6%.

Undoubtedly, the next best insights into the wholesaling world, and how it is coping in current conditions, will be delivered at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ annual conference in April. A top rate line-up of speakers has been assembled that will “tell it like it is” in our marketplace. This really is a not to be missed event and it will take place at the Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club in Warwickshire on April 20 21 (see pages 10-11 for details).

One would certainly hope that our current economic woes would be a very distant memory in the year 2050. But one cross-party group of MPs is looking that far ahead and the FWD has recently contributed to its deliberations. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, under the chairmanship of Michael Jack MP, is conducting an inquiry titled ‘Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges for the UK’.

One of the important points the inquiry is seeking to clarify is, how robust is the current UK food system? And what are its main strengths and weaknesses? In a written submission, the FWD told the inquiry that four large supermarkets precariously dominate the current UK food retail market. We went on to say that wholesalers provide the only sizeable alternative supply channel of food and drink – and this should be appreciated as an important “strength” in the UK food system.

FWD proposed that future food security would be enhanced if access to food from shops within easy walking distance for most of the population were maintained.

In this respect we stressed the importance of quickly establishing a pro-active Ombudsman to develop and enforce the Grocery Supplier Code of Practice that was recommended by the Competition Commission in April last year. Meanwhile time marches on.

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