Man on a mission

Lisa Moore interviews the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ new chairman Guy Farrant about his plans to help drive the organisation’s strategy next year and to raise the wholesale channel’s profile with both government and suppliers

When I meet Guy Farrant, MD of Booker Cash and Carry and new chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) he’s fresh from a meeting with the Federation’s Council of Members to discuss the key issues facing the wholesale industry and how the FWD intends to tackle them into 2013 and beyond.

Farrant is enthusiastic about his new role and keen to bring his extensive experience of the fmcg industry to play a part in elevating the Federation’s profile and with it the image of wholesaling in general.

He points out that even by conservative estimates the wholesale industry is worth around £30bn, but believes that figure is likely to be closer to £40bn once the many non-food operators are taken into account. “Would anyone think it’s 25% the size of the £160bn grocery market? Probably not, but the reality is that it is.”

Promoting the opportunity this represents for suppliers will be one of three key aims for FWD in the year ahead, along with protecting members’ staff, stock and premises from criminal activity and representing the sector’s interests inWestminsterandWhitehall.

Says Farrant: “We had a very good conversation at the FWD about how we order and then present the work we’re doing regarding public affairs and how we represent the interests of our members to government. So I want to pick a small number of large topics that matter most to our members and make sure we’re an effective body representing their interests in any way we can.”

Those topics, he says, will fall broadly into three main categories: issues specific to the wholesale sector as a whole; issues applicable to those wholesalers mainly servicing retailers and those things affecting foodservice. But he stresses it’s important for the FWD to maintain a balance to ensure issues affecting individual areas of the industry are given equal weight.

“For example, if you look at the great work we’ve already done on crime and security, that tends to be more of a cash and carry issue but it probably doesn’t make the top three for pure foodservice companies.”  He adds that similarly, the illicit trade in alcohol is something more applicable to retail cash and carry or delivered but not foodservice.

He says it will also be important to measure successes and communicate those effectively to members. “If we take the work we’re doing on security, we have had a very successful period and seen some really good results where we’ve helped the police to apprehended criminals or averted criminal activity and I think that’s clearly measurable.” He also points to the FWD’s extensive work around the illicit alcohol trade, adding that its representation at government level and recent involvement in aBBCRadio Four programme are all indicative of the successful role FWD already plays for wholesale members.

Looking to the future of wholesaling Farrant is passionate about the role small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) will play in the future of wholesaling and theUK’s slow climb out of the recession

Says Farrant: “SMEs have a lot of entrepreneurial people working for them; they will fuel the recovery and provide a lot of employment.  The wholesale sector supplies a huge number of SMEs  but I think our role is frequently, slightly under the radar.  The businesses that we support are integral part of communities whether this is the neighbourhood shop or the local pub and provide a personal, friendly service not necessarily found in national stores.  It is this entrepreneurial spirit from talented individuals that we need to promote on their behalf so we are not under the radar. “

Farrant says one of his first tasks as FWD chairman will help to progress an industry review – basically gathering data from Federation members, and working with other industry bodies such as the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) and the Association of Convenience Stores, to measure the breadth and depth of the market they operate in and the customers they serve.     

“The quality of information we have on the sector is just not as good as it needs to be – nor is it very good about who we are and what we represent.  We add value to many different industries and we should highlight how many small businesses we serve, how much tax we pay to the treasury and how many people are employed in the wholesale sector and all of the SME’s we support.  The piece of research we are currently working on will prove invaluable in helping us understand the market and the value we add to the economy.

“Anything that can start to give an overall market read…the size, scale, share, shape of what we sell and the economic value of what we create, will allow us to raise the profile of grocery wholesaling. Good information will allow us to make better decisions and enable us to do a better job for our customers.” 

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