Pulling together: News from the FWD Conference

New Federation of Wholesale Distributors chairman Martin Williams opened this year’s annual conference at the National Football Centre in Burton-on-Trent.

Speaking to nearly 300 wholesalers and suppliers, he emphasised the positive outlook for the sector and the opportunities that was bringing. “At the moment wholesale is a great place to be. The market dynamics are quite amazing and I don’t think we’ve ever seen headlines like we’re seeing about Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda and Morrisons,” said Williams, who is also the MD of buying group Landmark Wholesale.

Williams of course acknowledged the growth of online and discounters, but stressed that wholesalers both in retail and foodservice were doing really well on the back of the changes in demographics driving local shopping and out-of-home.

FWD’s chief executive James Bielby then took the opportunity to outline some of the things the FWD had worked on during the previous 12 months and looked forward to what was on the industry agenda for the coming 12 months.

In keeping with the football theme of the venue, he talked delegates through previous conferences that had coincided with past World Cups – in 1966 and 1990, stressing some similar themes still in play today such as pricing to margins.

Moving onto 2014 he highlighted some of the issues the Federation is now working on. On Government lobbying he said the FWD’s aim was to raise the profile of wholesaling to ensure the channel had a valued and credible voice in Westminster and he outlined the key issues such as alcohol duty fraud, crime, food health issues, business issues such as the National Minimum Wage and, of course, tobacco.

On crime he said: “It’s still a continued issue for members both in depot and in transport. We share information between the membership about incidents to alert them to what’s going on.” He added that the FWD this year had taken a slightly different approach to localised issues, bringing in an MP to help the Federation highlight problems to the police. He pointed to a recent example in Sidcup, Kent where a number of members had problems with tobacco crime. The FWD and Kent wholesalers had a number of meetings with local MP James Brokenshire, who is also a Home Office minister, and he was able to broker a meeting with the local borough police commander. “As a result the police are taking the issue a lot more seriously and that’s a real win for members,” Bielby told delegates.

On the health agenda he said the new Food Information for Consumers legislation would go live in December this year and the FWD was working closely with Defra and the FSA to talk about wholesaler specific guidance.

He once again reinforced the FWD’s stance on standardised packaging for tobacco saying: “We’re absolutely opposed to it and don’t think it will be fit for purpose or achieve the aims that it’s supposed to do.”

On how the FWD is helping to promote the sector Bielby said it was working closely with Capital Economics to pull together research demonstrating the contribution it makes to the economy both directly and indirectly. “We’ll be using those findings to make representations to Government and other stakeholders to say ‘this is a key part of the economy’ and should be recognised as such’. The top line is that we’re improving consumer choice, findings route to market for suppliers and supporting over a million small and medium enterprises.”

He said the third element of the FWD’s work was bringing wholesalers together. “This is one of Martin’s big themes since he took the chains of office back in April. The Supplier Council is something we’ve been doing for a couple of years and its vision is to bring wholesalers and suppliers together to set strategic objectives for the industry on non-competing issues. And the intention now is to come together to think about the things we can do collectively,” he concluded.

For full FWD Conference coverage see the July issue of Wholesale News

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