Spring is in the air heralding our FWD annual conference, which takes place on April 3/4 at The Belfry. We are fortunate to have such an impressive line up of industry leaders and gurus to give delegates the benefit of their thinking on the prospects for the wholesale industry (see programme pages 40-41).

As this issue of ProWholesaler was going to press, the Office of Fair Trading surprised the world by doing a complete U-turn and announcing that it is now minded to refer the grocery market for a full review by the Competition Commission. This is a fantastic win for the wholesale/independent channel and will be a major focus of the unmissable debate that will take place at The Belfry.

A conundrum that faces all who pronounce or comment on our industry is how to draw the balance between talking it up (viz. the current high levels of investment and success as demonstrated in latest Grocer Top 30 listings) while at the same time warning of the dangerous market imbalance that threatens its long-term viability in retail. This conundrum is sure to be resolved by our speakers and I would urge anyone who has not yet booked their place to do so immediately.

Back in the day-to-day world, it is good to see that the Government has learned a lot from the foot and mouth and BSE disasters of the 1990s. Adhering to the boy scouts’ motto, “Be prepared”, its preparations for both avian flu and a possible human influenza pandemic have been both comprehensive and reassuring.

FWD sits on a food chain emergency liaison group that discusses such issues and is involved in contingency planning. The group is comprised of trade bodies representing the whole of the food chain and was established by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2000. Regular meetings are held during the year and these have proved an invaluable two-way street of information between Defra and other Government departments and the food industry. Perhaps the group’s greatest asset is its ability to provide a very fast initial industry response. This has saved a lot of valuable time and wasted effort, and Defra should be commended for its work here.

Back on the subject of conferences, the Eastbourne office is a hive of activity with two events being produced in tandem. We are putting the final touches to the annual conference, and also preparing for Drinksummit ’06. This is the big occasion in beers and ciders, wines, spirits and ARTDs that takes place at the Oxford Belfry on June 8 and 9 (see pages 56-57).

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