Williams: “Steel yourselves for a big multiples price war”

FWD chairman Martin Williams last week warned the industry to prepare for a bitter price war between the major multiples as they try to wrestle back market share from the discount sector and each other.

Speaking at the IGD’s Wholesaling 2014 event in central London, Williams, who is also MD of buying group Landmark Wholesale, said he expected to the see the first salvos fired in November with more to follow throughout the Christmas period and into the New Year.

“If you look at all the statements coming out of the multiples, I think the only weapon they’ll revert to, to get some share back, will be price…I don’t see any way that it will be avoided,” he said.

The coming price war was just one of the challenges Williams said wholesalers would face in the months to come. He also pointed to the strength of the discounters, as they become increasingly fashionable places to shop and the rise of on-line. “Of course online growth is just phenomenal and that’s all having an impact on our market.”

He stressed that rather than dwell on those challenges, however, the industry must look to solutions. He pointed to technology and the fact that wholesalers needed to increasingly embrace it and use it as a tool to aid growth. “We’ve more data and more insight than we’ve ever had in our lives before now. We’ve got to use it positively.”

Efficiency was another area that Williams said wholesalers needed to excel in. “We’ve got to get more efficient in everything we do and we’ve got to be better at discipline and compliance. Landmark puts a lot of effort into compliance…but the whole sector has got to do it too.”

And pointing the role of suppliers in the wholesale chain, Williams said it was crucial for the whole industry to work together. “None of us can this on our own. The only way we can succeed in our sector is by working together, working with our suppliers to deliver true partnership, true co-operation.”

He concluded that despite the challenges, as shopper habits and demographics changed – people living longer, more single households, more people shopping little and often and longer working hours – that would  continue to be a boost for foodservice, convenience and independent operators.

“It will mean more people will shop local and buy want they want, when they want it and not be seduced by multiple purchases. I think those factors really are a much brighter future, we’ve just got to make sure we work together to deliver it.”

*For more from the IGD’s Wholesaling 2014 conference see the September issue of Wholesale News, plus don’t miss part two of our conference coverage in the October issue

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