Ask Arena

‘Wholesale – The Road to Recovery’ sponsored by TWC

Our latest Ask Arena virtual event ‘Wholesale – The Road to Recovery’ sponsored by TWC – the leading intelligence and technology consultancy explored the key issues impacting the wholesale sector and what it needs to recover in order to help the hospitality and foodservice industry re-open. Read on for the event review by Lorraine Wood, Arena's Director...


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Event Review

By Lorraine Wood, Director of Arena

Our series of Ask Arena virtual events is giving foodservice and hospitality valuable access to industry leaders and influencers to help us all understand what the reopening of hospitality looks like for its different sectors. An incredible 250+ people have ‘tuned in’ each time – it’s great to know that our focus and content is striking a chord with so many.

Last week, it was the turn of the wholesale sector to take the spotlight. ‘Wholesale - The Road to Recovery’ sponsored by TWC – the leading intelligence and technology consultancy – explored the opportunities and challenges ahead for wholesalers as they navigate their own recovery and support their customers across hospitality and foodservice as they reopen.

Tom Fender, the Development Director for TWC, set the scene with an exclusive overview from TWC Trends, its new industry tracker report that got to grips with the very latest perceptions, thoughts and behaviours of 1200 consumers in relation to their return to hospitality venues. The data shared was just one week old, so you don’t get much more exclusive or up to date than that!

He painted a fascinating, and I’m pleased to say optimistic, picture with the signs all pointing to a prosperous summer. You can see the full details in the recording of the event, which can be found here… but in the meantime, here’s a quick summary from me to give you a flavour of what the people on the street are saying:

  • People are desperate to use hospitality to re-connect and local is king.
  • Concerns about Covid-19 remain, so go overboard with reassurance.
  • Consumers will be forgiving when it comes to necessary increases in cost and less face-to-face service – for a while, anyhow.
  • When it comes to menus, people are looking for a value proposition and to try new things that they can’t cook themselves.
  • Data – collect it, use it, personalise it.
  • Be a good employer that’s looked after its people.

Tom’s insight session provided a great introduction to the panel discussion, which was expertly hosted by James Bielby, CEO, Federation of Wholesale Distributors. We’re grateful to Hugo Mahoney, CEO, Brakes UK, Andrew Selley, CEO, Bidcorp, Coral Rose, MD, Country Range Group and Dawood Pervez, MD, Bestway Wholesale for giving their time and expertise in contributing to what was a very interesting discussion that provoked strong interaction from the audience when it came to the Q&A.

It was clear from the discussion, which covered the role and response of wholesale businesses throughout the three lockdowns through to the plans and preparations as the industry prepares to reopen next week, that the wholesale sector has played and continues to play an important role in supporting its hospitality and foodservice customers, and indeed the nation through this time of national crisis.

The important words that rang out loud and clear from all the panellists as they shared their experiences of the past year and their optimistic view of reopening and beyond (and which sum up the spirit of our industry, in my opinion) are agility, resilience and collaboration.

Again, you can watch the panel discussion at your leisure here – but here are my main take outs:

  • Agility: The wholesale economy works on service efficiency, so when 70% volume was lost overnight there was no alternative but to come up with a new model and quickly
  • Flexibility: The three lockdowns and subsequent reopening were different in flavour, demanding flexibility in each response
  • Supporting the nation: Wholesalers stepped up to serve the nation over the past 12 months – from foodservice packages for the vulnerable to PPE for care and healthcare and mass testing kits for schools, and more!

And, as we look forward to the gradual reopening of hospitality from 12 April (in England) – here’s what wholesalers have their eyes on:

  • Stock availability – from responding to fluctuations in demand to educating and encouraging caterers to accept product with extended and safe BBE dates to prevent further food waste in the system 
  • The cash squeeze – from additional stock holding at own risk, to customers expecting extended credit.
  • The weather – the success of 12 April to 17 May depends completely on the good old British weather!
  • Changing sectors and behaviours – some changes will be forever, and some will be temporary but carrying on as normal would be foolish.

All the panellists have been listening incredibly hard to the different needs of their customers and insight-led preparations are supporting their customer partners, focusing on quality of products, availability of products, value and safety.

There’s a real feeling of anticipation in the air as, like all of us, they wait and hope for the pent-up demand for hospitality to be released. They’re all as ready as they can be, but with a healthy dose of realism they know that no one is going to get it all right. Now’s, therefore, the time for understanding and industry-wide collaboration to maximise the opportunities whilst overcoming the challenges, and safely. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this time (as James Bielby said, in the words of the famous Take That song mention) we want to be ‘Back for Good’.

And, what about beyond 21 June, when we very much hope that hospitality will be fully reopen? How do we cement and accelerate the bounce back? That, the panellists agreed, is down to insight and innovation. It won’t be long before key topics such as sustainability, packaging and Natasha’s Law, will be back on the agenda. As ever, there’s no room for standing still!

A very big thank you to TWC for sponsoring the event and to William Murray PR & Marketing and 23 Digital Video Agency for helping me put this together.