In his opening address to delegates at the trade association's annual conference at Crieff Hydro tomorrow (17 June), Benson will call for all those involved in the wholesale industry north of the Border to "look at what the consumer really, really wants" and consider how to adapt to their ever-changing needs.

Themed 'Vision', the conference highlights the differences in the market north of the Border and explores ways in which suppliers can capitalise on these differences by seeking out opportunities for growth and working with wholesalers in a more innovative way for mutual benefit.

Benson will further suggest that in the current economic climate, wholesalers and suppliers should actively seek out opportunities, rather than rein in ambitions for growth and the implementation of new ideas and business practices. "The economic climate at the moment is challenging," he says. "But that should create more opportunities for both wholesalers and suppliers who supply the independent market.

"We really should be taking advantage of the fact that the average consumer has less cash in their pockets, restricting spend in the multiples but giving a far bigger opportunity for top-ups in their local store."

He adds: "I believe we can all take advantage of the recession if we raise our game and take some risks. We need to be more creative with our marketing and continue to train our staff to the highest possible standards."

The conference business programme, delivered over two days, has attracted high-profile speakers including Martin Race, operations director of Batleys; Colin Sangster, marketing director of Wick-based Sutherland Brothers; Robert Wiseman, chairman of Robert Wiseman Dairies; Stevie Ramage, regional business manager, AG Barr; and the Scotland rugby coach, Andy Robinson.

Also speaking are Rahan Ali-Irshad, general manager of United Wholesale Grocers in Glasgow; George Thomson, managing director of Forth Wines; Jonathan Rons, client director of the London research-based consultancy, him!; Cate Ritchie, managing consultant, 121 HR Solutions; and inventor and entrepreneur, Giovanni Benedetti.

Completing the line-up for the business sessions are Mark Bowler, field sales controller (impulse), GlaxoSmithKline Nutritional Healthcare; Craig Clarkson, trading director, Heineken UK; Stewart Gilliland, a non-executive director; John Mills, managing director, Intercontinental Brands; Simon Oldham, group sales director, Highland Spring; Deri Watkins, impulse sales director, Mars Chocolate; and Colin Wragg, senior UK corporate and legal affairs manager, Imperial Tobacco.

George Benson, urging all delegates to "take on board a minimum of three suggestions" coming out of the conference, touches on some of the key industry developments over the last two years - Heineken's acquisition of Scottish & Newcastle, for example, and Kraft's takeover of Cadbury's.

"There's always been change but this is the first year we have really seen serious change in the landscape of Scottish wholesaling," he says, pointing to the sale of Edinburgh's Bellevue and Dundee-based CJ Lang's Martex to Batleys. "Suppliers need to fully understand the implications of what's happening north of the Border and how events could impact on their own businesses."

The president also points to the close relationship the SWA shares with its fellow trade associations, the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) and the Scottish Grocers' Federation (SGF). "The SWA is the link between wholesalers and suppliers," says Benson, "not only in Scotland but with other key trade associations.

"We are delighted that Kate Salmon, our executive director, now sits on the FWD Council and, in a reciprocal agreement, James Bielby of the FWD sits on the SWA Council. It is our goal to work much more closely with the SGF, particularly in the areas of legislation and lobbying - surely it makes sense to have joined-up thinking on these key areas rather than duplicating the effort?

"The Scottish Wholesale Association is right at the heart of the industry, working on your behalf to help identify new opportunities - as well as making your voice heard loud and clear when it comes to lobbying on all the key issues of the day."