WHOLESALERS must work hard to help retailers deal positively with the implications of new legislation, according to George Benson, president of the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA).

Referring specifically to minimum pricing on alcohol which could be in place north of the Border by next April, Benson used his opening address to delegates at the trade association's annual conference at Crieff Hydro to warn wholesalers that any new legislation must be accepted and recognised. He said: "It is difficult for the SWA to come out in favour or against the change.

"But we have to recognise it as a new law, and the real task for the Association is to help its members and their customers deal positively with the implications of this new law."

The SNP government, he continued, was "pushing hard" with its agenda for a healthy Scotland. "And they are moving fast. Minimum pricing on alcohol, plain packaging on tobacco and a proposed tax on unhealthy food, for example sugary drinks, chocolate and crisps and snacks."

Benson, touching on the high-profile conference's theme of 'Ahead of the Game', pointed to an economic climate that has "never been more challenging with everyone taking what can only be described as a short-term view", asking: "How do you stay ahead of the game with so many things outwith our control changing so quickly?

"As always in times of hardship, the independent channel should thrive as consumers tighten their belts and spend less at the multiples. Yes, it's tough for the foodservice sector but conversely the convenience channel seems to be doing rather well, particularly as Tesco seems to have fallen out of favour with the consumer at the moment."

The well-attended conference business programme, delivered over two days, attracted a stellar line-up of speakers, including Charles Wilson, chief executive of Booker; Alex Fisher, managing director of catering giant 3663; Debbie Robinson, Spar UK's recently appointed managing director; and the US-based industry guru, Tom Kuzio.

Also speaking at the 2012 conference were Asim Sarwar, managing director of United Wholesale (Scotland), the winner of Best Cash & Carry Depot and Best Retailer Development Programme in the 2012 Scottish Wholesale Achievers awards initiative; and Martin Williams, managing director of leading SWA member, Landmark Wholesale.

Engaging presentations came courtesy of Jason Wouhra, director and company secretary of West Midlands-based East End Foods; and Denys Shortt, chairman and chief executive of DCS Europe, one of Europe's largest health and beauty businesses and the official UK sales and distribution company for leading blue-chips including Procter & Gamble, Gillette, Unilever and SC Johnson.

In addition, Scott Brady, the Association's independent lobbyist and consultant, discussed the importance of lobbying and some of the Association's recent activity in this all-important area. Meanwhile, Mike Greene, CEO of the respected industry research agency, him!, explored growth and opportunities for wholesalers and suppliers alike north of the Border.

Other suppliers addressing the conference were:

  • Marcus Freer, sales director, SHS Sales & Marketing (GB)
  • Colin Smith, commercial director, Müller UK
  • Steve Kitching, managing director, Cott Beverages
  • Karen Salters, joint managing director, Beverage Brands
  • Chris McDonough, managing director for brands, Molson Coors
  • Mark Riley, sales director (off-trade), Maxxium UK

"We are absolutely delighted to have attracted so many captains of industry to our conference this year," said Benson. "As our line-up of speakers reveals, our Association has real clout within the industry and we are gaining pace all the time with the support of our supplier members and a robust wholesale membership that sees the benefits of strength in numbers."