L-R: Ants Rixon, Marc Crothall, Ross Brown, Jon Mack, Julie Dunn, Fergus Chambers, David Cochrane and Jim Rowan

Raising the profile of foodservice within the wholesale industry, promoting wholesale as a career and working with other groups and associations to grow and develop the sector has come under the microscope at a major new networking event facilitated by the Scottish Wholesale Association.

Wholesalers, suppliers and key industry figures attended the inaugural event Bridging the Gap, organised by the trade association’s Foodservice Group to provide a platform for suppliers to network with SWA members, discuss market opportunities and share information as part of its ongoing strategy to highlight the growing importance of the foodservice channel to its members and the wider wholesale industry.

SWA president Julie Dunn, operations director at Lanarkshire-based Dunns Food and Drinks, opened the event, stating: “The primary aim of the Foodservice Group is to raise the profile of foodservice in wholesale – we are also working very hard to sell the wider wholesale industry as a clear career destination choice.”

Speaker Jon Mack, general manager at Bidfood Scotland and a member of the Foodservice Group, spoke about the complexities wholesalers face in Scotland with geographical challenges playing a key role and the need to be flexible essential. He said foodservice wholesalers were operating in a marketplace that was heavily competitive at a time when there was reducing skills base, increased pricing and greater expectations from the consumer.

Collaboration with suppliers and other stakeholders, Mack continued, would become increasingly important as the sector focused on delivering service excellence and helping foodservice businesses to grow.

Jim Rowan, managing director of Dunns Food and Drinks and also a member of the Foodservice Group, tracked the evolution of foodservice in Scotland and the development of technology within the sector. He estimated Scotland’s share of the £10.3 billion foodservice market at £1 billion and growing, employing around 3,000 people with a further 30,000 jobs supported indirectly.

“We are a major contributor to the economy,” Rowan continued. “We employ lots of people and we’re dynamic and manage to keep ahead of the game.” But he warned that wholesalers had to speak up on key issues affecting the industry, from the apprenticeship levy, changes to business rates and the living wage to the chronic shortage of chefs and drivers.

“Unless we do our industry will remain toothless and invisible – and fail to attract and retain the talent we need to be competitive. The SWA is our industry’s voice in Scotland and we recognise that we have to shout louder.”

Rowan recognised that there could well be a “people crisis” when the UK leaves the EU in 2019. “That’s just something we will all have to deal with when it happens and it’s out of our control.” He also alluded to the need to attract more women into wholesale but added: “My experience of our sector is that each and every wholesaler in this room and up and down the country has had to invest heavily in plant, machinery and people just to remain competitive.

“We all know that investing in people is vital for the continuation of our businesses but technology must go hand in hand and should not be relegated to a lesser level of importance.”

Earlier, he described the wholesale industry as “the gateway, the conduit and the key to getting suppliers’ products to the caterer. “A powerful ally indeed,” said Rowan.

Co-chair of the Foodservice Group, Ross Brown, outlined the aims and responsibilities of the group, and how its visions link in with the key pillars of the Scottish Wholesale Association – liaison, lobbying, legislation, training and events (Achievers and the Annual Conference).

Brown, channel controller (foodservice) at Premier Foods, reminded suppliers of the benefits of SWA membership with networking, brand visibility, access to insight, sharing best practice, skills and knowledge being just some of the business advantages to be gained from working with the high-profile trade association.

Another speaker was Ants Rixon, director of regional on-trade at Bibendum Wine, one of the UK’s leading wine specialists. He spoke about ViVAS, the joint venture between Bibendum and Bidfood that has grown to become a £30 million per annum business supplying wine, beers and spirits to a variety of customers across the free and national on-trade.

Rixon explained: “The ViVAS range is delivered via Bidfood’s dedicated fleet alongside customers’ food orders and because existing food supply routes are in place, the minimum order for ViVAS is just one case, with next day delivery up to six days a week.”

Meanwhile, James Withers, chief executive of industry leadership organisation Scotland Food & Drink, spoke about opportunities within the foodservice market in the context of his organisation’s mission to grow the industry to a value of £30 billion by 2030 and build Scotland’ international reputation as a “Land of Food and Drink”.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, highlighted the growth in tourism as an opportunity for wholesalers and suppliers, pointing to research that estimates the spend on food by inbound tourists to the UK by 2020 will reach £6 billion. He said that consumer demand for authentic and local food would be paramount. 

Finally, David Cochrane, chief executive of HIT Scotland (Hospitality Industry Trust Scotland), the charity which works to help people achieve their potential within the hospitality sector, shared information about the organisation’s long-established scholarships/bursaries programme. The scheme identifies and reward future leaders of the hospitality industry by providing scholarships to leverage their career.

“By recognising the need to continually update skills within the industry, enhance personal development and bring fresh ideas back to Scottish businesses, HIT provides scholars with the opportunity to learn locally, nationally and internationally,” he said.

The event was chaired by industry veteran Fergus Chambers, chairman of Ayrshire-based game fine foods wholesaler and game processor Braehead Foods.

Please view this short video of our event.