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Food wholesalers offer online orders to sell stock

BBC Technology 27 Mar 2020 04:41
By Cristina Criddle Technology reporter
HG Walter's website screen shotImage copyright HG Walter's

Food wholesalers are making online home deliveries in response to Covid-19 measures.

As bars, restaurants and hotels shut due to government restrictions, the wholesalers that usually provide them with food and drink, have seen a huge drop in business.

But with stock to shift, they are determined to find new customers.

Members of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors have seen a 70% decline in trade over the past two weeks,

“Food distributors have seen their market disappear overnight,” says chief executive James Bielby. “Companies have bought in stock, and the vast majority of it is going to waste as they can’t sell it, and in a lot of cases they haven’t been paid.

“The government doesn't recognise that this part of the supply chain has effectively shut down - wholesalers need access to support or they’re going to go bust.”

London-based butcher HG Walter’s usual clients include Michelin-starred restaurants, retailers like Harrods and hoteliers such as the Savoy and the Dorchester - but they’ve lost hundreds of regular orders in the past two weeks.

The butcher has launched an online home delivery service of ‘survival packs’ including fruit, vegetables, vacuum-packed meat and even a make-your-own Patty & Bun burger kit - it’s had thousands of orders over the past few days.

“We are used to doing 350 deliveries a day, but it’s just on a much smaller scale now,” added Mr Heanen. “We were able to adapt our website and use our existing drivers and vans.”

“Online orders are a completely new thing for us but so many people need food now and we need to keep our business,” he says. “It’s our responsibility to do what we can to help people, especially those who can’t leave their homes.”

“If you're running a food distribution business you have invested in stock, so you have to find somewhere for it to go," Peter Backman, a food service consultant says. “Home deliveries represent a large market opportunity, but the orders are small-scale for wholesalers used to delivering 40-tonne loads.

Fresh Pastures usually supplies milk to local authorities, schools and businesses across the north of England. In the past 48 hours it has refocused the business, and is now serving dairy produce and bread from its website.

“As schools have closed temporarily, so has 97% of our business,” Dawn Carney, managing director, explains. “But we recognise that we have an opportunity to redistribute our services to offer a vital resource for our communities.”

Food delivery apps are enjoying a spike due to Covid-19 social distancing, offering groceries as well as takeaways.

“When my friend was self-isolating, I realised he couldn’t get a food delivery for weeks, so I thought we could fill that gap,” Amelia Christie-Miller, of Foodchain, says.

“It’s been a challenge adapting to card payments and convincing our suppliers to sell smaller amounts, but it has been really popular,” she adds.

It’s not just food that is adapting to online demand. Many pubs and breweries are offering home deliveries, including pre-mixed cocktails.

London brewer, Signature Brew, has launched a ‘Pub in a Box’, delivered to your door by recently unemployed musicians.

The bulk of its business comes from wholesaling to pubs, bars and music venues, as well as summer festivals, which have been cancelled. The box includes beer, glasses, a Spotify playlist and a music pub quiz.

“I found myself falling on hard times, so we are just trying to keep things cracking in a place of adversity,” he says. “If Covid-19 has you locked indoors, we bring the pub to you.”

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Federation of Wholesale DistributorsJames Bielbybutcher HG WalterAdam HeanenMr Heanen
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