September 28 2020

‘IN THE LOOP’ - How has the Wholesale Industry evolved during the pandemic?

Social distancing, staff fluctuations, furlough schemes, safety regulations, widespread closures.
The list seems endless.
The pandemic has had a large impact on the lives of everyone, and the function of every business, from e-commerce to rural pubs to high street stores. Food & Drink Wholesalers, and foodservice distributors faced a particularly tricky challenge; with a lack of Government support and a diminishing customer base due to closures, they had to tackle the impacts of the virus with forward-thinking, progressive plans.
In this article, we’ll look a little deeper into the impacts of the virus, and how foodservice businesses have evolved to react, counter, and even take advantage of these changes.

A shifted focus on direct-to-consumer orders

As expected, with widespread closures, most wholesalers and foodservice distributors saw their customer base diminish very quickly. This lead to businesses expanding their reach to new customers - whether that be direct to rural or local communities through an online ordering system, or van sales to those businesses that remained open.
“Without walk-in customers, chefs in many restaurants and takeaways have turned their full attention to fulfilling delivery orders” (retailanalysis.igd)
This switch was definitely not exclusive to wholesalers. Their retail counterparts similarly turned their attention to delivery services, with few other options.
The flow and exchange of goods may have slowed immensely, but the necessity of continued service for the sake of the economy meant these businesses had to use new and lucrative methods of finding customers, and continuing the flow of goods. For wholesalers, this meant new customers, expanding their reach and finding new ways to promote and publicise this direct-to-consumer transition. This leads to the next change...

The World Wide Web - Reaching new customers

Delivery Systems and the importance of an online presence are nothing new. However, the wholesale industry has, for decades, continued a similar function, which has not included a big reliance on the Internet-of-things.
COVID-19 forced changes that would have otherwise taken a very long time to occur - Wholesalers began using their online presence out of necessity. As the industry struggled to maintain supply to customers, the transition came naturally for most, with some wholesalers even stating that they have done better this August than the same month last year.
This change will undoubtedly become part of the new norm, regardless of how long lockdown and restrictive policies continue.

Supporting key workers

Along with a focus shifting towards e-commerce and direct-to-consumer deliveries, wholesalers and foodservice distributors have priroritised key workers and institutions, helping those on the front line have access to the resources they need.
Food Delivery Businesses have followed suit; In the UK, Deliveroo has outlined their support for workers who contract the virus, with sick pay and subsidies so their gig economy workers can sustain themselves while absent from work.
In Ireland a Go Fund Me page set up to fund meals for hard-working healthcare staff has raised over €34,000 in under 24 hours”.
At the same time as encouraging donations, the Feed the Heroes fundraiser is “getting food providers across the country to register if they can take orders and deliver to hospitals. One operator, Chopped salad bars, has closed stores but are making and delivering salads to hospital staff”.

Keeping workers safe

Having to balance the necessity of continued service with the need to keep workers and customers safe, almost all distributors have made contactless deliveries a mandatory part of every order.
This can be a tricky achievement but with various e-proof of delivery systems, and the use of cloud-based, modern delivery software, deliveries can be made safely and securely, while maintaining accountability for each delivery.

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