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Defra to brief wholesalers on post-lockdown plans next week | News

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Defra will issue information next week on how the lifting of national lockdown restrictions across England will look in order to give wholesalers ‘enough time to prepare’.

The government department was responding to a request from The Grocer for information regarding its plans, after wholesalers warned they need as much lead time and clarity as possible in order to get supply chains up and running to hospitality customers once again.

Country Range Group CEO and Federation of Wholesalers chairman Coral Rose said members cannot afford to restock speculatively after throwing thousands of litres of milk, cream, thousands of eggs and tonnes of fresh produce away just last week – the result of the swift imposition of the current lockdown.

“There is a general view that those in tier three prior to lockdown will return to tier three,” said Rose. “But how many customers are going to reopen? We cannot afford to restock, only to discover that restrictions remain in place for hospitality. However if there is a full reopening then we want to be ready for our customers to ensure they have all the stock they need to satisfy pent-up consumer demand.”

Bidfood supply chain and technical services director Jim Gouldie told The Grocer the winter season means far more imports, which in turn have longer lead times. “In many cases, these lead times will exceed the notice we may be given about the end of lockdown. Whilst we appreciate that it is difficult for the government to provide certainty on the date, allowing only a few days’ notice would certainly cause challenges across the supply chain, were that to be the case.”

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has warned that if the lockdown were to be extended with less than a week to go, fresh stock would yet again be lost.

“While we appreciate that the government must be guided by the effectiveness of the current lockdown, it must be aware that the food supply chain cannot be switched on and off at short notice,” explained FWD CEO James Bielby.

“Our members had to write off stock in March and again in October. While hospitality customers can judge demand and order stock within 24 hours of a resumption of trading, they can only obtain those products if the wholesaler already has them on sale. Therefore it’s absolutely essential that clear notice is given of any extension of the current position, and what will replace it if businesses are able to open from 2 December.”

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