The food supply system was heavily hit by the closure of the foodservice sector. Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality chief executive, told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee this week that the supply chain might take time to adjust to the reopening of the hospitality sector.
James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) told a previous EFRA committee that the number one issue for the industry was the amount of stock tied up in warehouses.
The FWD said that the “next challenge” was to move the stock wholesalers currently held in their warehouses to their customers when they reopened.
The trade association said this was product that wholesalers purchased before lockdown, some ambient and some frozen, so it might be near its ‘best before’ date.
However, it stressed product that had exceeded its best before end (BBE) stamp was in most cases safe and legal to sell on and wholesalers needed suppliers’ and Government’s support to persuade caterers that they could accept it.
The FWD is requesting help to re-label products affected in this way as fit for consumption and wants food safety guidance for customers from Government.
Ambient products with long shelf-lives include soft drinks, biscuits and cereals, canned meats, canned soup, confectionery, pasta sauces, dried pasta and jams. Frozen items stored in accordance with regulations might be safe to eat for months after their BBE date, provided they have not exceeded their ‘use-by’ date. However, FWD wholesale members supplying 350,000 catering outlets say their customers will not accept this stock – valued at £20m at the start of lockdown – without clear advice from Government on best before dates.
FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “Our members who bought stock three months ago need to sell it on in order to buy more and avoid mass food waste, and it is in suppliers’ interest to help them do that. The best before date is not an indication of product safety – hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good product is wasted every year as a result of this confusion, and many charitable organisations redistribute product beyond its BBE expiry.
'Compromised on safety or quality'
“However, we understand that caterers will be unwilling to accept stock from their wholesaler if they perceive it to be compromised on safety or quality. Similarly, wholesalers will feel unable to accept stock from suppliers unless it has been re-labelled.
Bielby’s words came as more than 50 Members of Parliament joined the FWD’s call for food and drink wholesalers to receive the same Government financial support as their hospitality sector customers.
In a cross-party letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, 31 parliamentarians said it was a “clear anomaly” that food and drink wholesalers were not eligible for the Business Rates relief and other measures available under the Hospitality, Retail and Leisure Grant scheme.