Coral Rose, chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) and managing director of the Country Range Group, discusses best before dates and how operators can support the wholesale network to save waste and jobs.
All of us involved in the production, distribution and preparation of food have a responsibility not to allow consumable products to go to waste. It's something we have all pledged to do and we all have a part to play in reducing the 1.1 million tonnes of food the hospitality and foodservice sector throws away every year.
This year's exceptional circumstances make our collective commitment to this goal even more important. When the hospitality sector closed its doors in March, the food wholesalers and distributors who supply 350,000 catering outlets were fully stocked and ready to meet their customers' orders for the busy spring weekends to come. The lockdown left them with an estimated £20m of goods in their warehouses and none of the financial support from government that was offered to the hospitality sector.
As caterers cautiously reopen their kitchens, these wholesalers are standing beside them every step of the way, helping to bring consumers through those doors by providing the products and service their foodservice customers expect. But they have been hard hit by the long layoff and need their partners' support in return.
Some of the stalled stock in the supply chain is close to or beyond the best before date on its packaging, but still completely safe and legal for sale and consumption. Best before is not an indication of food safety, and we have the support of Defra, the Food Standards Agency, WRAP and EU regulations in asking caterers to take these products as part of their order.
Best before is not an indication of food safety
WRAP has issued comprehensive guidance on the legality and safety of short-dated food that has been stored correctly though the lockdown. Wholesalers will provide the guidance when delivering and, in some cases, a letter from the manufacturer confirming the food is safe to sell on.
There is also a broader picture to consider. Within a low-margin supply chain and with no government support for the sector's cashflow, distributors cannot afford to purchase new stock without first releasing what they have on their shelves. With limited income flowing up from the slowly re-emerging out-of-home sector, some are close to a catastrophic failure of supply to their customers.
We need your support. On behalf of all wholesalers, I am appealing to our caterer partners to work with us to prevent food waste, reduce the surplus stock and maintain diversity and competition in the food distribution network.