Hospitality suppliers: 'It’s not just a case of turning on a switch'

Wholesalers are desperately hoping for clarity around the next steps for their hospitality clients.

Bidfood's chief executive Andrew Selley says the past year has been very disconcerting from a business planning point of view.

Care homes and other public sector customers still need deliveries, but with pubs and restaurants mostly closed, activity at the Slough warehouse is currently at just one-third of capacity. Nearly half of its staff are furloughed.

"It's not just a case of turning on a switch and providing the product. The customers have to plan what menus they want to offer and they have to tell us what volumes they're expecting, based on what the government is saying the regulations are going to be."

He says £70m of stock is available ready to go for the firm's 40,000 customers, but that isn't enough to provide everything they might want quickly.

"A menu is made up of a variety of items that includes frozen foods, long-life ambient foods, but also fresh produce, fresh meat, fresh fish... All of those things take a bit more time to get into the supply chain, especially now we've got a few more delays at the border as we're bringing in fresh produce into the UK."

Mr Selley says "a good two weeks' notice" is needed to ensure all the right products are available.

His top ask ahead of Monday's announcement? Confidence.

"We want the hospitality sector to reopen and stay open. And we need some support around credit insurance for customers."

And at the top of the supply chain are the eateries desperate to welcome customers back in.

Peter Borg-Neal is the chief executive of Oakman Inns, a chain of 28 pubs, with a focus on food.

"It really has been very stressful", he said outside of The Royal Foresters in Ascot. "It's all the uncertainty, looking at the cash you're burning every week."

Takeaways are helping to fund wages, but they only provide a fraction of pre-Covid turnover.

"We're just figuring out how we can survive to a known date. If we knew that date it would be easier, we'd have more certainty, we'd know what we're dealing with. But we've had this stop-start thing."

Mr Borg-Neal says the firm spent about £750,000 investing in pubs' outdoor areas when the tiered system of lockdown restrictions was introduced. A few days after construction was finished, they had to close again.

Now he says he would need at least two weeks to get the pubs open correctly. "But our suppliers need longer. Beer for example takes three weeks to brew."

Then there's produce from farmers. Items like fresh tomatoes sourced from Spain or Italy will need more notice.

He says the firm could manage with less, but it would be sad to open in a "half-hearted fashion".

Source: BBC News