Food wholesalers have been working flat out to ensure the nation’s independent retailers remain stocked with food and drink despite the weather conditions, but are disappointed at the lack of support from Local Authorities and the Highways Agency.
Members of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, who between them supply around 32,000 small food shops and convenience stores and over 100,000 caterers, have battled through atrocious road conditions to keep shelves stocked, but say poor contingency planning by the authorities has made their job harder.
Julian Streeter, operations director of Palmer and Harvey, said: “A lot of people are relying on us and we are working really hard to keep Britain moving, but local councils and the Highways Agency have been poorly prepared for the inclement weather, especially as these conditions were predicted well in advance. “Many major arterial roads, including several motorways, have been closed at once. While our staff are working wonders to keep the supply chain open, we really need more support from those in charge of the transport infrastructure,” he said.
David Howe, general manager of Batleys Edinburgh, added: "The snow is a big problem but we won’t let it beat us. It’s a shame that our local authorities are not more organised, but the show must go on. In these conditions all my staff have rallied round and we have helped customers by doing the odd local delivery to them.“
Steve Parfett, managing director of wholesaler AG Parfett, which runs six Cash and Carry depots in the North West and Midlands, echoed the praise for depot staff and delivery drivers, as well as the shop owners themselves. “Independent retailers are remarkably resilient in serving their customers’ needs, and having found travel extremely difficult yesterday, they are making Herculean efforts to get to Cash & Carry’s today to restock,” he said. “Staff are determined to ensure they are there to serve them – one of our managers took three and a half hours to walk three miles to the Sheffield depot yesterday after being engulfed in the snow.”
A spokesperson for Booker said: “We have managed continuous supply to the vast majority of branches nationwide. We are a back up service for our catering customers and independent retailers, so the products they need are available.”
The company added it had seen an increase in demand for hot beverages, soups and other winter products such as rock salt. “Conditions have remained challenging and we believe the weather is as bad as last year,” it said.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who was accused in the Commons of "demonstrating a breathtaking degree of complacency” over the road and rail chaos by his shadow transport Maria Eagle, has commissioned a review of how transport has coped.