What’s in store for 2021… Colin Smith?

Colin Smith

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a tough year on parts of the wholesale industry, but there’s plenty ahead to ensure wholesalers enter 2021 with positivity and momentum, says Colin Smith.


Next year must be about rebuilding those parts of the wholesale industry that have suffered during 2020’s coronavirus pandemic and further enhancing those that have seen positive growth, says Colin Smith, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA).

Looking ahead to a year with – hopefully – fewer surprises, he said: “No-one needs me to reiterate how awful 2020 has been for everyone – businesses, their employees, individuals, families. Covid-19 has impacted on everyone and will continue to do so in 2021. However, we must remain positive and keep exploring ways in which we can support Scotland’s wholesale industry collectively and uniformly.

“I’m sure our foodservice members will agree with me that at times it felt like the supply chain was largely forgotten about by both the Scottish and UK governments during the height of the pandemic. Some wholesalers lost over 80% of their business overnight when the first lockdown hit.

“However, we worked with ministers and officials to secure Scottish Government Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund grants for some members and, in October, we received confirmation that some wholesalers directly constrained by Scotland’s five-tier Covid restrictions would also benefit.”

Smith said engaging with the government and helping officials understand they key role played by wholesale in the supply chain had been critical in ensuring that businesses stayed afloat. “I regularly point out that we are the ‘wheels to the industry’ and I think that message is getting through,” Smith said.

As SLR went to press, Smith was waiting for confirmation of further support for the Scottish wholesale sector. He said: “I’m not yet in a position to divulge the full details but the key point is that this support will follow months of lobbying by the SWA – and it will provide a lifeline to wholesalers which have, in some instances, lost up to 95% of their foodservice income due to much of the licensed and hospitality industry being forced to close as a result of various Covid-19 lockdowns.

“Let’s not forget that food and drink wholesalers operate in a sector that is worth £2.9bn to the Scottish economy and have ensured that local convenience stores have remained fully stocked, allowing consumers to access everything need in their own communities throughout the pandemic.”

Local sourcing, Smith added, had taken centre stage during the pandemic with people actively seeking out Scottish-produced food and drink. “We sowed the seeds for our own local sourcing initiative in 2019 with our Keeping Scotland Local exhibition at our annual conference,” he pointed out.

“We continue to collaborate with key partners to help develop and grow the food and drink industry in Scotland and, in early 2021, will announce details of a new ‘Local Sourcing’ strategy to help wholesalers distribute more local produce.”

The new year will also see the SWA embark on a new “decarbonisation of the wholesale industry” project to create a greener and more sustainable food and drink supply chain. “This is pretty exciting for us with COP26 taking place in Glasgow next November and the Scottish Government heavily committed to the global fight against climate change,” Smith continued.

“We are currently recruiting a graduate to undertake research into exploring the commercial use of hydrogen fuel cell technology within wholesale distribution in Scotland. Working with the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, hydrogen developers and Transport Scotland we will explore the commercial viability of alternative fuel vehicles in our sector.”

While Covid will continue to dominate the agenda in 2021, there’s plenty food for thought for the wholesale sector as the country launches its vaccination programme and pivots to new ways of thinking in these unprecedented times.

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