Wholesalers outlined a vision of the changing nature of the independent supply chain at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ annual conference in London last week.

Today’s Group managing director Bill Laird told delegates that the wholesale industry had to update and change or it would see “community retail go into decline, as customers are driven back into the arms of the multiples.”

In a joint presentation with Heineken’s Craig Clarkson, Laird maintained that wholesalers and suppliers needed to move their relationship on from being merely transactional to being inter-dependent, with shared long-term plans, mutual investment, and a focus on developing ways to help retailers better service their consumers.

“We need to play the long game, and differentiate the approach in our sector compared to mainstream retail,” he added.

In the same session, Booker managing director Guy Farrant revealed that 170,000 of the organisation’s 480,000 customers had registered to order goods via the internet, and that £635m of the group’s £1bn delivered business was now being ordered online.

In his opening address, FWD chief executive James Bielby told delegates that he expected to see internet order capture to soon reach 50% of sales and that there will be an increasing migration of retailers towards symbol groups.

Bielby added that one of his immediate priorities was to promote the size and scale of the UK wholesale industry. Total customer registrations across all FWD members exceed one million, he revealed, and although this figure will include some double-counting for businesses registered with more than one wholesaler, it still represents “a million active, engaged, points of availability for suppliers, and a great message for the stakeholders we connect our members with.”

At the same event, Booker was named as the best national wholesaler, as well the best for customer service and for fresh & chilled, in the Wholesaler Tracking Programme Awards organised by HIM.

Parfetts was named best regional wholesaler and best for value for money, while the Today’s Group was named as best for availability.