By Amit Roy
Dawood Pervez, managing director of Bestway Wholesale, said that 40,000 corner shops and convenience stores in the UK have a “vital and valuable” role to play in looking after vulnerable and older customers who would much rather do their shopping locally with them than risk going to crowded supermarkets during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Pervez said that wholesalers, who provide convenience stores with “canned fish, canned fruit, baked beans, soup, eggs, flour, rice, pasta, Calpol, paracetamol, Dettol, surface cleaners and that kind of stuff”, are not getting the quantities that they need from their traditional suppliers who he said are “unfairly giving priority to the supermarkets”.
Pervez, whose father Sir Anwar Pervez set up the Bestway group having started with a lone corner shop, argued that the suppliers need to understand the changes taking place in shopping habits and not force older and more vulnerable customers to go to supermarkets because they cannot get what that need locally.
Speaking to Eastern Eye, a sister title of Asian Trader, he explained how the supply chains have been disrupted by the current crisis.
“We should be talking about how amazing a job the 40,000 plus independent retailers in the UK are doing. They are serving local communities, delivering products to the elderly and vulnerable,” he said.
“When the panic started, everyone went to their multiple retailers and stripped the shelves bare – they were carrying only a couple of days’ stock. That then fuelled the panic even more and the people started going back to their local stores.
“In wholesale, we carry a lot of stuff – we carry usually a month or more – and we were ok for the first week or so. But then we found suppliers started cancelling lots of our orders and short giving us. Our shelves were not empty but in a really bad state.”
With the introduction of social distancing, “people are more likely to go local, less likely to travel. It’s preferable to not go to a big place with lots of people. For multiple retailers not only has their demand flattened out year on year – now actually in the bigger stores it is down, negative, and that’s exactly what happened in Italy, France and Spain – but there’s still a lot of focus being put on getting them back in stock.
“What suppliers have done is looked at normal proportion of sales for September, October, November, December, January and February and said, ‘Okay, out of every 100 cans 10 to convenience, 90 to multiple retails’. But the reality is that since March and during this lockdown it is not 10-90, it is 20-80. The amount of sales going through the local stores has massively jumped. To provide that channel with stock based on the old profile is completely inappropriate,” he said.
“The pattern of shopping has changed. That’s the point. The suppliers need to understand that change and work with it.”
Pervez estimated that of the 40,000 convenience stores in the UK now, 30,000 have acquired some of what they require from Bestway Wholesale in the last four weeks. “They get very frustrated when they cannot get what they want,” Pervez stressed.
Pervez also believes convenience stores could have contributed to delivering food parcels to vulnerable people. “Some of them are already doing five to 10 deliveries per day, seven days a week.”
Instead, the government has engaged catering companies to do the job, with community volunteers making the deliveries to the people.
He is not criticising the scheme, but said the big suppliers “took it upon themselves to prioritise supply into central warehouses for these packages for the vulnerable. And I believe they took the entire volume out of the volume they would have given to wholesalers. Wholesalers specialise in supplying to 40,000 convenience stores who are already servicing those very vulnerable people. So, the government are confusing supply chains.
“They keep forgetting there are 40,000 independent retailers operating within communities and they are actually dealing with those communities. They already make a million deliveries a week.”
Pervez said: “The government needs to understand that proximity retailers are the primary local operators – no one seems to have harnessed or leveraged convenience retailing.”