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Food and Drink

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell is CEO of Worldwide Fruit - an international fruit marketing and distribution company. Specialising in apples, pears, stonefruit and avocados and with offices in Spalding, Lincolnshire and Chartham, Kent, the business employs in the region of 400 staff and a turnover of £160 million per annum.  Product is sourced from suppliers in the UK, New Zealand, South America, South Africa, USA and Europe. Their packhouse at Spalding handles over 6 million cases per annum, which equates to 70 million packs.

One business success

  • The highlight of 2020 has to be the way that our farm to consumer supply chain has held up during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m hugely proud of the way that the team in Worldwide Fruit showed ‘can do’ attitudes to meet challenges head on. Our growers and suppliers kept up full supply whilst working with restrictions impacting on their capacities. Our customers met the immense demand challenges they faced, and we worked closely together to keep #feedingthenation. Most importantly, our people are safe and healthy.

Two challenges for the sector

  • What is the new ‘normal’ and how do we all adjust to it? We can guarantee that post-pandemic the market won’t go back to how it was. Looking at online shopping the future is here, and the challenge will be how does the whole supply chain embrace the new environment and communicate our product stories and attributes in a way that matches the new shopping habits of consumers. The ‘rhythm’ of shopping has changed, but the core messages about the source of our products and the importance of healthy eating have not. We all must adapt and ensure we bring our business partners with us on the journey.
  • Brexit looms on the horizon and at this time we don’t know exactly what that means. Will farms and factories be short of labour? Will the flow of goods be disrupted due to customs checks at ports? What levels of tariffs could we face on the goods we import, and how do we as a business communicate the need for price changes to consumers? We’re already facing a recession and we don’t need Brexit to cause food price inflation.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • The market has changed, extra capacity for online supply is required. Will that be supplied by picked in store models or from dark stores?  As retail models change then supply models from business such as ours must reflect and change also. At the end of the day however, we need to keep our focus on meeting customer needs.
  • The pandemic has shifted consumer purchased towards heavily packaged goods, but I view this as a temporary ‘blip’ and we shouldn’t take our eye off reducing single use plastic. The journey we’ve been on to recycle, reuse and reduce will kick back in - it’s still the right thing to do.
  • Another characteristic of the pandemic is the renaissance of home cooking and I believe this will continue. More people will work from home giving more opportunities for scratch and semi prep cooking. Tasty and healthy will be front of mind, which can only be good news for those who grow and sell fresh produce, providing they meet consumer demands effectively.

November 2020