By James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD)

As we sail through the choppy waters of the UK’s detachment from the European Union we are likely to see some profound changes in our working practices, from how we recruit staff to how we source our products.

As the trade association for the UK’s food and drink wholesalers, it’s our job to ensure that their voices and those of the 330,000 catering and hospitality businesses they supply and support are heard throughout the negotiations.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that staffing has been identified as the most pressing issue for the foodservice industry. Even before last year’s EU Referendum our research into caterers’ biggest concerns flagged the recruitment and retention of good quality staff as their number one priority. Restrictions on movement of the European workers who contribute so much in kitchens and restaurants will likely make this problem worse, as it will throughout the food supply chain, from the farms dependent on seasonal workers and through the 78,000 employees of the distribution network which the FWD represents.

We will be joining other industry representatives in making the case for retaining the supply of willing and able candidates for foodservice, hospitality and retail vacancies in whatever final settlement comes from the Brexit process. But at the same time it’s worth considering now what you might do to prepare for a reduction in available talent. That means either reconfiguring your working environment to reduce headcount, or offering a proposition to potential staff that’s good enough to catch and keep the best fish in a smaller pond.

It’s in situations like this that partnership with your Country Range Group wholesaler could help you understand and overcome the obstacles ahead, and to ensure your business is running as efficiently as it needs to in volatile trading conditions.

Our research into caterers’ biggest concerns flagged the recruitment and retention of good quality staff as their number one priority. Many chefs and catering managers think of their wholesale partner as their ‘supplier’ but there’s a lot more to the relationship than just the man unloading boxes from a van. The sales team will have experience of working with hundreds of similar businesses to yours and their expertise will help to ensure you’re buying the best product mix for your customers. They will let you know what’s on promotion, what’s selling well elsewhere, and what’s new from the product manufacturers. Your wholesaler will also help you understand your legal obligations, and as we detach from EU regulations, there may well be some significant changes there.

In our 2016 survey, 80% of caterers said their wholesaler was the first place they turned for menu ideas, nutritional information and advice on running their business. They also saw them as a great source of training and staff development. Decisions made way above our heads in the next two years could lead to the most significant changes our industry has ever seen. However none of us faces them alone – we’ll be representing foodservice distribution at the highest level, and your wholesaler partner will be there to help you evolve your business and turn the Brexit process to your advantage.