Through Brexit and beyond

Under the leadership of a new Chief Executive, the Food Storage & Distribution Federation is not only assisting its members to harness the opportunities created by Brexit, but also laying the foundations for the industry’s future

For the Food Storage & Distribution Federation (FSDF), 2018 was a year of significant importance, not least with it being the most successful 12 months in terms of incoming membership growth. It was also last July that the Federation welcomed its new Chief Executive, Shane Brennan. An experienced trade association leader, Shane joined from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), bringing with him a proven track record for successfully defending members interests and securing concrete policy outcomes.

Commenting at the time of his appointment, Shane observed: “I am delighted to be joining the FSDF at this crucial time. Our industry is entering a period of significant change, and FSDF members will be at the forefront of navigating the food industry through the challenges and opportunities of Brexit. FSDF will be here to help our members to do this job successfully. I am inheriting a strong organisation with a growing membership and exciting, relevant, products that our industry values.”

Catching up with Shane some six months into his new role, he details the efforts he had to make in his first few weeks on the job. “The biggest challenge on my agenda initially was to get out on the road and meet our members face-to-face,” he begins. “Over the course of ten weeks, we covered 6000 miles and visited 34 facilities, meeting businesses of all sizes and discussing with them the challenges they face, the pressures they are under, and what they need from the Federation, in order to form a strategy for the future of FSDF. This was a hugely rewarding experience and a real privilege to be able to be given that kind of insight into all parts of the industry and to get a good feel for the direction that it is heading.”

As fate would have it, July 2018 also marked a turning point when it came to the level of attention suddenly shone upon the food storage and distribution industry and its preparations for the UK leaving the European Union on March 29th, 2019, from the media world. “The same week that I started with the Federation, we received our first telephone call from a journalist asking us to vouch for the fact that businesses were starting to stockpile food to prepare for Brexit,” Shane explains. “Since then, interest has increased substantially and FSDF has been at the centre of talking to the media about what our industry does, how it is planning for Brexit, how our members are looking to harness the opportunities that will be coming their way, and most importantly making sure that more and more people appreciate the vital role that our members play every day in making sure that foods arrives on the shelves in a safe and plentiful way.”

Changing demands
The big question perhaps is then, how are FSDF’s members responding to the immediate concerns surrounding Brexit? “The thing about our members is that they are used to rolling up their sleeves and dealing with problems,” Shane states. “Logistics is, effectively, a problem-solving business and Brexit is a problem to be solved, albeit one that is on a scale that is unprecedented, through sensible planning and practical solutions. The key thing, however, is that I am not picking up from our members any significant concern that they won’t be able to cope with whatever challenges the immediate future poses.”

While Brexit understandably remains the immediate focus, Shane is at pains to stress that he sees it as a temporary issue that the industry needs to cope with. Rather, the long-term threat that its members face, and that FSDF is geared towards tackling is the issue of climate change and changing environmental demands. It is doing so through the implementation of its Climate Change Agreement, which is a scheme that allows its members to demonstrate their own energy efficiency improvements, which they can secure tax benefits on the back of.

“The cold chain, which is effectively what we represent, unfortunately, too often viewed as a villain. Refrigerated warehouses consume a lot of energy and distribution fleets use fossil fuels. That is why identifying a sustainable future policy in this area is the biggest challenge the Federation and its members face,” Shane says. “The first thing we need to do is educate people about the bigger picture, specifically that the cold chain is actually the single biggest defence against the single biggest climate change contributor – food waste. What we also need to be doing is looking at practical solutions that reduce the climate impact of cold chain processes, be it by means of technological innovations or by ensuring best practice across storage and distribution facilities. Finally, we must look at how we can provide the right incentives to businesses to change the way they operate in the short, medium and long term so as to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

“We know that over the last eight years, our industry as a whole has reduced its energy consumption levels by 13 per cent, at a time when the demand for their services is almost at an all-time high. However, while we are clearly on the right track, if you project forward five years the reductions in energy usage that the country will need to deliver means that there will be a strong need to accelerate the pace of our work, and we are working very closely with our members to achieve these goals in what is ultimately an energy intensive industry.”

Continuous improvement
The Federation’s future approach to making energy savings and emissions reductions forms a key part of Shane’s own work in devising a new strategy for FSDF that will see it through the next five years. “The Federation is here to do three things; to act as a strong voice for the temperature controlled logistics sector, to provide an essential network of support for people who work in said sector, and to offer advice to help our members do their jobs more effectively,” he says, “and this new strategy is based around doing a continually improving job in these areas.

“In the interim, it will of course be hard to look past the challenges created by Brexit, but we will be doing all that we can to help our members to harness the opportunities that this event could and will create. If there is one legacy of Brexit that I do want to see continue into the future, however, it is the new-found appreciation that the public has for the complexity of running the cold supply chain and the dedication it takes to do so. That is something that we need to build upon long after Brexit has run its course, and the Federation will do all it can to ensure that this is achieved.”