This week AF Blakemore became the latest wholesaler to bow to inflationary pressures impacting its delivery service. As of 25 July, retailers who fail to reach its minimum order mark will now be charged £60, rather than £40. And it’s bumped up charges for single pick orders, too. Which, for smaller stores, means bad news.

In truth Blakemore is far from alone. Just over the past week, we have seen Nisa ramp up its fuel levy again from £9.77 to £13.43, while Parfetts increased its minimum order level to £1,500 for symbol retailers. There have been no fresh moves from Booker but then the UK’s biggest wholesaler did introduce a fairly hefty £29.95 delivery fee for Premier and Family Shopper retailers in February.

The reality is free deliveries are now few and far between and for those that do offer free deliveries, minimum order levels don’t feel so minimum anymore.

The rising fees and order thresholds are clearly proving a headache for retailers but much of the grumbling would be quelled if the service they were paying for was spot on and again, worryingly, The Grocer is hearing growing reports of patchy availability in the supply chain – to be fair something that wholesalers have been warning about for months.

One retailer says there were up to 400 key lines out of stock at his local depot, meaning a third of his latest delivery was missing. Another retailer mentions his frozen delivery this week was cancelled with a day’s notice which, in the middle of a heatwave, did little to cool tensions. At least retailers in more urban areas are guaranteed to have another cash & carry nearby to source missing stock. Less range and availability is more of a burden for rural-based ones, with fewer wholesalers around.

Meeting minimum order requirements won’t prove the easiest task either. According to the ACS Local Shop Report 2021, 23% of independent retailers have no additional space in stores, making bigger orders harder to find room for. There is one way to tackle this, though. In ACS’s Cost of Trading report, one rural retailer says they “banded together” with other businesses in the area to meet minimum order requirements, so that “everyone benefits and can get the products they need on a timely basis”.

It’s certainly great to see that, once again, convenience retailers’ innovative and ‘can do’ attitude is guiding them through another crisis. But it’s a shame these efforts are deemed necessary in the first place, given what these extra fees and demands were supposed to promise.

Countering the Cost of Living Crisis: The Convenience Mix Podcast

Of course inflation is something we are seeing in all walks of life. As Bestway MD Dawood Pervez says in the most recent episode of the Convenience Mix podcast: “Inflation is here, and inevitably, the sector is facing rapidly increasing costs, and those costs will have to be passed on. It is out of the control of retailers and wholesalers, which is causing economic and supply chain turbulence, leading to prices going up.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Wholesalers are doing their bit to mitigate costs where they can. For example, earlier this month, The Grocer revealed that wholesalers were stocking up in a bid to buy more products at their current prices, knowing they were likely to rise further. Bestway also said Costcutter retailers spending an average of £7,500 a week will have their £4.88 fuel levy refunded this summer, while The Co-op Honest Value range was made available to all Nisa retailers earlier this year.

It’s all too easy to blame the next person. But realistically, the whole sector is in a state of unescapable inflation. The key now is transparency, and retailers and their wholesalers working together to mitigate costs and co-trade sustainably. Because now is not the time for conflict.

As ACS CEO James Lowman puts it: ”This partnership has been one of the most powerful aspects of our industry over many years, and the way we kept goods on the shelf during the extraordinary challenges of the Covid pandemic was an inspiring example of how we can work together effectively.

”Faced with these acute challenges we need to focus on that partnership approach, communicate openly and keep our focus firmly on the consumers we are serving, who are themselves facing the same challenges as these businesses.”

Valuable advice.