The impending sugar tax has “real potential” to be delayed as a result of the UK voting to leave the EU, according to a senior wholesale figure.

James Bielby, Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) chief executive, told the body’s annual conference last week that plans for the soft drinks tax could be put on the back-burner while the government deals with a raft of amended priorities.

“George Osborne is aligned with it, and it’s likely he won’t be chancellor once the government reshuffles.

“So maybe they’ll realise they can’t implement it; at the very least, the uncertainty might delay it,” said Mr Bielby.

Philip Jenkins, managing director of buying group Sugro, welcomed a potential delay, telling delegates the sugar levy was one of the big challenges facing wholesalers.

Mr Bielby said the FWD is working “very closely” with the treasury to ensure it looks at all the “bumps in the road” regarding the tax’s introduction. Meanwhile, a treasury spokesman told Retail Newsagent there are currently no changes to timings around the soft drinks industry levy.

The importance of having a strong social media presence and the growth potential for foodservice were two other themes to emerge from the conference.

Mary Barnard, president for northern Europe at Mondelez, told delegates growth in foodservice is “absolutely here to stay”.

She said: “The US is close to 50% of all food being consumed outside the home, so the opportunity to grow to a third or half of that is definitely here in the UK.”

Meanwhile, speaking about the importance of having an online presence, Tom Fender, of consultancy Fizz Enterprises, used the example of US c-store chain Wawa, which has 1.3m Facebook ‘likes’; in comparison, the top 10 UK c-store groups combined have 300,000.

He said: “C-stores and symbol groups don’t have enough of a presence on social media. We in the UK are one of the most digitally and technically advanced nations and, like it or loathe it, tech will influence everything.”