Why the supply chain is rupturing - Andy Needham

The Government must act now if the food supply chain in this country is to continue to function anywhere near how we have come to expect it to.

Andy Needham ismanaging director of Approved Food.

The UK’s supply chain across all grocery and FMCG sectors is an extremely efficient, finely tuned machine with people at its core. It relies on many contributing elements, all functioning smoothly and in harmony to enable us to grow, produce, load, move, unload, store, present, sell and ultimately consume.

It is clear that the powers that be do not fully understand how the supply chain works or how important its smooth running is to keep all our shelves stocked, not just their beloved supermarkets.

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Nobody wants to return to the scenes of just over a year ago when panic buyers stripped the aisles of food and essential household items – yet without clear and concise action, we are in danger of doing just that.

Recent half-cocked ideas like the ‘golden 500’ of food companies that could avoid having staff self-isolate after being ‘pinged’, brought no impact whatsoever. Just like the announcement a few months ago that wholesalers would get rates relief, just chip paper statements to throw people off the scent of the gross incompetence we have at the seat of our Government.

Now that Nando’s have no chicken, McDonald’s were starved of paper to wrap burgers a few weeks ago, now they have no milkshakes or bottled drinks, maybe, just maybe we are inching closer to a wider appreciation that our supply chains are starting to rupture?

To me it made more sense to involve the people who run the industry from the outset. Organisations that look after areas such as logistics, wholesale distribution and the Food and Drink Federation would have been able to provide clear insight into the issues involved and advise on away forward.

They still can, but there is more interest in soundbites than real action. So instead, the whole system is at risk of descending into an abyss while our leaders refuse to listen to the people who work in the industry day in, day out.

Through changes in immigration policy, taxation policies, working practices, a pandemic – not caused by but made worse by inflexible decisions – we are hurtling towards a major fracture in what we all take for granted.

The lack of qualified drivers is not just an inconvenience; it is a real problem that is mushrooming by the day. Companies offering incentives to ‘poach’ drivers from other companies does not solve the problem, it just shifts it elsewhere.

Last week we needed to source a wagon to collect a full load of 26 pallets from a supplier. Normally two or three phone calls is all it needs to source a wagon that is in the right place at the right time to sort the load. After 25 unsuccessful calls we were left unable to collect the stock. The knock-on effect is that products are not reaching the shelves and therefore end consumers.

You don’t need to look hard to find empty shelves and missing products in any outlet you visit today. The issue is not going to resolve itself in the short term. Until new drivers are able to be trained and tested to replace the ones leaving or retiring we are all going to suffer.

The Government mandarins’ refusal to relook at visas and international workers is leaving a void that will turn into a crisis. You only need to look back 18 months when we found out who the “real” essential workers were in this country when the pandemic struck. Very short memories again. My advice is buy early for Christmas while you can, there is going to be a lot of empty shelves this year.

Andy Needham is managing director of Approved Food

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Thank you

James Mitchinson