Logistics and ports seek to cater better to fresh-produce sector needs
The rapt audience at LPS16's Supplying the UK Marketplace workshop

Logistics and ports seek to cater better to fresh-produce sector needs

Steven Maxwell
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Big changes are being planned for fresh produce entering the UK in the form of major new port and logistics developments aimed at catering for a fast-growing population in south-east England, and projected Customs reforms that could ease the bureaucratic burden

Advances in logistics are taking the form of greater visibility for cargo consignments at port and an emphasis on reducing food miles and shortening the supply chain, while also simplifying the process of gaining entry to the UK for fruit and vegetable exporters. 
Speaking at the London Produce Show 2016’s Supplying the UK Market workshop, James Leeson, head of port commercial at DP World London Gateway Port, told delegates that the port has launched a new app, ‘Where’s My Container?’, that enables customers to track their load in real-time, including during inspection.

The app was in part developed to meet the needs of the fresh produce sector, which has already responded positively to the product. “When it comes to perishables, you have got to be very attentive to these customers’ needs – perishables at the end of the day are the highest value goods that most ports are ever going to handle,” Leeson explained to delegates.

“Ports are a vital link in the supply chain – what port operators, and certainly we, are increasingly seeing is that we have to be visible and efficient, so that our customers, and their customers, know what is happening with their cargo when it’s in the port.” 

Port-centric services

A further example of the work being done by the logistics sector to cater to the needs of the fresh produce business was highlighted by Bob Duffy, national business development manager at NFT Distribution Operations who detailed the launch of a new port-centric distribution centre.

NFT’s recently opened Port of Tilbury facility caters primarily to major retailers and foodservice operators in the south east, according to Duffy, with the aim of drastically reducing food miles and the length of the supply chain between arrival at port and the end customer.

The facility was inaugurated following NFT’s own consumer research, which found that not only is there demand for year-round availability for fresh produce, but that much of this demand originates from south-east England, which accounts for 30% of the UK population.

“We’re also importing lots of produce these days, and lots of it stays in the south east,” Duffy explained. “That’s why we decided now would be a good time to invest in something different – a south-east-based, port-centric, logistics service.”

Duffy said the new centre will help reduce food miles and double handling as well as speed up deliveries, thus helping retailers who are already looking to save time in their own supply chains.

“It will improve stock availability, visibility, reliability – the main areas that retailers want and foodservices require and instead of sending stock up to the middle of the country, we will hold it and deliver it direct in the south east, leading to a major cost benefit,” he claimed.

Duffy said NFT’s first client at the site – a dairy importer – is projecting a saving of 5,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) movements a year, equivalent to 700,000 miles after transferring operations from Northampton to Tilbury.

By using this facility, NFT forecasts its clients will save an estimated 2million miles during its first two years of operation – the same distance, said Duffy, of going to the moon and back twice.

Container challenge

Both Leeson and Duffy emphasised the increasing role that larger container ships will play in global fresh produce trade in the future; a trend that Leeson described as both a big change and a major challenge for London Gateway.

“The containers are increasingly taking more and more market share, and the size of the ships is getting bigger and bigger – that’s a big change,” he said. “How can we handle the bigger ships as quickly and efficiently as possible given that shipping companies don’t want to spend any more time in port? That’s a big challenge.”

Duffy described the increased size in vessels as a “game changer”, which necessitates a response from the logistics sector. “Bigger ships are certainly on the way – 60 years ago, you were looking at 500-800 containers on a ship, now we’re talking 20,000 plus,” he said. “This is a game changer and we have to respond to this as logistics providers.”

Trusted trader scheme

According to Alex Schofield, senior policy adviser, Food Standards Agency (FSA), at least 80% of all the fresh produce imported into the UK from third countries is safe to eat. For imports where there are question marks – notably okra, sesame seeds and curry leaves from India – around 20% of volumes are subject to inspections due to concerns over pesticide residues. Some 50% of imported Chinese broccoli is also tested on arrival due to the same concerns.

Where there are more serious problems, notably Betel leaves from India – which have been linked with salmonella – consignments must come with a health certificate and identification code.

However, to simplify the import process, Schofield revealed that the FSA plans to develop a trusted trader scheme, as well as further refining its risk profile, so that it is only targeting the highest risk foods or businesses where there have been repeated infringements.

The FSA is also, said Schofield, exploring options with GlobalGAP, as well as looking to ways to develop a system of earned recognition for imports.

To further reduce bureaucracy – there are 36 different agencies with a presence at the UK borders – he said the Cabinet Office and HMRC are leading the One Government at the Border project, which is aiming to provide a consistent level of services to business and users, while also increasing referrals between departments.

“The government is investing in the border – the imported food trade is increasing and we have to develop a sustainable model for the future; we need investment,” Schofield concluded.

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