The UK relies on fresh produce imports from Europe, so it is vital that, post-Brexit, we keep deliveries moving. Joe Hebblewhite assesses the challenge and explains the importance of an efficient supply chain

The common perception that the UK imports most of its food is an accurate one – but only just. In 2016, according to Defra, 49 per cent of the food consumed in the UK was ‘home grown’, which means that we rely on a lot of food coming in from elsewhere.

The largest single type of imported food is fresh produce – fruit and vegetables. The UK imports more than £10 billion of fresh produce each year, and around one-third of it comes from the European Union. (Every other major geographic region: Africa, North America, South America and Asia, accounts for four to five per cent of food imports to the UK). With continuing uncertainties over how Brexit will affect trading, it is vital to ensure that imports of fresh produce from the EU are unaffected, so that we are not faced with empty aisles in the supermarket.

Be prepared
Recently, the House of Lords’ European Union Select Committee concluded that Brexit could disrupt food supply chains: in its recent report (‘Brexit: food prices and availability’) it said: “Significant delays will disrupt just-in-time supply chains that food manufacturers and retailers depend on, and could affect the availability of food.”

The report’s conclusions and recommendations include: importing more food from outside the EU; setting a coherent food strategy; and increasing the UK’s self-sufficiency in food production; though the report acknowledges that, while this is feasible, it would require huge investment, and could not be done in time to overcome any immediate post-Brexit effects.

Many potential ramifications of Brexit – such as increased tariffs or additional customs processes – are still impossible to predict. However, there is nothing like being prepared: having an effective infrastructure in place will help producers and distributors of fresh produce to maintain effective, efficient supply chain links with the supermarkets that sell their products.

This is where LPR comes in. Its red pallet system – backed by its extensive distribution network – offers a full pallet service to its customers, and manages more than 83 million pallet movements each year across Europe. Even in the face of border hold-ups or increased tariffs, having such an efficient system in place will help to minimise the effects of any delays and extra costs.

A good example is LPR’s expanding relationship with Agri-Commerce, a leading French producer of citrus fruit, stone fruit and grapes. The company has managed to grow its European distribution network, thanks in part to improving its logistics flows with help from LPR.

For instance, the company transports around 80 per cent of its fresh fruit using reusable plastic trays from LPR’s sister company, Euro Pool System. One critical factor for the company is to ensure that peaks of activity – of which there are several each year – can be accommodated.

The trays themselves also ensure that less fruit is damaged in transit, compared to, say, cardboard packaging. This is because the trays clip together, making it easier and safer to load pallets. The fruit is then protected during handling – through all stages of delivery – ensuring lower levels of damage during the journey. The more compact nature of the trays also enables 300 folding trays to fit onto a single pallet, compared with just 60 cardboard trays.

Since being taken over by Euro Pool Group in 2011, LPR has benefited from the expertise of Euro Pool System and its flows of fresh fruit and vegetables from Spain, Europe’s leading producer of fruit and vegetables. During that time, LPR has seen a huge increase in demand for fresh produce deliveries; since 2011, pallet deliveries in the sector have grown around 100-fold, enand now account for around five per cent of all LPR’s business.

Other approaches to overcoming potential problems are less about the physical transportation of produce around the continent, and more to do with being prepared for the new legislative landscape – something in which LPR has huge experience. So, for example, Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) approval will help to mitigate some of the problems of border checks. Gaining AEO approval can be a lengthy and complicated process, but is something that a large, experienced operator like LPR can help with.

Nobody knows for certain how they will be affected by Brexit. However, being prepared for every eventuality – and having a strong, stable infrastructure in place – will help to ensure that any negative effects are mitigated. We may not know what effect Brexit will have on food imports, but we can be ready to face them.

Joe Hebblewhite is LPR’s Commercial Director for the UK and Ireland. La Palette Rouge (LPR) a division of Euro Pool Group, is a pallet-pooling company for manufacturers and distributors in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. The LPR range of pallets includes all formats commonly used in the FMCG sector and by major retailers. LPR pallets comply with hygiene regulations applying in the food sector and are reserved strictly for the FMCG sector, in order to avoid any risk of contamination.