The two biggest and most obvious demands which currently affect the food industry supply chain can be directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.
Initially, as the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, we saw an increase in demand led by an element of panic buying from consumers. The stories were splashed across the media, and we can all remember the images of empty shelves and trollies full of tins, pasta and toilet paper. The issue was never one of a lack of produce or products being manufactured in enough quantities – however, that message was not accurately relayed to consumers, and many people felt the need to stock up on items they saw as vulnerable from supply chain breakdown.
Thankfully, those stories are largely a thing of the past; however, there remains a number of vulnerabilities in the supply chain which can be linked directly to the aftermath of the post-Brexit transition and the impact it has had on the UK. According to the British Retail Consortium, around 30% of the food we consume in the UK comes from the EU, with around half of the fresh vegetables and almost all the fresh fruit being imported. As a country we need to grow more of what we consume, as well as driving improvement in the processing, packaging, distribution and storage of that produce.
The ongoing effects of the global pandemic cannot be ignored either, as it continues to pose serious challenges to the sustainability of the food supply chain. With thousands of workers having to self-isolate, failing to meet capacity demands in manufacturing and the supply chain also creates knock-on effects in other areas. For example, in the UK we rely on an influx of approximately 75,000 seasonal workers who traditionally support the agri-food sector, harvesting locally grown crops.
With the travel restrictions associated with the pandemic, as well as the post-Brexit effect, that sector has been hit extremely hard with growers struggling to harvest produce on time to meet demand. If this was a localised issue, it could be addressed efficiently and with minimal overall impact; however, due to the very nature of a global pandemic and a mobile labour force, coupled with the restrictions around travel, this issue has become systemic and is proving extremely difficult to resolve.
In addition, the UK logistics sector has been experiencing shortages of qualified HGV drivers for a number of years. Since Brexit this has intensified, with many EU workers returning to their home countries with uncertainty around whether they can travel back to work in the UK.
The same issue is also having an impact within food manufacturing facilities, the agri-food sector, distribution centres and supply chain hubs where the single most critical factor at present is a lack of suitably qualified personnel.
While there is no perfect solution to the issues facing the ongoing demands on the food supply chain, some mitigating measures can be implemented. A revision of UK Government policy on migrant workers would help in the short term; however, it’s apparent that in the UK we require a more robust and sustainable supply chain model.
For businesses looking to strengthen their supply chains, a constructive starting point would be to engage with a specialist consultant such as Integrated Food Projects. By utilising our extensive experience in engineering and familiarity with the demands and extremely high standards required in food production facilities, we are able to map supply chains, identifying the areas where efficiencies can be gained. This process and the independent advice we provide can directly help to avoid supply chain failure.
We are always conscious of the requirements concerning production continuity and ensure that this is factored into any solution we propose. This enables us to deliver projects on time and within budget, with minimum disruption to the ongoing day to day operations – something, that with the challenges the sector currently faces, has never been more important than it is now.
Integrated Food Projects have partnered with Kettleby Foods on a number of high-profile multi-million pound capital projects since 2003/4, helping the business to develop and grow. Throughout that time they have provided cost-effective and efficient solutions on development projects both at our existing ready meals production facility and also in creating a new satellite facility. The projects at our existing facility were managed without impact on our ability to service our own clients, and all projects have been delivered within budget, in a timely fashion and to the requisite standards of safety and quality. Their team work ethos and professional approach ensure successful projects and I would utilise Integrated Food Projects in the future without hesitation.
- Jarrod Thorndyke, Production Director
I have worked with Integrated Food Projects on many capital expenditure projects since 2004, the latest being the development of the new plot of land adjacent to our main site. They successfully employed a project delivery process to ensure the integration of a leased modular building solution with the development of the site infrastructure to improve logistics and Health and Safety. Their staff are always positive and enthusiastic and have fostered a team-work approach ensuring another successful project delivered. I look forward to working with them again in the near future.
- Engineering Manager, Major UK Ready Meals Manufacturer