Beware December 31st

The food industry now thinks that Brexit will actually be government’s ‘worst-case scenario’ on January 1st and the Grocer has added this little table to give some idea of shortages:

It rather confirms Tesco’s suggestion that there will be two or three months of fresh food disruption – indeed the same article quotes one industry executive “I can’t see any other possibility than food shortages.”

And what seems to me highly problematical:

Dan McCartney, Defra’s head of food security and resilience, telling industry figures on Tuesday to “expect 40% flow rates”.

That is 60% less than normal for a highly ‘efficient’ just in time system. That is fragility personified. Additionally, fresh food doesn’t keep – so delay it too long and it is basically compost. In grocery and transport where margins are famously tiny there will be disputes about who pays for food arriving out of condition…

As I think is well known, the Department for Education has, this week advised schools to purchase long-life products as part of preparations for “possible changes to their food supply chain from 1 January 2021”.

That should, I suggest, be the advice for all homes, too.

There will undoubtedly be food inflation as well – because time (at the border) is, as they say, money. And filling in customs documentation costs as well.

Further, most reckon that about 85% of cross-channel loads are actually operated by EU hauliers – very often from Eastern Europe, for whom it is part of a long and complex journey. But it works for them.

I cannot see that continuing. The Brexit handbook for hauliers has still not been published – and importantly for those with limited English, certainly not translated. Anecdotally there are transporters who will not quote for UK delivery in the New Year – and who can blame them?

Good luck too, with persuading them that they now need an ‘access permit’ to drive into Kent. Why on earth would you come to a country that is so difficult to service? I wouldn’t without a really substantial premium.

Additionally even deep sea imports are constrained. Felixstowe is gummed up – mostly because of the pandemic, but very, very busy are the alternatives of Liverpool and Southampton. With Christmas imminent there is likely to be little spare capacity, which is why Felixstowe considers there will be no relief before the end of January. So, even the slower shipping routes for diverted ambient food supplies are not an easy prospect.

So my fear is that the shortages will be more pronounced than the Grocer’s chart appears to suggest.

We have a near perfect storm.

And remind me, why is our government doing this to us – and bang in the middle of a pandemic?

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