No supply ‘miracle’ until Christmas
There are no short-term fixes in sight to solve supply chain strain in the UK, according to the buying group bosses
Confex Managing Director Tom Gittins has predicted the issues impacting the stock levels across the country may well continue until the end of the year as a number of issues continue to hamstring the level of recovery wholesalers are enjoying.
While consumer demand is at higher numbers than in 2019 since the Covid-19 reopening, supply has been affected by the pingdemic, the HGV driver shortage and by a hangover from Brexit, resulting in a staffing issue across the sector.
“I don’t see how we’re going to sort that [in the short term]. We’ve got a low-paid work shortage in the UK. Whether it’s hospitality, drivers, whatever it is, the supply chain has an issue with human resource,” he says.
“After Christmas, hopefully, the rest of the world will be settled down as well. When Europe catches up a little bit, the free flow of labour will happen again and, hopefully, there won’t be such squeezes on the supply chain.”
In the meantime, Gittins says the Confex wholesalers – along with those across the entire industry – are working closely with suppliers to secure as much stock as possible.
“In terms of wholesale and supplier support for Confex members, they’re doing their best, but they can’t produce miracles,” he continues.
“It’s a shame because those wholesalers who have had a tough time could be selling 20% more. It’s a relatively small amount overall, but it is impinging on wholesale and our supply.”
And Gittins isn’t alone in his concern. Bestway Managing Director Dawood Pervez acknowledges the challenge facing the whole industry.
“With a drop in more than a quarter of available drivers in the UK (against demand which is reported as rising by 56%), it is not surprisingly the industry is facing severe challenges,” he says.
“We have experienced limited disruption where suppliers are heavily reliant on agency drivers or third-party logistics providers. However, we have been working closely with key suppliers to manage availability, which has enabled us to work ahead and mitigate the vast majority of the issues to date.”
Caterforce Managing Director, Gary Mullineux has praised members for how they are rising to the supply chain challenge. He says: “Our members are struggling to recruit drivers and across the group it’s been a case of ‘all hands on deck’. We’ve heard stories of sales reps stepping in to work as drivers’ mates to ensure that deliveries reach customers.”
Unitas Wholesale, the UK’s largest buying group, is reviewing the situation daily to ensure its 159 members receive a fair allocation of stock.
Trading Director John Baines says: “The trading team, through their own observations plus invaluable feedback from members, is reviewing daily any instances where there appears to be unfair allocations to other channels/competitors.”
Baines highlights the need for information for wholesalers: “We have set up a dedicated stock update area on our members’ website where updates are uploaded regularly either when received from the supplier base or following discussions with suppliers.”
In a bid to solve the issue internally, Bestway is offering training for existing staff who would like to pursue a career as a HGV driver, while for others, working closely with suppliers is key to navigating through the crisis.
A very real concern, however, is that there is potential for things to get worse before they improve.
Mullineux says: “I believe the situation will get worse as schools return and events open back up. Sales are currently tracking above 2019 and therefore more drivers are needed to keep up with demand. It is a good problem to have but a problem all the same.”
Bestway Wholesale Brexit Confex Dawood Pervez driver shortage HGV drivers Tom Gittins
TALKING POINT… JAMES BIELBY, FWD CHIEF EXECUTIVE
“We don’t have enough people in the food supply chain to meet demand. The government is aware of this but its actions are either short term, such as extending drivers’ hours, or long term, like encouraging young people into critical jobs. We need an interim solution and that’s why we’re calling for a temporary visa scheme to allow EU nationals to fill those vital vacancies. In the meantime, suppliers and wholesalers will need to manage shortages and that means suppliers being honest and open about availability so wholesalers have a chance to source alternatives for their customers.”