In the dead of night, London’s New Covent Garden Market is abuzz with activity. Once incoming trucks are unloaded, distributors waste no time preparing orders for their morning deliveries. Even during the pandemic, restaurants and vendors want the freshest fruits and vegetables as soon as possible. The vast majority is grown on the mainland, but what happens when fresh food is left waiting in line at the border?
“The product is fine, everything is out there growing and we have no problem with that. The problem we have is distribution; when it leaves our farms in Portugal or Spain, it goes up, passes through France, when it arrives in Calais; there it is. when I’m worried about problems starting, “explains Vernon Mascharenhas, Nature’s Choice Chief Commercial Officer.
Fresh produce is transported in refrigerated trucks to keep it fresh for longer. But some items will not last long.
“Peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, all that will be fine. But the more delicate, the salad heads … Anything over 48, 56 hours; then we will start to see a deterioration in the products And I daresay we might need to rethink things like transporting baby spinach which has a very, very short shelf life. The baby spinach would not arrive in good condition even in a refrigerated truck in three days, “says Mascharenas.
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, speaks on behalf of those who drive those refrigerated trucks. He is one of them and the government tries to help transporters prepare for any scenario.“There are still big awareness problems, logistics companies keep asking their customers for a lot of information”explains Brennan, who talks to carriers and the government and tries to help everyone be prepared.
“The phrase is ‘border-ready’. Have all the paperwork in order depending on the products you have in your vehicle and that they are ready to cross the border”, says Brennan who explains that, “if there is some kind of lack of preparation, that will lead to a delay in that vehicle. And if there is a gap in its documentation, it will literally have to be turned around; that creates a domino effect. It doesn’t take much of that for the whole system to start braking quite dramatically. Small delays, vehicle by vehicle, lead to long delays for everyone else. “
British supermarkets are preparing as best they can. In the case of goods with a long useful life; that means storage. The Government says that the UK has a very resilient food supply chain and that there will be no general food shortage regardless of the trade agreements that are signed with the EU.
But the chairman of Britain’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, has said a shortage of fresh food cannot be ruled out over a period of weeks, or possibly months.. Other people in this industry see delays as a certainty rather than a risk. The real uncertainty is how long they can last.