A Perfect Storm Slams U.K. Supply Chain

A Perfect Storm Slams U.K. Supply Chain

Denis Storey
August 16, 2021

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As the Delta variant drives the third wave of global infections, the United Kingdom faces a “pingdemic” after the National Health Service’s contact-tracing app has “pinged” nearly 2 million citizens with a call to self-isolate.

This pingdemic threatens to disrupt a recovering U.K. economy with food, beverage, and logistics companies scrambling to keep the supply chain running in the face of an unprecedented labor shortage. The Washington Post reported in August that some U.K. retailers, including supermarkets, are reporting employee absentee rates as high as 20%.

Driver Shortage

But this dearth of labor isn’t limited to front-line workers. As the nation approaches the year-end demand spike, companies are still struggling to get heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers. Brexit had already blindsided the U.K. supply chain before the pandemic hit. This latest surge has only exacerbated the problem. It’s gotten so bad that some convenience store operators have started driving their own trucks to keep their store shelves stocked.

However, SCALA Consulting Executive Director Rob Wright insists that even if companies get more drivers behind the wheel, it will only offer a short-term fix. To survive, food and beverage companies must improve their supply chain operations. Wright says manufacturers must find ways to better collaborate with suppliers.

“Companies should be talking to their customers and suppliers about how transport can be optimized to protect service and reduce truck and driver journeys,” Wright told Food Manufacture. “Now is the time to review delivery frequency and order size, unlock backhaul opportunities, and remove empty trucks from U.K. roads.”

Wright added that companies could add storage capacity to trailers to boost the number of pallets they can carry. As a result, fewer trucks on the road reduces the need for more drivers and cut back on carbon emissions, which consumers love.

Lost Production

The labor shortage is also taking a toll on production. The National Farmers’ Union reported recently that farmers and meat processors were operating without at least 16% of their average workforce because of the dual hits of Brexit and the pandemic. While the Financial Times reported, “the British Poultry Council said its members had made unprecedented production cuts. Most are producing 5% to 10% less chicken than usual and 10% less turkey, while Christmas turkey production is set to be down by a fifth.”

“U.K. food security will be hit with a double whammy of food inflation and being forced to rely on more imported food,” BPC Chief Richard Griffiths told the paper.

Digitization, Automation Can Help

For the foreseeable future, U.K. manufacturers must do more with less. One way to accomplish that is by digitizing their document management systems, which helps companies improve operations with a smaller workforce and helps bolster supplier relationships.

The unparalleled disruption threatening the United Kingdom’s supply chain requires companies to respond in real-time. But, unfortunately, most companies still operate in silos. Sharing and maintaining those documents across departments, facilities, and business partners is a chore. Digitization breaks down those silos and fosters better communication with far-flung collaborators, such as suppliers and co-manufacturers.

Automation can do more than streamline plant floor operations with immediate non-compliance alerts – it can systematize Corrective Action Reports and instantly analyze Certificates of Authenticity (CoAs).

Finally, manufacturers can fight back by joining the world's largest collaborative online platform of food, beverage, and dietary supplement professionals in R&D, procurement, quality, and regulatory teams to work with suppliers across the globe to drive down procurement costs and develop new relationships – and products – faster.

The lingering supply chain disruptions have started awkward conversations and frustrating challenges. For example, manufacturers and private label owners fighting higher ingredient costs need alternative suppliers and ways to reduce product development costs. And retailers remain wary of further price increases, fearing they’ll lose customers and drive up waste.

Watch this on-demand webinar with Phil Lempert, CEO of Retail Dietitians Business Alliance, and CEO of SupermarketGuru.com, for a webinar discussion on how companies can outmaneuver rising costs and continue to succeed amidst unprecedented supply chain disruption.