Posted: 31/08/2021

Fine food distribution ‘nightmare’ as lorry driver shortage causes logistics disruption

lorry driver shortage

Fine food distributors have described a “nightmare” getting stock to customers as a logistics body estimated the national lorry driver shortage had hit 100,000.

The Road Haulage Association wrote to the prime minister in June saying the driver shortage was at “crisis point” after workers returned to their countries of origin during COVID and were prevented from returning by strict post-Brexit immigration rules. An ageing workforce, a huge drop in the number of HGV driver tests being carried out and changes to self-employment laws were also blamed for the shortfalls. 

Berkshire-based importer and wholesaler Tenuta Marmorelle said deliveries from Italy were taking up to a week longer than usual, with further delays fulfilling orders from UK retailers.

Director Nick Carlucci said the haulier staffing crisis, aligned with extra hurdles from paperwork and routing rules, was causing the company to rethink its operating model.

“At first it was a shock as everyone said Brexit wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “The biggest problem is shipping to our customers at farm shops and delis in the UK; they are getting frustrated. Delays were affecting our business. So we are fulfilling orders in our van within a 100-mile radius.”

Tenuta Marmorelle may look to buy more vans for the busy pre-Christmas period, Carlucci added.

The Road Haulage Association urged the government to introduce a temporary work visa for lorry drivers and to add the profession to the Home Office’s official Shortage Occupation List. The association insisted a relaxation of legal limits on drivers’ hours, announced by ministers in July, was “counter-productive” as it would make the job even less appealing. 

“Loading more hours on to drivers that are already exhausted is not the answer,” said chief executive Richard Burnett.

But Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby said the government move to allow 11-hour shifts and 99-hour fortnights was “just what food distributors needed” and could mean 15 per cent more deliveries in a day.

Buckinghamshire-based fine food distributor RH Amar said its team of long-serving drivers and a well-established relationship with its distribution partner had given it a “robust logistics chain” and removed its reliance on pallet delivery networks.

“There have been some instances where our European-based suppliers have been unable to get product to port, but RH Amar has a culture of going that extra mile,” added operations manager Mody Rupkus. “In mid-June, one of our colleagues drove to Kühne in Germany to pick up gherkins to ensure consistent supply.”

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