How the fresh produce industry is preparing for Brexit

With over 700 members, the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) acts as the voice of the UK’s fresh produce industry, helping members develop and grow their businesses by creating and supporting new opportunities.

With Brexit approaching, the industry is getting ready for market trade beyond the 31 October. FPC’s membership manager Jenny Palmer discusses how they are supporting both domestic and global supply chain operations to run as smoothly as possible.

As the trade association representing both the domestic and global supply chains of the fruit, vegetable and flowers industry, Brexit is something that has been high on the agenda for the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) over the past few years.

In 2018, shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as flowers entered the UK from over 26 European countries, predominantly through ports in the south. The majority of items coming through are perishables with limited time before expiry, products like flowers from the Netherlands, tomatoes and citrus from Spain and apples and pears from France. As it stands, the UK imports about 85% of its vegetables from the EU (ITC Trade Map).

With that in mind, it’s extremely important that supply chain providers can provide efficient turnaround times, freight forwarding options and refrigerated storage, so products don’t perish, as well as a proactive, solutions-led service.

If the EU does indeed reject the latest Brexit plans, one of the biggest concerns for products grown in mainland Europe and imported to the UK is delays due to increased paperwork and border controls. In order to continue to successfully import fresh goods after Brexit, we need to learn to work in different ways.

A lot of flowers at the moment are arriving into the UK from Europe via road, however attention is beginning to be switched towards alternative transport methods as customs checks enforced by Brexit are likely to fuel traffic jams and lengthy delays on the roads.

Taking advantage of the UK’s extensive port network is likely to be a viable alternative, with ports in the north able to offer hugely reduced waiting times, storage and efficient onward routes. Currently more than 75% of all RORO freight from ports on the near Continent passes through the channel and 99% of it is accompanied. Going forward, this will result in bottlenecks so we must look to solutions away from the south to avoid what has the risk to become catastrophic delays for perishable goods.

We strive to offer our members, many of which are small businesses without the resource to outline contingency plans beyond the 31 October, a wide range of advice to help them continue with business as usual. Although business chiefs are urging the Prime Minister to grant “special status” to produce and flowers imported from Europe, explanations of what this might look like are hazy and there is no formal agreement in place. 

There are also growing concerns around available warehouse storage space, particularly of refrigerated units, as companies stockpile goods for the busy festive season.

Finally, there’s also a job to be done working with international suppliers to ensure they understand the different options that are available for the safe transit of their goods. The last thing we want is a container of perishable cargo turning to unusable garbage.

We’re here to offer advice to our members on the different supply chain options available post-Brexit. Feel free to get in touch with any questions: https://www.freshproduce.org.uk/

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