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Source: Suppliers are looking to northern ports like Liverpool as an alternative option

Fruit and veg suppliers have begun shaking up their supply chains to bypass Dover and avoid no-deal Brexit gridlock at the port.

In a move designed to sidestep bottlenecks that could cause chaos in produce supply chains, Aldi supplier Peter Gilding has started sending its fresh produce directly from growing regions in southern Europe to the north west of England.

Using ports in the north was “increasingly the most attractive route”, said MD Andrew Gilding. “The South East is already terribly congested and we only expect this to get worse, especially with Brexit.”  

It comes as Tesco partner G’s Group said it had implemented plans for a UK “import hub” away from the “heavily congested” south east, with ports in the north east under consideration.

A number of major supermarket groups and suppliers are also in talks with port operators with a view to switching away from the roll-on-roll-off model currently used in Dover, to the containerised model employed at ports such as Liverpool, The Grocer understands.

Businesses were increasingly considering the option of moving produce from the continent to the UK via alternative routes, said Peel Ports commercial director Stephen Carr. Such a move would ease pressure on Dover, while making use of spare capacity at other deep sea ports, added James Leeson, commercial director at DP World ports.

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The longer journey times would also give customs more time to process import documents while containers were in transit. “The Dover Strait currently accounts for around 75% of the UK’s trade with continental Europe,” Carr said. “Those shipments act differently to most others in the UK as produce imported via Dover tends to be accompanied [on lorries as opposed to on containers].”

While there was a shortage of drivers in the south of England - with the sector drawing 20% of its workforce from the EU - the north was also more resilient to Brexit-linked labour issues, Carr added, with just 8% of drivers coming from abroad.

However, shipping directly from Bilbao to Liverpool took between 24 to 36 hours longer than equivalent road journeys through Europe via Dover, he warned.

Longer shipping times could affect shelf life and availability of some produce in southern parts of the UK, suggested Robert Hardy, commercial director of logistics specialist Oakland Invicta.

Meanwhile, suppliers in other areas of fmcg have also taken steps to move their business away from the south east, with Typhoo and own label wine giant Kingsland Drinks also increasing volumes coming into northern ports, Carr said.

There were also plans in place for Northern Irish food exporters to send produce across the Irish Sea from Warrenpoint in County Down to Liverpool or Heysham, rather than through Ireland and across the Irish Sea to Holyhead, he added.

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