COVID-19: How Dover delays are affecting food supply chains

With the UK-France border closed to hauliers for the day, many exporters and importers have faced significant delays getting produce to and from mainland Europe.

Sky News has been in Eyemouth in Berwickshire and Birmingham in the West Midlands, to look at what impact the delays at the Channel crossing are having on the food supply chain.

‘It was peak stress at a time of peak demand’

By James Matthews, Scotland correspondent

They were up all night at D.R. Collin & Sons.

This seafood export company in Eyemouth, Berwickshire, transports live prawns and lobsters from Scotland to France every day.

It’s a multi-million pound industry that runs like clockwork. Until it didn’t.

Four trucks were on route to a Channel crossing when news of the blockage broke.

At a time of peak demand, it was peak stress.

Transport managers worked the phones and email throughout the night, all the time monitoring their trucks’ progress by tracking device.

It was high drama with high stakes, half a million pounds worth of the best seafood to be precise. Because it’s transported live in refrigerated trucks, there is a time limit on its quality. So this logistics operation was against the clock and, as the night wore on, seemed increasingly against the odds.

In the event, the fish reached the finish line. P&O Ferries accommodated the cargo of the Berwickshire trucks, unaccompanied.

It was duly picked up by different drivers on the French side of the Channel and driven on to the dinner tables of mainland Europe.

It was job done, this time. But as the managers told me of their relief at a consignment completed, they were packing three more trucks to be sent southward once more – destination tbc.

It’s no way to have to run any business at any time, let alone during the lucrative festive season.

‘Nobody is panicking and nobody is panic buying’

By Enda Brady, news correspondent

It was business as usual here, and while it was busy, nobody was panicking.

Britain’s wholesalers had spent most of the night talking to their European suppliers and the feeling was that they would easily find a way through with their goods.

“They need us as much as we need them, it’s business,” one wholesaler told me.

Mark Tate runs a fruit and vegetable business here and had been chatting to European counterparts. The solution to the Dover problem was straightforward.

“They’ll just come in via the Hook of Holland, through Felixstowe and Harwich,” he told me. “There won’t be shortages.”

But spare a thought for the UK firms exporting their produce to Europe.

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Fish wholesaler Steven Waters told me about one supplier on the Yorkshire coast who had to turn back a France-bound lorry with 32 pallets of shellfish on it.

The cost of the order? £152,000.

“They’ll have to put all those lobsters back in their tanks now.”

The atmosphere here was positive and upbeat.

Nobody was panicking. And none of the customers were panic-buying.

Business as usual.

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