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Author's profile photo Elizabeth Maffei

Supply Chain Agility – Greens Beyond Britain

I’m rather grateful to ProcurementCat for the presience of her tweets – this is the second week on the trot that she’s provided Guardian-backed inspiration for a blog.  This time the subject is the UK’s greens shortage.

The early January absence of the humble courgette in five of my local supermarkets – including my local M&S two days on the run caused me to regret my un-made soup. Given M&S is supposed to be off-setting the disappointing results of their in-no-way-as-bad-as-is-made-out clothes business with great groceries I should have thought beyond spinach soup being is fine as it is without the courgette.

The early February lettuce crisis would have passed me by if I hadn’t been to dinner with friends in the food industry who were having sleepless nights over menu re-engineering.  The fact that my dinner companions are pros, not amateurs meant that the re-engineering was more about cost than taste and should have put me onto something.  As it was jetlag in a good cause stopped me thinking about almost everything – including the very modern problem of no summer vegetables in winter – until rationing was off again.

Now I’ve realised that I truly do need to commence my 2017 health kick I’ve noticed the absence of a shortage of vegetables in our supermarkets – soup’s back on my menu once more.  Just as well for the UK retail sector since, according to The Grocer the courgette shortage cost UK retailers £8m.

Much of Europe actually suffered the same problem, although mostly in a milder form. Our neighbours over the water in The Netherlands also felt the lettuce squeeze – just not as keenly.   Unsurprisingly, there were inferences in the UK to the forthcoming post-Brexit misery and our uniqueness being destined to cost us dearly especially since farming only accounts for 1% of GDP and yet we insist on trying to eat summer things in winter.

And yet, according to Eurostat it’s not just the UK which isn’t growing its own. In the EU as a whole production is very concentrated in particular member states. Nearly 50% of the vegetable area is provided by three countries: Italy (19.5 %), Spain (16.6 %) and Poland (11.1 %). Another striking features of the EuroStat info is that imports are very concentrated, in a very specific way: Over 50% of imported carrots are from Israel around 40% of imported cabbages from Kenya, just under one third of cucumbers from Turkey and, intriguingly, nearly one quarter of garlic is from China.

It made me reflect about how important supply chain agility must be in that market – everyone fishing from the same pond and susceptible to the same risks (i.e. bad weather too much rain and then some snow, in this case). In practice the UK seems to have turned to the US to solve its greens shortage and it also seems, from my Dutch source, that Egypt was an option.

Wherever the solution came from its likely that this was very much a case of first mover advantage: whoever had the best supply chain communication will, surely, have lost the smallest chunk of that £8m. Food for thought (sorry, too good a chance to pass up) for any supply chain pro out there. And, if you do think there is a bit of seamlessness lacking you could do might want to consider this


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