Brexit stock­pil­ing bears lit­tle fruit for whole­saler

Kuwait Times - - Analysis -

Fresh fruit and veg­etable en­tre­pre­neur Franco Fu­bini knows all about the im­por­tance of goods ar­riv­ing on time, as Brexit threat­ens to de­lay de­liv­ery of pro­duce into and out of Bri­tain. Pre­par­ing for pos­si­ble tran­sit chaos at the bor­der fol­low­ing Bri­tain’s for­mal de­par­ture from the Euro­pean Union on March 29, UK com­pa­nies from su­per­mar­kets to car­mak­ers are pre­par­ing to stock­pile. How­ever for Fu­bini’s com­pany Na­toora - a whole­saler, re­tailer and food pro­ducer - stock­pil­ing fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles is not an op­tion.

“For us, the fresh­ness of the prod­uct is es­sen­tial,” CEO Fu­bini told AFP, speak­ing from com­pany head­quar­ters and ware­hous­ing fa­cil­i­ties housed in a viaduct on a site once oc­cu­pied by Lon­don’s first rail­way ter­mi­nus in Ber­mond­sey. Whether his im­ported av­o­ca­dos, peaches and toma­toes will con­tinue to ar­rive at the cap­i­tal’s finest eater­ies on time is far from cer­tain as law­mak­ers pre­pare for next week’s cru­cial UK par­lia­men­tary vote on the Brexit divorce deal. “There is a huge amount of prod­uct that doesn’t grow in the UK, pri­mar­ily a lot of the fruit,” said the Ar­gen­tinian-Ital­ian, who founded the high-end and sea­son­ally-driven busi­ness 14 years ago. “We are forced to bring prod­uct from the con­ti­nent.”

Through the Tun­nel Na­toora sup­plies more than 1,000 mostly top-end res­tau­rants in a busi­ness span­ning Lon­don, New York and Paris, with fresh pro­duce sourced from farms in the UK, Italy, France, Spain and the US. “The con­sump­tion that hap­pens at res­tau­rants and the con­sump­tion in our re­tail stores, par­tic­u­larly eat­ing out, is very sen­si­tive to im­me­di­ate con­sumer con­cerns”

sur­round­ing Brexit, Fu­bini, 44, told AFP.

As boxes filled with im­ported lemons and limes and Christ­mas-sea­son fa­vorite Brus­sels sprouts were loaded onto lor­ries, Fu­bini also said that Na­toora job ap­pli­cants were down sharply over the past year amid Brexit uncer­tainty, es­pe­cially among East­ern Eu­ro­peans. As for the sup­ply chain, “there def­i­nitely is a con­cern about dis­rup­tion”, he said. Na­toora’s pro­duce from main­land Europe comes into the UK on re­frig­er­ated lor­ries through the Chan­nel Tun­nel link­ing Bri­tain and France.

“On av­er­age across all the re­gions, you’re look­ing at 36-48 hours” from har­vest­ing the prod­uct to ar­riv­ing in res­tau­rants, ex­plained Fu­bini, who runs an op­er­a­tion com­pris­ing around 300 staff and an an­nual turnover of £30 mil­lion ($38 mil­lion). “I am hop­ing that com­mon sense, par­tic­u­larly in the case of some­thing as crit­i­cal as fresh food, will help us get through this.” He added: “There is very lit­tle that we can do within our sup­ply chain. We can’t stock­pile, we can’t shorten our sup­ply chain, un­less we he­li­copter things in! In or­der for us to plan, the only thing we can do is wait and see.” Stock­pil­ing dry goods One-fifth of the com­pany’s turnover comes from goods that could be stock­piled, how­ever, such as cured meats, cheeses, olive oils and beans. “We can carry more stock” of these items, said Fu­bini. “For­tu­nately be­cause we’ve taken on a new site we have quite a bit of spare ca­pac­ity to uti­lize.” In the UK, British group Pre­mier Foods has said it plans to stock­pile to pro­tect against a risk of de­lays at ports.

Bri­tain’s big­gest re­tailer, su­per­mar­ket gi­ant Tesco, said it could be­gin stock­pil­ing tinned goods from Jan­uary. An­other com­pany, Ma­jes­tic Wines, said it planned an ad­di­tional in­ven­tory of bot­tles with a com­bined value of up to £8 mil­lion. Away from the food in­dus­try, Bri­tain’s key car­mak­ing and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sec­tors have said they are also look­ing at pos­si­ble stock­pil­ing, as has en­gines maker Rolls-Royce.

— AFP

Franco Fu­bini, founder and CEO of Na­toora, a fruit and veg­etable distri­bu­tion com­pany, poses for a pho­to­graph in the com­pany’s ware­house in south Lon­don on Dec 5, 2018.

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