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For life not landfill

03 October 2019

Warehouses in the UK are more full than ever, with demand only going up. Something has to give – could redistribution be part of the solution?

As the October deadline for the UK’s exit from the European Union creeps ever closer, the noise from Westminster is that no deal is an increasingly likely outcome.

This has triggered a slew of media headlines about stockpiling in our industry – both in the home (research published last week suggested Britons have spent £4bn stockpiling goods in preparation) and also across the supply chain, by everyone from Pets at Home to Domino’s.

This is placing an enormous strain on the UK’s warehouse capacity. A decade ago, the national vacancy rate was as high as 23%. In the "inner M25" area the vacancy rate has fallen to just 2.2%

Having built up stocks to insulate against possible supply chain disruption, firms have been cutting back on new orders while they grapple with what to do with all the extra stock. To compound the situation, many warehouses will be filling up anyway ahead of "Black Friday" and Christmas retailing.

Something has to give – with warehouse capacity at such a premium, it is simply not possible to continue to stockpile at the same rate.

In many cases the stockpiled stock may have a short amount of ‘life’ left, and is already retailer branded, so sale through the usual retail channels isn’t possible. In these instances a potential solution is redistribution, whereby commercial redistribution organisations can purchase surplus stock from warehouses to create space for the extra goods they want to stockpile ahead of the October deadline, or stock can be donated to social redistribution organisations, like Community Shop. Unlocking value from stock like this requires expertise and flexibility, and we were delighted when Defra recently awarded us £2m in funding for our Harnessing Harder to Reach Surplus project, which will focus on identifying, repurposing and redistributing the harder to reach valuable surplus like this from higher up the supply chain. We are already working with several retail partners on this, and opportunities remain for other businesses to benefit before the end of the project in March.

In challenging times, we all need to pull together.  We must not allow uncertainties and changes, stemming as a result of Brexit, to counteract all of the recent progress our industry has made in increasing efficiency in supply chains and minimising waste. Redistribution has the potential to unlock the warehouse space that is needed, whilst ensuring that surplus stock is dealt with in a sustainable manner so that, wherever possible, good food reaches people’s plates as intended.

 
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