European cold chain resilient in the face of Covid-19

Arlington, Virginia, USA: The European cold chain sector is showing resilience in the face of measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, says the Global Cold Chain Alliance.

In terms of operational efficiency, cold chain operators across Europe have successfully adopted new working routines, including strict protective measures for workers, the Alliance says in its latest report, State of the European Market in Spring 2020 – Resilience of Cold Chain 3PLs.

Protective measures include social distancing, thorough cleaning and disinfection procedures, quarantine for ill or suspected ill workers, home working for administrative staff, containment of truck drivers off facility buildings, split shifts and personal protective equipment. Some countries offer technical or economic unemployment schemes for workers who cannot be put at work, according to the report.

“In the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic similar trends were seen across Europe in the temperature-controlled third-party logisticsmarket, though occurring at different times in each country. In the wake of strict confinement measures announced by governments, consumers’ compulsive behaviour pressured 3PLs for faster stock turn and larger volume shipments.

“At the same time, workers’ absenteeism challenged the cold stores and refrigerated transportation companies dealing with larger volumes with a reduced workforce. Additionally, road congestion, strict border controls and imposed quarantines in the very early stages of the situation were major disrupters to the transportation of goods, especially for fresh produce with a critical shelf life,” the report says.

“Generally, across Europe, lockdown measures immediately resulted in an upsurge in retail business, stemming from erratic consumer behaviour, and substantial drop in food service. The latter has led to excess stock creating in capacity issues in cold stores dealing with food service related customers.

“Food service customers struggling may cause operational and financial challenges for cold store operators. Meanwhile, e-commerce and home deliveries have been an alternative to grocery shopping for consumers, stimulating this specific market segment.

“Consumer behaviour normalised after a few weeks translating into highs and lows in retail demand. In some countries, the consumption pattern has shifted to buying more take-away and frozen food, yet mostly “standard” products. More elaborated or luxury products have been left on the shelf.

“In parallel, the production of frozen goods (vegetables, fish, meat and others) has been going on – except in some specific segments where the production lines have been shut down. This continued production is creating additional demand for storage space which is becoming scarce.

“The low level of exports, caused in part by a shortage of reefer containers stuck in China for numerous weeks, is another component worsening the capacity situation. Fresh produce growers at their end, are suffering shortage of seasonal workers to harvest crops.

“Refrigerated transportation is facilitated by temporarily alleviated rules on driving time, driver rest requirements, traffic bans on Sundays and public holidays, as well as the set-up of Green Lanes across the European Union providing for priority border crossing lanes and procedures for essential goods at designated points.

“Today, the flow of business seems to have “normalised”, though downscaled a little, in most parts of Europe. Eastern Europe is slightly behind in the development of the pandemic and so the impacts on 3PLs may appear at different times. There is less rotation, workforce has shrunk slightly, volumes go up and down, requests for storage and shipping continue to be received. Storage rates have remained stable however transportation rates have increased, air freight rates are reported to have risen by 3-5 times previous rates. All protective measures are still in application.

“Overall cold chain logistics has proven to be a strong as essential links in the much needed food and pharmaceutical supply chain,” the report says.

Covid-19 resources for European members

GCCA Leadership is working very closely with the European Advisory Committee to identify pressing challenges of temperature-controlled 3PLs in the region through the situation around COVID-19. A dedicated portal was created on the GCCA Website including a response guide and a list of information sources.

The GCCA Response Guide is built on feedback and inquiries received from members and updated every week. The Guide, also available in Spanish and Portuguese, includes general information such as initiatives to help mitigate risk of spreading Covid-19 within facilities, how long the virus can survive in cold environments, how to help workers stay healthy, recommended protocols when a worker tests positive, communication templates and many other items. The Spanish and Portuguese versions can be downloaded on the Coronavirus website page.
The page contains resources related to infection and workforce management, operational procedures, information on food safety, inquiry submission and other guidelines. There are recordings of GCCA’s weekly Covid-19 update webinar that ddress general information as well as regional specific information – North America, Latin America, Brazil.


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