As the new year begins, with a mixture of positivity, trepidation and determination we look to the challenges and opportunities for cold storage and temperature-controlled distribution in the year ahead.

Shane Brennan
Chief Executive, Cold Chain Federation

After the crises and concerns of the past two years, it is clear that UK politicians and consumers alike have a far greater appreciation now of the importance of a safe, efficient and resilient cold chain both for food and for pharmaceuticals. Important national conversations have begun about supply chain resilience, what is achievable, cost implications, and the connection between resilience and decarbonisation.

2022 is the year when we as an industry must channel these conversations into the reshaping of the food supply chain for post-Brexit, post-pandemic UK. Longer term contractual commitments, greater sharing of inflationary costs and more transparency on all sides will become the norm as the cold chain and our customers alike prioritise assurance and resilience.

We must also channel these conversations into practical action to recruit more young people into our warehouses and into driving, not just to navigate the immediate labour shortage but for the years and decades to come. While this will mean change, new approaches and new investment from our own industry, the Cold Chain Federation will continue making the case for Government support in conjunction with our industry’s own investment too.

But alongside these important opportunities, the cold chain is preparing for major challenges this year too. At time of writing, cold chain operators are preparing as far as possible for the customs changes on 1st January for goods coming into the UK from the EU. While we expect disruption, the level of interruption and delay is something of an unknown quantity until we see how the different authorities involved apply the new arrangements in practice.

Current energy cost pressures are posing serious concern for many cold storage warehouses, and there is little clarity on whether these pressures can be expected to ease over the coming months. Temperature-controlled distribution operators have their own cost challenge looming, when the red diesel exemption for Transport Refrigeration Units changes in April 2022 we predict a cost to the industry in the region of £100m.

As ever, as well as supporting members through the events of 2022 the Cold Chain Federation will be acting for the industry’s longer-term interests too. The crises of the past two years have given us a preview of the challenges we can expect over coming decades. With extreme weather, flooding, drought, food shortages and population dislocation driven by climate change, we can expect more times of crisis and Government interventions in future years. At the same time, every industry in our economy will need to meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations as the UK aims for a Net Zero Economy by 2050. As the cold chain comes together in 2022 to share experiences and reflect on the past two years, we will also be working together to ensure our industry can grow, evolve and remain resilient in the face of the challenges still to come.

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