Fresh produce suppliers will face “serious problems” if the ongoing Calais migrant crisis extends past the summer and into the main import window.
Migrant stowaways, trodden produce and cancelled orders are now a “weekly occurrence” for some importers and packers, but suppliers fear the problem will get worse with the increased volumes of imports beginning in autumn.
Senior buyer at foodservice supplier Reynolds, Matt Jones, said: “The Calais issue would be much more serious for us over winter. At the moment we are heavily dependent on the UK and Dutch supply, and Dutch produce can avoid Calais.
“Hopefully it will all be resolved before October before the main import season kicks off, otherwise we will have serious problems.”
The news comes as Prime Minister David Cameron warned that disruption is likely to continue throughout the summer, while long-term plans are seemingly already in place after the Department for Transport announced that fresh produce would be excluded from Kent traffic control measure Operation Stack.
Industry body FPC estimates that the fresh produce industry has already lost around £10 million over a six-month period from January to August as a result of stowaways and destroyed produce, but said the problem “isn’t being resolved”. “There is very much a concern in the industry that the issue will be exacerbated,” said FPC communications manager Sian Thomas. “Come the end of summer and building up to Christmas we will start to see increased volumes coming into the UK. It isn’t a problem that is being resolved.A lot of hauliers are looking to avoid Calais now, but it isn’t just a Calais problem. The issue is happening elsewhere as migrant stowaways board lorries as product is coming through mainland Europe.”
Last week FPJ reported that Dartford packer Fresh Service discovered a woman and child in a lorry delivery, while managing director Brian Porter said he has had “up to 20 per cent of orders” cancelled in one day. Diverting deliveries to other ports will take away business from the Kent region, Porter said, which would further the problem. “We’ve already lost the Belgian business as that has been diverted. There is a political game being played elsewhere, and I can’t see that it’s going away.”
Elsewhere, ferry services are reporting "huge rises" in hauliers switching to ports across the east of England, while Calais freight firms are reportedly increasing costs to compensate for loss of business.