Is climate change driving a need for greater agility in packaging supply chains?

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There are many reasons to keep your packaging supply chain agile, flexible and responsive. It’s an approach that minimises the potential for wasted stock, reduce overall costs and can respond quickly to rapidly changing marketing trends and promotions. But could climate change present an additional reason to keep your supply chain agile?

The process of linking weather events to man-made climate change is more formally known as ‘attribution studies’. Many organisations and researchers have highlighted this area of research. The Met Office, for example, explains, “There is evidence of a human contribution to changes in temperature extremes, heavy rainfall events, and an increase in extreme high sea levels in a number of regions. Attribution science is adding to this evidence all the time.”(1) Other publications highlight similar areas of concern – as Greenpeace commented “While scientists are often reluctant to put single extreme weather events down to climate change, it’s become more and more clear that new patterns – of severity, frequency and impact of extreme weather events – are emerging”(2).

If the UK’s weather is becoming harder to predict and more extreme, what consequences does this have for the fresh produce and packaging industries? Well, it was only a few weeks ago that Tesco reported purchasing an additional 400 tons of British grown strawberries, which it then sold to customers at a discounted rate. As Tesco berry buyer Laura Mitchell said “Last week’s (15th June 2021) heatwave brought the strawberries on very quickly and meant that many growers had more than they expected”(3). Strawberry grower Alastair Brooks also commented on Tesco’s surge in strawberry supply “Last year we had the best spring on record and a fantastic summer too, which gave us a great early start and regulated growth throughout the season. But this year, because of the cold and damp May, we are two to three weeks behind schedule and now because of the great weather we have an abundance of strawberries”(4).

If increasingly unpredictable weather is changing the certainty around growing and ripening timescales, as well as the success of health of crops generally, then businesses across the grocery supply chain will need to be prepared for both significant surges and reductions in produce levels. This will of course have a major knock-on effect causing issues for logistics, promotions, storage and packaging.

At Westpak, we have consistently placed a strong emphasis on agility and accuracy in stock management. In our latest customer feedback survey, 61.9% of respondents rated the speed of our service as ‘excellent’ with 28.6% rating it as ‘very good’. We also insist on only working with a carefully selected network of the most reliable suppliers and manufacturers and maintain close ties with our Kent-based warehouse and are proud to be Grade AA certified to BRC Storage & Distribution. The importance of this approach has already helped those across the grocery industry respond to various fluctuations in produce popularity as well as timing this in to key promotions and marketing initiatives. But with the potential for the UK’s weather to offer greater uncertainty around the harvesting of fresh produce, the need for flexibility may only be increased further.

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