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Food and Drink

Shane Brennan

Shane Brennan is the Chief Executive of the Cold Chain Federation which is the specialist trade body for companies that transport and store temperature-controlled food, pharmaceuticals, and other products. With over 150 companies, 500 facilities and 30,000 vehicles the cold chain is a vital hidden part of the UK’s food chain.

One business success

  • In a tough year, the cold chain has kept operating uninterrupted by the uncertainties of Covid. I am so proud of everyone starting from the drivers and warehouse operatives that have shown up for work through the waves of lockdown and kept the nation fed. Also, the resilience of so many business leaders that have hung in as demand has both surged and cratered in different parts of the food supply chain. As the year closes, the pharma cold chain is stepping up to the challenge of getting the vaccine to where it is needed. Much as we wish it hadn’t been like it has, this year we have shown everyone why the cold chain matters and how much we all rely on it.

Two challenges for the sector

  • Staying viable: as the food industry seeks to reach a new equilibrium emerging out of the pandemic, we need businesses to be able to bring back capacity and re-establish supply channels, especially across the hospitality trade. This is the most dangerous time, because perversely it is easier to stop working, furlough staff and parks up vehicles than it is to start back up networks with partial loads and demand. We need a careful balance of support and business resilience to get us through.
  • Climate change: as our planet warms, we will become more and more reliant on the robust, secure cold chains to keep our food safe and bear down on waste.  However, we have to find new ways to generate and use the energy we need to keep products cold or else the carbon cost of building the cold chain infrastructure we need could outweigh the climate benefits we deliver. This means an exciting opportunity for investment and innovation that the UK can take a global lead in achieving.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • We will see a lot more cold chain infrastructure built in the UK in the next two to five years. Our recent report produced with Savills estimated that c16.7m square feet of new cold chain warehousing are currently under construction. This new more efficient, fit-for-purpose space will stand the UK in good stead to cope with the changing patterns in demand and sustainability in the years ahead.
  • Changes in how we work and use cities will be a major catalyst for change in how we organise our food supply chain.  Tougher regulations and costs for operating in urban centres, as well as increasing demand for online and home delivery, will accelerate the pace of change in how we organise our supply chain. This will have knock-on effects for everyone from retailers to wholesalers and distributors. We will look back at this period as a key one when our supply chain changed fundamentally and very fast. 
  • Brexit will be painful and set back our food industry. It will require the major reorganisation of well-established supply chains.  Most of the changes necessary will only start once we are outside the single market.  I regret that the past four years of transition will have not done much at all to prepare the industry for the changes to come. It will be a bumpy ride and we won’t know for decades for sure whether it was for the better or the worse.

December 2020