sounds like a new healthy snack consisting of a breaded, deep-fried outer shell filled with a weirdly pink sludge made from “mechanically recovered pig meat”, but no, it’s more of a product pickle (am I allowed to mention Richmond pork sausages here? Probably not).
We as an industry are currently experiencing a rather unprecedented perfect storm of issues that all impact on the uninterrupted distribution of wine. It’s a bit like wading into the choppy Brexit sea, easy-ish at first as you paddle through the shallows then getting exponentially harder the deeper you get! Anyway, we’re definitely at the stage of frantic doggie paddling and gasping for the oxygen of fresh stock.
What's going on?
As a result of Brexit & the added pressures of Covid on supply chains (increased demand, decreased resources), we are seeing:
1- There’s not enough UK HGV drivers; there are 60,000 vacancies for HGV drivers in the UK(!). This means a real shortage of haulier options to pick up the orders in Europe. The continental hauliers have plenty of work and can avoid the unnecessary hassle and delays of delivering to the UK. Also, exports to the EU like seafood have collapsed so hauliers don’t want to send empty trucks out, and to top it all, the extra paperwork involved in importing alcohol scares off most of those intrepid enough to venture out.
2- A backlog at the bonded warehouses with clearing agents struggling with the sheer numbers of orders coming in. Delays of up to 27 days (an unenviable record for one of our suppliers) for an order already in the UK to be released from bond. It used to take 24 hours once goods were devanned (btw actual shipping term)! Interestingly, the trucks get through the ports easily enough so no photogenic queues form to put pressure on them upstairs. The shipment goes into a bonded warehouse and it is there that customs check and clear things. We could do with HMRC hiring more folk methinks.
3- Deep-Sea wise, a real lack of containers and scarcity of ships leading to erratic supply from the New World. Global demand for ships is at an all time high but up to 20% of the container fleet is “unavailable” according to a recent round-robin from Hillebrand. This might continue until new ships come into operation in 2023! I was talking to an Argentinean importer who had a container waiting for 3 weeks at the docks just for space on a ship.
Then there’s pressure on so-called dry goods like glass, paper and cardboard. The lockdown explosion in online ordering has had a massive impact on cardboard supply- we’ve had to wait 6-7 weeks for delivery of our stout courier boxes as the manufacturer couldn’t get stock (2-3 weeks lead time is usual.).
What does that mean at the Grog "coal face" (so to speak)?
We're attempting to double orders to cover the variable lead times for shipping so try to secure consistency of supply that restaurant wine lists in particular demand. Back in the good old days, we’d expect to actually receive an order 3 weeks from placing it. Now it’s 6-8 weeks but actually a total lottery with no firm ETAs at all.
Unfortunately, we expect this situation to continue until the winter at least, meaning that sporadic but frequent "out-of-stocks" (OOS) are inevitable. This affects the retail side of things less than the trade, who have to reprint wine lists, inform staff, have an extra chat to the customer at the table to explain that there’s a sub, change the till, etc. No one likes change to be honest but it will become a fact of life out on the town.
We try our level best to always have 1 or 2 or even 3 alternatives to any classic line (Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Rioja, Albarino, etc) at the same price to plug any gap.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that not having your usual Malbec for a night in front of the football is a “First World Problem” but one we try to avoid.
We just have to ask our trade punters for patience and flexibility over the coming weeks. I feel positive that the end-customer (you guys) will be more than happy to accept a similar alternative, and perhaps be more resilient to change having had the year that we all have had. I certainly hope so. Please be mindful of this when out at your local bistro and be kind, patient and thankful.
Imagine the scene….
”I don’t have this Prosecco but I have this one…”
“Is it cold, wet, fizzy and alcoholic? Same price?”
“Bring it right on”
To end on a positive note, we do have a lot of wine & beer in the warehouse so you will always have something wet and alcoholic to take home! You just might have to try something new- no bad thing perhaps!