ECS is responsible for providing goods to 80% of UK retail
The transport of goods to and from the United Kingdom has changed considerably due to the impact of Brexit. Both logistically and administratively, the European and British measures create new challenges. Despite difficult circumstances, ECS, the market leader in supply chain logistics and intermodal transport, has increased its market coverage in UK retail to 80% in the first half of 2021. Meanwhile, the key logistics figure warns that the real effects of Brexit will only be felt from January 1st 2022.
Since Brexit, Zeebrugge has become the logistics gateway to Great Britain, with ECS as the main logistics player. No less than 90% of the total volume of the business units supply chain travels across the Channel. Moreover, during the full Brexit transition period, ECS managed to grow to a market coverage of 80% of the total British retail sector, thanks to contractual partnerships with the seven main supermarkets: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Co-op, Lidl and, more recently, Aldi.
One-stop shop for the United Kingdom
“By working with major UK retailers and having such a large market share, we start to become a one-stop shop for many manufacturers,” says Hugo Donche, supply chain & development director at ECS. “Producers find us as a logistics solution for all UK retailers. That is how we became the food store for the UK.”
“European producers stock their goods with us, after which British retailers can order those products from us. We collect the orders and deliver them to the British distribution centres in a timely manner. This provides enormous flexibility for the retailer, who also needs less warehouse space to keep stocks,” Donche emphasises. “Since January 1st of this year, there has been an additional hurdle with Brexit. ECS takes care of all the customs declarations and certificates, which completely unburdens retailers.”
Currently, ECS has 195,000 square metres of warehouse space dedicated to the British retail sector, accounting for 220,000 pallets in the ECS network and three million pallets transported annually. Hugo Donche does however notice a change in the import and export behaviour of the British. “The figures for both imports and exports are 10% lower than last year and it remains to be seen whether these figures will normalise. Many Brexit rules are currently not yet applicable in Great Britain, as they are working with a phased exit. At the end of this year, they will enter phases 2 and 3. We will therefore only feel the real impact of Brexit after January 1st 2022.”
In order to compete with other logistics players, ECS puts maximum effort on its intermodal network. Road transport is avoided as much as possible, which benefits both the environment and the punctuality of deliveries. “We avoid the classic bottleneck between Dover and London and instead deliver to port terminals that are as close as possible to the final destination,” explains Donche. “We ship our cargoes unaccompanied, which allows us to use British drivers upon arrival in the UK. Not only does this avoid problems with the language and driving on the left, it also allows drivers to make several deliveries a day as they only have to travel a distance of around ten kilometres between the terminal and the distribution centre.”
“An additional advantage is that by shipping unaccompanied, we avoid COVID-19 testing of drivers. In this way we did not suffer the delays from the strict testing measures last year, whereas drivers who travelled from Dover to Calais had to queue up to five days. Moreover, the port of Zeebrugge is rarely affected by unannounced strikes, which makes us very reliable.”
This reliability makes it possible for ECS to deliver stockless. “This means that the retailer’s own depot does not keep any stock and fully distributes the delivery we make to the shops within 24 hours. It is crucial that we deliver on time, otherwise the shops will not receive their products. What is unique to ECS is that we combine light and heavy loads in the same cargo. We do this by making optimal use of the dimensions and weights of the products in trailers that are higher than normal. This ensures that the average cost price can be up to 12% cheaper, which makes our delivery method very attractive from a commercial point of view.”
By maximising the use of maritime transport and optimising loads, ECS will also tackle the future logistical challenges posed by Brexit in an environmentally friendly, reliable and sustainable manner.