Close Menu

How the drinks logistics industry has fared during Covid-19

While Covid-19 lockdowns have caused delays at border crossings, Chris Porter of Kukla Beverage Logistics explains that services have continued, while his company has actually picked up business in the last few months.

Porter, the former CEO of The Drinks Trust, previously headed up the Porter & Lake division of logistics specialist JF Hillebrand.

Having joined Kukla at the end of last year, he told the drinks business that the company’s attitude and ability to deal with problems when they arise has carried it through the crisis.

The UK division of German-owned Kukla was established in 2017, and now employs 12 members of staff. The beverage division ships all drinks, though primarily wine, and operates in all main wine-producing regions, specialising in in-bound freight: that is transporting beverages from the source to the UK.

Working mostly with independents “of various sizes”, Porter said the company picked up its first supermarket tender at the end of last year. Moreover, in the last few months as the health crisis has raged, it has picked up “three fairly significant accounts”.

Porter told db that immediately after lockdown there was a “significant impact with delays at border crossings”. However, he said the situation had now improved as the company had become more aware of the time needed to allow lorries and vehicles to make their journeys.

He added that the use of so-called multi-modal services has helped. This involves shipping containers by rail or by sea from a port or rail terminal in the country of source. The container is then picked up in the UK and delivered. This avoids the need for drivers to leave their home countries and cross multiple borders.

Porter said that in his experience, the industry had been fast to respond to what was required. He said the situation was aided in the UK owing to the fact lockdown was implemented later, meaning that Kukla had been able to initiate “thorough” preparations before the call came.

“The only thing that was a difficult for us was the unpredictability about what the government might say, and the directive that we might get,” Porter said.

Asked whether average shipping times had altered, Porter said they had “barely changed”.

He added: “We have good fluidity, and I’m not just saying that. Bear in mind that, apart from the border crossings themselves, there’s less traffic on the roads now. Plus we have access to supply chain technology and it’s easy to pick up where the blockades might be, or where any delays might be coming.”

He did, however, note that it was more difficult with groupage, or smaller quantities of shipped goods (between one and 16 pallets).

He also said that ‘deep sea’ shipping, in other words shipping from countries including New Zealand, Australia and Chile, was subject to delay. Many of the ports in these countries are operating skeleton staff owing to social distancing, meaning that all loadings at warehouses and delivery slots must be pre-booked and the times “very strictly adhered to”.

“They’re all pre-booked anyway…but staff numbers are generally less, so capability is slightly reduced,” Porter said.

He said that despite the strict lockdowns in Europe, Kukla has continued to operate. Special measures have been implemented in warehouses. All staff practice social distancing, while incoming drivers wait in their cab until their stock has been loaded.

Most paperwork is done electronically, while the only physical document that is handed over is placed on the last pallet loaded into the lorry, so that when the doors are opened “the paperwork is staring at the receiver and the receiving warehouse”.

Kukla does not own its own equipment, and instead works with a series of trusted partners in the container freight, shipping, trailer and lorry industries. Just as many UK merchants have commented that having multiple courier partners has helped them to fulfil orders, Porter said Kukla’s flexibility had “definitely helped”.

“Having good valued partnerships with our suppliers is essential,” he said. “We have very tight relationships with all of them. We work well together with them, and they understand what we want. I think it’s important to understand what our customers want. And in turn what our customer’s customer – the end user – also needs. I don’t think there are many people that truly appreciate the importance of the supply chain from start to finish.”

Learning lessons

Porter said that despite “anxiety” at the start, Kukla has succeeded in working remotely.

“It has proved to us that in this lockdown period we don’t need to be in the office.There was a concern at the beginning that co-operation and that day-to-day chat over the working desk would be lost, but it doesn’t seem to have been affected it at all.”

Porter added that company’s “personalised” approach has come into its own, and customers are alerted to any issues quickly.

“Nobody likes it when things went wrong, but we have a team of people who are determined to put things right when they do. We won’t just walk away from it,” he said.

He said that the lockdown period had given the company the chance to review its operations, “look at what is required, and how best it should be conveyed to the customer”.

He added: “In a way we’ve gone backwards by 20 years, but in a good way. We have all the technology to do wonderful reporting, there are some great technologies available to us to do this and to send to customers every day, every week, every month.”

But Porter said that there was still “no substitute for picking up the phone or having a meeting” to immediately alert a customer to any issues and explain was being done to address them.

“I think as people are isolated, they have a bit of extra headspace. Your thoughts tend to be more expansive in the lockdown. If anything, it has forced us even closer together as a community, not just on our doorsteps when we’re clapping, but also the commercial community providing a service together that can be applauded,” he concluded. 

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No