Supermarkets could airlift more fruit and vegetables to avoid border chaos

Kumutha Ramanathan
·2-min read
Customers shop at a Sainsbury's store in London, Britain December 3, 2015. Britons will spend 20.3 billion pounds ($31 billion) on groceries over the festive period, a 1.4 percent increase on last year, industry research group IGD forecast on Wednesday. The group said its research found 19 percent of shoppers plan to spend more on food and drink over the Christmas period, defined as Nov. 20 to Dec. 26, than the previous Christmas, a trend which could be positive for the likes of market leaders Tesco and Sainsbury. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Customers shop at a Sainsbury's store in London. Photo: Neil Hall/Reuters

The airline Lufthansa Group (LHA.DE) is considering adding special cargo flights in the days ahead to cope with UK demand for fruits and vegetables from the European Union (EU) amid logjams at the French-UK border, a spokeswoman told Yahoo Finance.

Major delays for trucks have followed France’s travel ban earlier this week in an attempt to prevent the spread of a new, fast-spreading strain of COVID-19.

Lorry drivers can now cross the Channel if they have been certified as COVID-19 negative.

“We are also checking if a regular flight might be possible, she added. “This could be with a freighter, but we are also examining if we could use passenger aircraft for freight flights only.”

Lufthansa Group, which includes Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Eurowings, Brussels Airlines, is already transporting around 80 tonnes of fruits and vegetables to fill UK supermarket shelves. This is a normal December shipment of perishables to the nation, one of Lufthansa’s key transport markets for such items.

The deliveries are heading to Doncaster Sheffield Airport, a key cargo airport that has seen demand increasing for freight. Lufthansa said the delivery would help bring supplies to Tesco (TSCO.L) and Sainbury's (SBRY.L).

Watch: Lorries still stranded as backlog extends over Christmas

READ MORE: Thousands of lorries still stuck in Kent as France re-opens border

Lufthansa Group normally transports 50% of its freight in the bellies of passenger aircraft, with the remaining 50% transported with its freighters.

“Since many passenger flights were canceled during 2020 because of the corona pandemic, air freight capacity is very limited,” the Lufthansa spokeswoman said.

Frankfurt serves a a major hub for exporting food grown in European countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and France. A significant portion of fruit sold in the UK, especially out of season, comes from the EU, as well as around half its vegetables.

The UK imports a significant amount of food from the EU. Chart: UK Government
The UK imports a significant amount of food from the EU. Chart: UK Government

The testing programme for hauliers travelling between the UK and France has drawn criticism from the International Road Transport Union.

“We don't think testing will work. The backlog can't be cleared if the tests take 30 minutes per driver,” said Raluca Marian, the union's general delegate to the EU.

The British Retail Consortium has also been campaigning on behalf of the industry to reduce transport delays hitting members, saying it “raised issues across the UK government seeking effective action.”

Yahoo Finance UK has reached out to Tesco (TSCO.L) and Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) for comment.

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