As from this month, shipping operator WEC Lines is introducing a new direct service between Agadir in Morocco and the Port of Liverpool, offering a fast and green alternative for fresh produce importers to overland trucking.

It is thought to be the first such service and is aimed at taking advantage of Morocco overtaking Spain as one of the biggest suppliers of tomatoes to the UK.

Roger Megann, Managing Director of WEC Lines, said:

“There’s a gap in the market here for wholesalers and supermarkets that want a choice for how they get fresh produce to the UK, because now they’ve only one option. We’re getting strong indications that there’s a demand for an alternative that reduces carbon emission, cost, and takes virtually the same amount of time.”

The service will use WEC’s existing fleet of vessels, operating around 850 to1000 TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent unit containers). Some of these vessels are already used to ship UK refrigerated goods to tourists and ex-pat residents in the Canary Islands. They will now extend their route via Agadir before returning to the UK, with the potential for reefers to load in Spain and Portugal in addition to the dry cargoes.

Ian Cressey, Port Director at Peel Ports’ Port of Liverpool, added:

“So many of the big wholesalers and retailers have their distribution centres in the Northwest, so it makes sense to ship the produce straight here, rather than clogging up the UK and mainland Europe’s roads. Every container of fresh produce on a vessel is one more lorry avoiding unnecessary journeys, especially when you consider that many of the return trips will be empty.

To support the service, WEC is taking delivery of around 50 additional refrigerated units and is expecting to add further units to the fleet in the next phase.

Last year, Peel Ports surveyed more than 2,000 retail leaders. Three-quarters (76%) of participants stated they would opt to import goods closer to end destinations if they were given a choice on their port of entry by shipping lines, while 68% felt a better choice of ports would improve supply chain efficiencies. 

The research also found more than half of retail leaders (51%) experience delays or bottlenecks in the supply chain, with almost a fifth (19%) claiming these delays are frequent. Most retail leaders (68%) felt importing goods via the North of England would help to prevent this.

Separately, Peel Ports Group has become the first port operator to join the British Retail Consortium (BRC) with a view to strengthening its relationships with retailers.

The UK’s second largest port operator has joined the BRC as an associate member and will utilise its membership to communicate directly and engage with beneficial cargo owners (BCOs).

Peel Ports will also host a series of webinars for BRC members to provide greater insight into the pivotal role ports play in improving supply chain efficiencies and supporting decarbonisation efforts.

The port operator appointed former retail head of supply chain, Jerome Wildsmith, in the role of BCO retail sales manager earlier this year to further strengthen its relationships with importers.

Having recently surveyed more than 2,000 retail leaders, Peel Ports discovered that 77% of participants count cutting carbon emissions as one of their top strategic priorities, while almost half (46%) are looking to source manufacturers closer to home to improve sustainability efforts. 

Furthermore, the majority (79%) believe the better transportation of goods via sea into the UK is required to reduce delays, congestion and emissions in the supply chain, while 71% agree working directly with supply chain partners would lessen delays.

With this knowledge, Peel Ports is now on a mission to support retailers in making informed choices about the port of entry for their goods into the UK through a focus on reducing cost, carbon and congestion.

David Huck, Chief Operating Officer at Peel Ports Group said:

“Our partnership with BRC will play a supporting role in facilitating our plans to work closely with BCOs and shipping lines, to help make ambitious but informed changes to the UK’s cargo flows.

“Currently, 90% of deep-sea containerised cargo comes into the southern UK ports of Felixstowe, London and Southampton, yet 60% of these goods are destined for the North. This makes no sense to UK plc from either an efficiency or a sustainability perspective. 

“We’re serious about our commitment to deliver more effective sea transport and shipping routes, which we believe offer vast improvements for the retail sector. We’re confident our Northern ports hold the key to reducing costs, carbon and congestion - a triple win for the entire supply chain.”

Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at BRC, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Peel Ports in to BRC membership as the first ports operator to join as an associate. The retail sector has made a commitment to Net Zero by 2040, ten years ahead of the Government target, and transport offers a significant opportunity to reduce supply chain carbon emissions.

“Maritime shipping is used widely by retailers and they are looking for progress in carbon efficiency from both the shipping lines and the port operators. Peel Ports has already demonstrated its commitment to sustainability with significant investment and is also aligning with the 2040 ambition on the same trajectory as our sector so it is a natural fit.”

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