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The 2024 forecast for the international fresh produce supply network

Headshot of John Giles of Promar International.

Towards the start of a new year, it is quite common to look back at what has happened in the last 12 months before looking forward at what might still be to come.  

Sometimes the longer you look back, the clearer the future can seem. Several issues seem set to dominate the produce agenda in 2024.

Digital Horticulture

One thing is obvious: there’s an acceleration of the trend towards precision based production of fruit and vegetable crops around the world. This approach is enabling production to become more sophisticated, controlled, and exact and is now almost impossible to avoid. This is altering the way things are produced and processed.

Supply chains are becoming more sophisticated. In fact, they’re not really “chains” anymore. They are now increasingly “networks”: complex systems of input suppliers, advisers, farmers, processors, 3rd party logistics, distributors, and retailers. All those involved are being increasingly bound together by increasing digital connectivity.

Handled wisely, this will lead to a range of better business outcomes, more precise technical farm production, support being given to customers and a greater degree of business competitiveness. This will also include being in a better position to achieve the sustainability goals that we must achieve.

These developments are nearly always driven by defined customer needs – not least from major UK and international retailers. Investments in data, digitalisation, and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems will help in priority setting, benchmarking, retaining and winning new customers, implementation of internal projects and supply chain developments.

Maybe Increased Import Opportunities?

United Kingdom growers have been struggling with issues such as the high costs of labour and its overall availability as well as rocketing costs of both energy and fertilisers, not least because of the situation in the Ukraine and now the Middle East too.

One way that UK producers are looking to control spiralling costs of production might be to reduce the overall level of this by as much as 5-10 percent if industry reports are to be believed. UK producers have become over the last 12-24 months – and are likely to remain – very risk adverse due to the huge uncertainty they are currently faced with.

Being more dependent on imports is probably less desirable, at a time when post BREXIT – it was hoped that the UK would/should be increasing levels of self sufficiency. At the same time, it will create export opportunities for on the ball growers and shippers around the world and this includes the U.S.

But More Trade Friction?

The UK has often imported additional supplies from the likes of the US, Spain, and Holland, but also increasingly so from lower cost sources of supply, such as North Africa and Eastern Europe, as well as the Southern Hemisphere. In the past, securing imported produce has not been a major problem to meet an AYR supply of products to the UK. For several reasons, this is now far less the case.

As widely reported at the end of August, the UK government’s final post Brexit Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) for products coming from the EU has finally been announced. The first stage of the UK’s new border model, originally set for October, was delayed until January 2024, but with physical checks and other requirements coming in throughout the year.

This decision will prevent additional border costs of an estimated £250 million per year being incurred by the horticultural sector. It is also expected that a similar arrangement will also be announced soon for fresh produce from other non-EU suppliers.

This comes as a huge relief to UK importers who bring in an estimated £12 billion of fruits and vegetables per annum, not just from the EU, but also a wide range of other countries, including North America.

The U.S. could be caught in the middle of what is still a roll over issue from the decision to leave the EU a few years back. This is important though, as research carried out shows that the added transaction costs incurred because of this could be as high as 8 percent. The issue of trade friction might well re surface again in the spring of 2024, if new border controls are implemented.

What is for sure though is one thing.  If we thought 2023 was an unpredictable year in the UK, 2024 promises to be no less the case and issues around the development of digital supply networks and the issue of logistics and border controls, will all be at the forefront of this.


John Giles is a Divisional Director with Promar International, the agri food consulting arm of Genus plc. He has worked on fresh and processed produce assignment all around the UK and in some 60 other countries across the world, including the US. He is a Liveryman with the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Reading.