We Cry and Scream for Dry Ice Cream
Staff contributor: Heather Rushworth
The necessity for immediate accessibility in our ultra-convenient world is a testament to our cultural impatience: people simply do not want to wait, especially for things they love. This impulse for speed manifests itself in some wonky methods for supply chain delivery, that when approached with a discerning eye, do not seem all that safe, nor sane.
Nowhere does this need for speed manifest itself quite as absurdly as in the ice-cream world. The evolution of ice-cream as a simple – though difficultly obtained – holistic treat into a conglomeration of hazardous chemicals often packed with carbon dioxide, or liquid nitrogen illuminates our culture’s lazy and hasty approach to product acquisition. Science hijacked our good old fashioned ice cream, and replaced it with something better referred to as sci-fi weirdo cream.
Ice cream in its true form first appeared in 18th-century England – prior to the invention of refrigerators. Those who fancied a cold cone of ice-cream had to brave the elements, chip out ice from lakes and ponds, and store them in holes in the ground to preserve their frigid consistency.
Accruing the ice was not where the laborious tasks ended: ice cream makers then had to slowly stir the mixture while it cooled to avoid chips of ice in the final product. Historical eaters celebrated ice cream as an absolute treat, something so ridiculously complicated to obtain that consuming it made them feel like royalty. Like saffron must have tasted to an ancient king, ice cream made the average consumer feel powerful. After all, they had done the impossible: they had made cream cold.
However, the modern market does not buy into the idea that luxuries should be earned through painstaking processes. Today’s supply chain mangers often pack ice-cream with the street chemical, “dry ice,” -- scientific name: frozen CO2. Sure, dry ice sounds harmless enough, neither the word dry nor ice strikes fear in the heart of the hearer, but like an iceberg, whose dangerous mass is hidden under the surface of water, a far more dangerous truth looms under CO2’s gentle veneer.
CO2 is known to the rest of the world -- or at least Dermatologists -- as a chemical so viciously strong that it can burn warts off of skin on immediate contact. It is also known as the poisonous chemical we reject from our bodies during the breathing process. More so, Dry Ice has scared the masses in county fair haunted houses and stage productions as a theatrical representation of fog. What is this terrifying chemical doing next to our childhood treat?
While on the whole, CO2 is not lethal, it exhibits dangerous tendencies when made into its ice form. Firstly, a block of dry ice is so cold you have to wear winter gloves and safety goggles while handling it as to avoid frostbite. It does not matter if you are in Tampa Bay, Florida, exposure to dry ice can kill skin upon contact. Also, when mixed with the overly delicious, easily gulpable nature of ice-cream, dry ice chunks can be swallowed inadvertently resulting in frost bite on your esophagus.
Even worse, dry ice does not melt; it vaporizes, quickly filling the air with a thick fog of carbon dioxide, which can lead to asphyxiation. Several cases of people transporting ice cream packed with dry ice in their car’s backseat resulted in mild to severe asphyxiation – so bad that some drivers passed out at the wheel.
Nobody passed out at the wheel from old timey ice cream...partly because they did not have cars yet. However, this cultural demand for complicated, high-tech supply chain delivery measures should be evaluated. Maybe we should leave dry ice to our weirdo neighbor's haunted house, and leave keep our ice cream recipes simple: Ice. Cream. Period.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector