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Australia Supermarkets ready north Queensland supply chains ahead of La Niña storm season

23:50  20 october  2020
23:50  20 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Linfox warehouse manager Michael Power with some of the 800 pallets of goods heading to Townsville and Cairns. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach) © Provided by ABC Health Linfox warehouse manager Michael Power with some of the 800 pallets of goods heading to Townsville and Cairns. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)

As Queensland prepares for a substantial wet season, major retailers say they are stocking up warehouses in the state's north to guarantee food security in the flood-prone region.

After decades of delays trucking food north during wet seasons, supermarkets are filling northern warehouses ahead of a predicted wet spring and summer.

The Bureau of Meteorology's latest severe weather outlook forecasts an average to slightly above average number of cyclones and a likelihood of flooding due to La Niña conditions.

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Woolworths has doubled the size of its Townsville Regional Distribution Centre, which services 39 supermarkets from Sarina to Weipa on Cape York Peninsula.

Chief supply chain officer Paul Graham said the $12 million expansion would improve resilience in centres that could become isolated if the Bruce Highway was cut by floodwaters.

"When disaster strikes we will actually have a lot more stock locally — both in the Townsville area and that north Queensland customer base," Mr Graham said.

"We will have more availability of toilet rolls."

Better prepared after 2019 floods

Linfox, which transports and stores goods for retailers including Coles, is in the process of stocking its Townsville and Cairns warehouses with an additional 800 pallets of goods ahead of storm season.

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Queensland intermodal general manager Aaron Carter said the business was implementing lessons learned during the , when hundreds of refrigerated semis were lined up on the inland highway for days waiting for floodwaters to subside so they could get supplies to Townsville.

"We feel better prepared again having operated through the very challenging conditions … in 2019," Mr Carter said.

"We were very pleased with how the supply chain performed in terms of using a mix of road and rail transport and adapting that as certain sections of the Queensland Rail line became available."

The company's focus this year was to use two-way loading on its transport systems so fresh produce and manufactured goods from northern Queensland could make it to southern markets on the same transport systems used to bring supplies north.

"So that those growers and businesses can continue to operate and hit their southern markets despite the supply chain being cut," Mr Carter said.

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Coles said it was well prepared for the conditions during the current La Niña and had comprehensive contingency plans in place.

"We consider this planning part of our core operating model," a spokeswoman said.

"Every year, like many Australians, we actively prepare for flood and fire seasons.

"Customers will see increased stock on the shop floor when weather events like floods or fires are forecast."

The 2010–2011 La Niña event in Queensland brought widespread flooding that claimed 33 lives.

The Queensland Flood Commission of Inquiry report found 78 per cent of the state was declared a disaster zone with 97 communities flooded or isolated.

Protecting food deliveries from coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic created challenges for Linfox — unusual spikes and lulls in demand have required the transport company to be responsive to changes.

Mr Carter said a lot of work had been put into protecting their operations from the virus, so the goods they delivered were not an infection risk.

"Implementing protocols so that we can ensure that coronavirus didn't find its way into our supply chain," he said.

Mr Carter said preparation and planning were the key to operating during storm season and the company constantly monitored weather as part of that planning.

"We can see risks of these events occurring before they happen, so that gives us an ability to be ahead of the game as opposed to reacting once those events unfold," he said.

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