News Articles

Waterways ‘new’ supply line for Dutch supermarkets

Testing by brewers, Unilever, Coca Cola, Ahold and others to start next year

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

THE HAGUE - A newly-formed consortium of supermarket operators, food companies and financial groups will begin testing a 21st century version of a time-honoured supply system in the Netherlands. The inland barging of goods for the country’s supermarkets and grocery stores could become the thing of the future - as it was in the past - in the ‘new’ design of the Distrivaart organization.

Testing the system could start early next year when brewers Bavaria, Grolsch and Heineken, supermarket operators Ahold and Laurus and food and consumer goods giants Unilever, Coca Cola and Kimberly Clark will begin supplying by barges some distribution centres.

The new group Distrivaart was formed by the lobbying group Nederland Distributieland. If the test is successful, the consortium is set to invest hundreds of millions of euros into the construction of eleven terminals and the acquisition of 30 to 35 new ships. Barging could account for 3 percent of all shipping to supermarkets, an estimated 9 million pallets of goods a year. Most distribution centres already are at or near to waterways.

Cost and polution reduction

According to recent technical research into inland barging, such transport could result in a 20 percent re-duction of transportation costs. As well, barging could help reduce highway congestion and polution.

For centuries, the inland waterways of the country - and the canals in towns and villages - were the ‘road’ of choice for supplyers. Barges took produce, fuel, grain, and building materials from the hinterland to the cities and often right to the (canalside) backdoor of stores and homes. In the days prior to the arrival of the steam engine-driven train, barges also served as passenger transport.

The good old days

These days, barging by and large is limited to large-scale fuel and bulk goods and container transportation of the main rivers and canals. But congestion of highways and city streets has led a number or transport companies to search for ‘better’ ways, often reverting to ‘old standards.’

Shipper Van Gend & Loos reintroduced the horse-and-buggy city core delivery system. Others have introduced smaller vans and other easier ways to navigate. Perhaps the bakfiets and the transportfiets modes, seen on Dutch streets as late as the 1960s, are not far behind.