Anyone who uses the roads during normal daylight hours knows only too well the delays and frustrations caused by the overload of traffic in many areas. While a missed appointment can be re-scheduled, a missed delivery costs serious money for all involved with that particular load retailer, supplier and logistics firm alike.
In 2005, The Freight Transport Association and the Rail Freight Consortium raised with government the problems associated with the general ban on deliveries taking place between 11pm and 7am. This long-standing local authority guideline was designed to reduce noise levels for nearby residents. However, the movement of some retailing to out-of-town shopping centres and the growing road congestion during the day have led people to question this.
Recent evidence has emerged to show that blanket curfews are increasingly inappropriate. A survey of members of the British Retail Consortium, who run more than 7,000 outlets, identified for the first time the true cost of delivery restrictions. About 60% of the outlets are subject to a ban on delivering at specific times, with high street stores relying on kerbside deliveries the hardest-hit. A simple relaxation of one to two hours would save them some £30m a year.

The chilled goods challenge
Relaxing night-time curfews in certain areas would help distribution companies deal with delays and congestion during the day. But delivering dry goods is one thing; chilled and frozen products are another. Most delivery points other than the larger supermarkets do not have sufficient temperature-controlled storage to cope with goods being left for several hours prior to being placed in the display cabinets, and often staff are not available to deal with the need for quick unloading and storing of temperature-sensitive products.
Some bakers have turned to portable insulated containers for easy handling of refrigerated products. Chilled or frozen products are dropped off out-of-hours when the retail outlet is closed to the public, in "mini" cold stores; the shop staff then unload them when they come in for their normal daytime hours.
Some retailers with enclosed outside areas arrange for containers to be left outside; others have them put in a holding area at the back of the store. As the containers are on casters, they can be handled easily by one person and, as baking often takes place during the night, the products can be distributed to the retail shops long before the staff come to work. This can also save on refrigerated storage at the retail unit, which reduces energy and running costs.
Birds of Derby, with 49 shops, uses Olivo insulated portable containers to deliver its temperature-sensitive bakery products, without the need for expensive refrigerated vehicles. Birds has a large quantity of containers with moulded interiors to take the 28" x 18" bakery trays. Products are loaded in the bakery’s chilled assembly area at 5C for meat products and 4C for cream cakes. The products are blast-chilled before despatch and the quality of the insulation is such that the temperature is maintained to within 1C throughout the delivery cycle.
Drivers can drop them off at 4am without having to load up refrigeration units in the shop, and the delivery process is speeded up. Senior driver Keith Holt commented: "The shop managers always know the cakes and pastries will arrive at exactly the right temperature. Also, I don’t have to fiddle about with a refrigeration unit on the wagon."

Reduced road time
There are other benefits to delivering at night, such as reducing road time. "We’re very much about increasing utilisation of the vehicles and servicing delivery points overnight where we can," says Dan Myers, business unit director of chilled/frozen food distributor Norbert Dentressangle Logistics UK, which recently won contracts with Speedibake and Lantmännen Unibake. "There are significant savings to make as we reduce the number of vehicles we need; driver hours are lower overnight and fuel efficiency is much better because of free-flowing traffic; plus there is typically a higher service level, because drivers are less likely to run out of time due to congestion.
"Wherever you’re reducing your energy utilisation, there’s a cost saving to be realised," he adds.
With the need to reduce carbon along the food chain, councils may now be more convinced to relax these regulations, as they have done in councils such as Westminster in London. A great example is Selfridges, which has its products centrally stored in the Midlands and distributed by DHL. It already has dispensation for night deliveries because of local daytime traffic problems and this shows how the system can work to everyone’s benefit.