(This article was published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News18 months’ ago, but it seems even more relevant now)
Now I am back working in my home office, I have become much more conscious of the activities in the street in front of my office window. Once a week, a massive, noisy refrigerated lorry backs itself up against my house, to deliver food to the Italian restaurant three doors down from me. The lorry comes from a food wholesaler with depots the nearest of which is 300km away.
The reason the lorry parks right outside my house is that there are vehicles blocking the road outside the restaurant, caused by the building works which are converting offices into 50 student apartments. Huge trucks reverse up our 16th century street, damaging the ancient buildings, in order to deliver 50 sets of kitchen or bathroom units. I realise it is cheaper to deliver 50 bathroom units at once in a big truck, but actually the builders did not need all those units at once, as they were fitting out the apartments in phased batches.
When I heard a loud howling noise just after I woke up at around 6:45 one morning I thought it was from the building site again, but it turned out to be from an even bigger refrigerated lorry making deliveries to a chain restaurant in the square at the end of our street.
Chain restaurants have had a bad year in the UK – shutting down a third of their outlets in some cases. Many of these chains are owned by private equity firms, who saw a way to scale up a small chain of restaurants with a distinctive brand into a much bigger, national chain, and reduce costs through bulk purchasing.
The decline of these chain restaurants is partly to do with the economy, but also that the quality of food deteriorated as they expanded. The cooking had become reheating days’ old readymade ingredients.
The quality of the food and the impact on the environment could be improved by more frequent deliveries, in smaller, eco-friendly trucks. Most trucks in Europe run on diesel, and although diesel produces less CO2 than petrol, a huge concern now across Europe is the air pollution diesel causes. French and British governments are banning petrol and diesel cars (but not trucks) from 2040 as a consequence.
But this will require governments to invest much more in electric vehicle charging points and a revolution in logistics. Cities might need to set up hubs in their outskirts for consolidation of deliveries per customer into smaller electric trucks. Logistics companies will need to work with AI specialists like the British company Prowler, whose software is used in logistics to optimise decision making amongst multiple agents.
I realised Japanese companies could be part of this revolution when I saw in my neighbourhood a small electric truck (Isuzu – partly owned by Itochu) belonging to a British tyre wholesaler (owned by Itochu), quietly make a delivery to the city centre outlet of a UK-wide garage chain (also owned by Itochu).
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