Covid-19 puts Poland’s logistics and transport groups to the test

Virus crisis disrupts business models of big national economic success stories.

When Poland went into lockdown to fight coronavirus, Antoni Zbytniewski’s work was transformed overnight. Amid fears of food shortages, customers flocked to supermarkets to stock up on essentials. And logistics groups, such as Mr Zbytniewski’s employer, Raben, were suddenly faced with the task of satisfying an enormous surge in demand.

“We had to handle gigantic volume growth overnight with the same resources,” says Mr Zbytniewski, a manager in Raben’s fresh foods logistics business. In some cases, he adds, demand doubled from one day to the next, before falling to about 15 per cent below pre-crisis levels in April as the panic among shoppers subsided.

“Normally we prepare for volume peaks, such as Christmas and Easter, for several months,” he says. “This was not the case with Covid-19. We had to have very intense communications with our customers about what was possible and what was not.”

It was not just wild fluctuations in demand that companies like Raben had to deal with. After Poland closed its borders on March 15 to stem the spread of the pandemic, queues of up to 40km quickly built up on its borders, as Polish citizens rushed to get home. ID and temperature checks to catch returnees who might be infected by the virus slowed traffic dramatically.

Queueing times lasted up to 18 hours, causing chaos to logistics groups’ supply chains. “We had two weeks where we had a lot of issues,” says Lukasz Lubanski, who oversees Raben’s German-Polish trade routes.

“Our network is set up so that we send hundreds of trucks a day like shuttles between different points,” he adds. If a driver is stuck in a queue for 10 hours, the whole chain is broken.”

Two months on, the chaos on Poland’s borders and roads has subsided. But the disruption to the business models of Poland’s logistics and transport companies — one of the country’s big economic success stories — remains.

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