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Preparing for the worst: Britons stockpile food in case Brexit causes shortages

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With canned vegetables, tuna, beans, pasta and sauces, Jo Elgarf’s cupboards are packed. There’s no room left.

“It’s just my insurance policy in case everything goes wrong,” she said in her home in suburban London.

Elgarf has been buying extra groceries since last June, fearing Britain will leave the European Union in a disorderly fashion, without a divorce deal.

“I think we may have shortages,” she said. “Every time I feel a bit stressed, I’ll add something extra.”

She’s part of a Facebook group called “48% Preppers,” referring to the proportion of Britons who voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. The group has more than 3,400 members and says it’s not open exclusively to EU supporters.

Its description states “we make the assumption that Brexit will be bad, possibly even disastrous for the U.K.”

‘It’s a completely crazy situation’

British MPs are widely expected to reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU departure agreement in a vote on Tuesday. A defeat would increase the odds of Britain crashing out with no deal, raising the spectre of customs checks, import delays and tariffs imposed as early as March 29.

Britain imports about half of its food, so potential delays at the border are leading some residents and companies to expect shortages. A growing number of them are stockpiling goods and medication as a precaution, and the government is taking steps to prevent supplies from running out.

A mother of three, Elgarf especially worries about her four-year-old daughter Nora, who has cerebral palsy. Nora takes medication produced in Belgium and France. The drugs are so tightly controlled in Britain that the family can’t stock up, Elgarf said.

“I’m sitting here thinking, ‘Will I be able to get medicines in two months’ time?’ ” Elgarf wondered, pointing out she lives in the world’s fifth-largest economy. “It’s a completely crazy situation.”

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Jo Elgarf worries about potential import delays affecting medication needed for her daughter Nora, 4. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Seventy-three per cent of Britain’s imported pharmaceuticals come from the EU. England’s National Health Service, however, can’t guarantee the flow across the English Channel will continue unhindered in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“In the short term, there could be delays in importing medicines due to new border arrangements,” the organization warned.

Last year, the British government asked drugmakers to stockpile an additional six weeks’ worth of products in case of Brexit-induced supply disruptions.

Storage space running out

Other industries, too, are ramping up stock. Supermarket chains have announced plans to increase non-perishable food reserves. And one of the world’s largest food makers, Nestle, said it had boosted supplies in Britain.

The management at Italian eatery Buongiorno e Buonasera in London’s West End is even stockpiling pizza ingredients. The establishment offers an authentic experience by employing Italian staff and importing Italian ingredients for its four locations in England.

Yon Moyal works in the kitchen of a London location of Italian eatery chain Buongiorno e Buonasera, which has started stockpiling pizza ingredients imported from Italy. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

But general manager Raffaella Baruzzo fears Brexit could undermine its business model altogether. She says 30 per cent of staff have left for Italy since November.

“We have to get organized in terms of the worst, not knowing what the worst is,” Baruzzo said.

Industries have ramped up stockpiling to the point where Britain is running out of warehouse space, particularly for chilled and frozen goods.

Pallets of foreign yogurts, Parmesan cheese, sausages and other products line the shelves at Oakland International’s 8,550-square-metre, temperature-controlled depot in Corby, east of Birmingham. The food is destined for supermarkets across Britain and Ireland.

Oakland International does not intend to start stockpiling extra food at its Corby depot until mid-March, two weeks before Britain leaves the EU. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

The storage and logistics company isn’t stockpiling yet, but does plan to squeeze in more products by mid-March.

“We’re saying, if you can, stock an additional two weeks of stock, but ‘piling’ is maybe a bit sensational,” commercial director Robert Hardy said.

Brexit business boom

The Corby depot is undergoing of a £2.8-million ($4.7-million Cdn) expansion. Oakland International had already planned to build a larger space for frozen products but “because of the inquiries we received — because of Brexit — that plan became basically quadrupled,” Hardy told CBC News.

Other businesses, too, are banking on Brexit as a money-maker.

From his home workspace on the outskirts of Leeds, James Blake assembles and sells “Brexit boxes.” The kits are filled with supplies more often needed in natural disaster situations, but his website describes the product as “Brexit stockpiling made easy.”

James Blake packs and sells emergency food kits. He created a Brexit box with cans of freeze-dried meals and other supplies. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

Each box includes a water filter, fire starter and cans of freeze-dried food, such as sweet and sour chicken and macaroni and cheese.

“People are buying the Brexit box because they’re wanting to be prepared just in case there’s an emergency scenario,” Blake said.

The basic kit costs £295 ($500 Cdn). Blake estimates he has sold 500 to 600 of them in recent weeks.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen yet,” Blake said.

The food in the box is intended to have a shelf life of up to 25 years, in case Brexit doesn’t turn out to be the disaster that some fear.

With files from Reuters

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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