UK

Co-op boss warns food shortages are ‘worst he has ever seen’

A retail boss has warned current food shortages are some of the worst he has ever seen while others blamed the shortfall of 90,000 lorry drivers on post-Brexit migration and the pandemic. 

Steve Murrells, Co-operative Group chief executive, told The Times the shortages were ‘at a worse level than at any time I have seen’ and revealed the company had reduced several ranges on offer in stores as a result of post-Brexit migration rules and coronavirus

Instead, the company is now retraining members of staff to drive lorries to help deal with the loss of drivers in the industry – with around 14,000 European drivers leaving the UK last year and only 600 returning.  

The impact of supply chain shortages is already being felt on the ground, with McDonald’s running out of milkshakes and bottled drinks this week, while Nando’s and KFC have reported a shortage of chicken.

Retail bosses yesterday warned the industry faces a shortfall of 90,000 lorry drivers as a perfect storm of Covid and Brexit strangles supply chains and threatens a shortage of popular gifts and staple foods.

Steve Murrells, Co-operative Group chief executive, told The Times the shortages were ‘at a worse level than at any time I have seen’ as other retail bosses warn of a huge shortfall. Picture: Empty shelves in Co-op in July

Retail bosses yesterday warned the industry faces a shortfall of 90,000 lorry drivers as a perfect storm of Covid and Brexit strangles supply chains. Picture: Stock

Retail bosses yesterday warned the industry faces a shortfall of 90,000 lorry drivers as a perfect storm of Covid and Brexit strangles supply chains. Picture: Stock

Britons are now being warned to buy Christmas presents early, as issues with shipping from Asia means shoppers may soon be offered a smaller range of products, with demand for best-selling items like Playstation 5s and Barbies threatening to outstrip supply.

Meanwhile, a dearth of workers in the UK means meat processors are already six weeks behind with their preparations – which typically start in July – raising the spectre of labour-intensive items like pigs in blankets not being ready in time.

Some producers are responding by cutting the number of animals they rear for the festive period, with the supply of turkeys set to be 20percent lower than last year, according to the British Poultry Association. 

It is believed the shortage is partially as a result of many butchers leaving the UK or turning to driving lorries due to a surge in the popularity of online shopping.  

As the crisis worsens, the boss of the British Retail Consortium has called for the Government to act to help solve the shortage of drivers.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: ‘The UK faces a shortfall of 90,000 HGV drivers and it is consumers who will ultimately suffer for this.

‘So far, disruption has been minimal thanks to the incredible work by retailers and their suppliers.

‘Retailers are increasing pay rates, offering bonuses and introducing new driver training schemes, as well as directly supporting their suppliers in the movement of goods, but Government will need to play its part.

‘We are calling on the Government to rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, provide temporary visas for EU drivers, and to make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded.’ 

Co-op's chief executive Stevel Murrells (pictured) revealed the company is now retraining members of staff to drive lorries to help deal with the loss of drivers in the industry

Co-op’s chief executive Stevel Murrells (pictured) revealed the company is now retraining members of staff to drive lorries to help deal with the loss of drivers in the industry

The impact of supply chain shortages is already being felt on the ground, with McDonald's running out of milkshakes and bottled drinks this week. Picture: Stock

The impact of supply chain shortages is already being felt on the ground, with McDonald’s running out of milkshakes and bottled drinks this week. Picture: Stock

There have also been some issues with the availability of potatoes, according to catering firm Lynx Purchasing, which said this had been driven by floods in producing countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors is being partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications.

But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers. US Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday urged Americans to buy Christmas toys early due to a shortage there.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said a labour shortage meant the industry was already ‘well behind’ on getting ready for Christmas.

He told MailOnline: ‘You’d normally start to prepare pigs in blankets and gammons at the beginning of July and they’d go into the freezer and come out at Christmas time, but we’re six weeks behind and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.

‘The shelves aren’t going to be empty but it’s hard to see how there won’t be shortages of these things and the choice will get less.’

The supply of popular Christmas products is likely to be hit by domestic labour shortages and issues with global shipping 

Britain has so far been unable to shake its dependency on EU workers who have been leaving due to the pandemic, Mr Allen explained, while the supply of new workers is being held back by stricter visa rules introduced on January 1.

‘Covid is one of the reasons why people are going home and not going back again but it fundamentally down to our post-Brexit immigration policy,’ he said.

‘I try to avoid blaming Brexit – our politicians gave us an immigration policy and it was their choice. With a million job vacancies in the country its night on impossible to fulfil all our needs.’

The most common complaint among UK retailers and food producers is the shortage of lorry drivers, which the Road Haulage Association currently puts at 100,000.

Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit or to be back with their families during Covid.

Dixons Carphone is attempting to fill 180 driver vacancies by offering applicants a £1,500 signing-on bonus and a £1,500 retention bonus, while salaries have been boosted by at least 9%, The Sunday Times reported.

Meanwhile Amazon is reportedly offering £1,000 joining bonuses to new employees to work in warehouses in Coventry, Darlington, Dartford, Redditch and Swansea.

The supply of turkeys set to be 20percent lower than last year, according to predictions from the British Poultry Association

The supply of turkeys set to be 20percent lower than last year, according to predictions from the British Poultry Association

Importers are also suffering a financial hit, with dramatically rising transport costs caused by a global lack of shipping containers and a slowdown in freight movements resulting from port closures.

Chinese authorities recently shut Ningbo-Zhoushan port, which is one of the world’s largest container terminals, due to a Covid outbreak.

Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of toy chain the Entertainer, said the cost of shipping a container from Asia had increased from $1,700 to more than $13,000 (£8,000) over the past year.

‘The cost of containers – as well as a shortage of them – is proving very difficult across many industries, not just ours,’ he told MailOnline.

‘What is unique to us is that Christmas is a fixed date, so we are under extreme pressure at the moment to move as much stock as we can but are significantly behind with the shipment of products.

‘There’s not a shortage of toys, but what will happen as when we get nearer to Christmas the suppliers will not have to back-up stock that we’ve previously relied upon. So the range of stock we have may be narrower.’

Mr Grant said the products most likely to be impacted were the ones already selling well, including Paw Patrol, Barbie and Rainbocorns.

‘Shoppers need to buy early. I’m a retailer, so sceptics would say that I’m going to tell people to do that,’ he said.

‘I’m not encouraging people to go and panic buy. But there is going to be shortage of certain goods, so the way to get around that is to buy early.’

McDonald's became the latest restaurant chain in the UK to be hit by supply shortages yesterday with no milkshakes or bottled drinks available in any of its outlets

McDonald’s became the latest restaurant chain in the UK to be hit by supply shortages yesterday with no milkshakes or bottled drinks available in any of its outlets 

Global shipping demands on maintaining a steady flow of containers from Asia to the West, including the return of empty ones.

This is currently being disrupted by the slow processing of shipments in Europe and the US, as well as port closures in China.

Alex Veitch, general manager of public policy at Logistics UK, said: ‘Shippers around the world have been affected by a number of factors, most notably the impact of COVID-19 which has led to port closures, the subsequent displacement of containers, rising costs and difficulties securing capacity.

‘Many shippers have shifted their goods to air or rail freight where possible, but shipping dominates the global freight market and we call on shipping lines to do all they can to improve the situation for their customers.’

McDonald’s became the latest restaurant chain in the UK to be hit by supply shortages yesterday with no milkshakes or bottled drinks available in any of its outlets.

The fast-food giant, which has 1,250 restaurants, has stopped serving the drinks this week but said staff are ‘working hard to return these items to the menu as soon as possible’.

A spokesman told The Independent it was ‘experiencing some supply chain issues’.

A shortage of delivery drivers has disrupted supplies to supermarkets and hospitality.

Fresh food and drink supplies to Beefeater pubs and Subway outlets were also affected yesterday.

Industry experts say the lack of drivers is a result of Brexit and the pandemic.

A spokesman for Beefeater said supply chain issues had led to shortages of bottled beer and chicken.

Subway outlets in London and Norfolk have reportedly put up posters about a lack of ingredients – but this was not confirmed by the company. 


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