The days when supermarket shoppers could expect to pick up whatever they want whenever they want are over, a food industry expert has warned – as he claimed the supply chain crisis will only get ‘worse’.
The stark message from Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, came as customers continued to share pictures of gaps on shelves and a farmer warned staff shortages were ‘killing small businesses’.
Addressing the supply chain issues, Mr Wright said: ‘It’s going to get worse, and it’s not going to get better after getting worse any time soon.’
Speaking to listeners at an event organised by the Institute for Government, he added: ‘The result of the labour shortages is that the just-in-time system that has sustained supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants – so the food has arrived on shelf or in the kitchen, just when you need it – is no longer working.
‘And I don’t think it will work again, I think we will see we are now in for permanent shortages.’
Industry figures have pinned the problems on a shortage of lorry drivers and food processing staff due to Brexit and Covid, which has seen foreign workers go home to be with their families and increased waiting times for receiving HGV licenses.
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, who runs the popular Black Farmer food range of farm-sourced products, was among those encountering empty shelves, including yesterday at a Co-Op in Battersea, south-west London
Mr Emmanuel-Jones told MailOnline he had to withdraw product lines because processors were using their limited capacity to process orders for larger rivals
Mr Wright said this doesn’t mean the UK’s going to run out of food, but higher-margin products would be prioritised by retailers.
‘That’s a first world problem. Nobody’s going to be completely bereft if they can’t get bottled water,’ he said.
‘But what is changing now is that the UK shopper and consumer could have previously have expected just about every product they want to be on a shelf or in the restaurant all the time. That’s over, and I don’t think it’s coming back.’
Mr Wright said that a shortage of lorry drivers is in part due to them moving to online retailers and starting to deliver for Amazon and Tesco.
These jobs often have better hours and pay, he added.
The farm to fork supply chain is missing around half a million of the four million people that usually work in the sector.
Part of this will have come from EU nationals leaving the UK amid the pandemic and Brexit, he said.
A shortage of lorry drivers is one of the issues that has hit the UK´s supply chain and is causing issues for retailers
Many businesses have reported huge issues in their supply chains in recent months, leaving some shop shelves empty, or forcing restaurants to remove items from their menus.
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, who runs the popular Black Farmer food range of farm-sourced products, was among those encountering empty shelves, including yesterday at a Co-Op in Battersea, south-west London.
He told MailOnline that labour shortages were directly affecting his business: ‘We are facing a perfect storm at the moment. A lot of the food manufacturers have been used to surviving on cheap labour from eastern European countries.
‘Now that we’ve had Brexit that labour is not easily available to the industry. A lot of processors are operating at 60% capacity due to a lack of staff. It isn’t a question of not having the produce – that is being buried back into the ground.
‘On top of that is Covid. Lots of people who would have been taking their lorry driver training have been pushed out. Plus there’s the issue of lorries being driven around half empty, which shouldn’t happen in our times of climate change.’
Empty shelves in the water aisle of the Tesco store at St Rollox in Glasgow in July. The boss of the Food and Drink Federation has said that the days when UK consumers could expect to pick up nearly whatever product they want whenever they want from supermarket shelves are over
Mr Emmanuel-Jones said he had to withdraw product lines because processors were using their limited capacity to process orders for larger rivals.
‘I’ve had four lines that have now been stopped because manufacturers say they cannot fulfill my orders because they need to support the biggest companies instead,’ he said.
‘The consequence is that it is killing off small businesses. For example, in recent times my turkey and pork producers have said they can no longer provide to me.
‘The consequence is I’ll go to the supermarkets and say prices need to go up and they’ll tell me no. So we’re at the start of a big war that’s about to start.
‘That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it will make consumers aware of the injustices going on in the food chain.’
Empty shelves in the Lidl at Pity Me, Durham, in July. Ian Wright, the body’s chief executive, said that a shortage of lorry drivers is in part due to them moving to online retailers and starting to deliver for Amazon and Tesco
The entrepreneur said the food industry had partly brought the crisis on itself by failing to protect its workers, although he said things were changing.
‘The people in the food chain have not been paid well or enjoyed good conditions so it’s about time all of this was addressed.
‘Lorry drivers are now commanding some very good salaries, as are people in the processing plants.’