Shoppers should get used to food shortages on grocery shelves, one of Britain’s biggest supermarket bosses has warned.
Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, said food shortages were the worst he has known, with shops hit by post-Brexit migration rules and Covid-19.
“The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen,” he told The Times.
Shops and fast-food restaurants are struggling for stock amid an acute labour shortage, with a lack of fruit pickers, meat process and HGV drivers hitting consumers.
McDonald’s yesterday announced it had been forced to remove milkshakes from its menu at 1,250 outlets in England, Scotland and Wales – while Subway admitted experiencing “minor supply chain shortages”.
Brexit and Covid
Murrells, 56, said the crisis was the result of “Brexit and issues caused by Covid”. He said the Co-op was being forced to retrain staff as lorry drivers because of a shortage of 100,000 hauliers across the industry.
Around 14,000 European lorry drivers left the UK last year – but just 600 have returned, statistics suggest.
Disruption is making supermarkets cut back on variety, Tom Bradshaw – vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union – said.
“Rather than bare shelves, we’re seeing supermarkets rationalising their lines. Rather than three different qualities of strawberry, there is just one,” he said.
Poultry and meat processing has been hit by a shortage of butchers. Many have left the UK or chosen to work as delivery drivers instead, as a result of the surge in online shopping during the pandemic, Bradshaw said.
Nando’s last week said it had closed 50 restaurants amid a chicken shortage. Businesses are pleading with ministers to relax visa rules to allow more lorry drivers into the UK.
Pigs in blankets
Helen Dickinson, of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We are calling on the government to rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests, provide temporary visas for EU drivers and to make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded.”
Meanwhile Christmas favourites like pigs in blankets could be in short supply this festive season as a result of post-Brexit issues.
Britons may find them harder to come by this winter as industry labour shortages continue to bite, the British Meat Processors Association warned.
Chief executive Nick Allen said usual demand for pigs in blankets – sausages wrapped in bacon – reaches about 40 million packets, but a shortage of labour to make them could mean production is cut by a third.
Supplies of gammon could also be affected, he added.
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