Days when shoppers could get anything from supermarkets over – trade body boss

·2-min read

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.

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.

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.

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.

“It’s going to get worse, and it’s not going to get better after getting worse any time soon,” Mr Wright told 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. Now these shortages don’t mean that you’re going to run out of food.”

But like last week when most of the east of England ran out of bottled water supplies, suppliers will make decisions to prioritise products which give them higher margins.

“That’s a first world problem. Nobody’s going to be completely bereft if they can’t get bottled water,” Mr Wright 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.”

Downing Street rejected the idea that shortages will be “permanent” and insisted the UK food supply chain is “highly resilient”.

“We don’t recognise those claims,” a No 10 spokesman said.

“We have got highly resilient food supply chains which have coped extremely well in the face of challenges. We believe that will remain the case.

“We know there are some issues that are facing the sector. We will continue to speak and liaise those involved in those industries to try to ensure we can help them as much as possible.”

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