The food supply chain has been disrupted by a lack of lorry drivers and by a shortage of labour in general.
Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, told The Times that they had significantly reduced the range of some products. He blamed Brexit and pandemic-related fallout for the shortages.
There’s currently a shortfall of around 90,000 drivers, according to David Wells, chief executive of Logistics UK.
The boss of frozen food retailer Iceland, Richard Walker, told the BBC that unless the problems are resolved now, it could affect the availability of Christmas supplies.
“The driver shortage is impacting the food supply chain on a daily basis and leading to shortages on the shelves,” Walker said. “We’ve had deliveries cancelled for the first time since the pandemic began, about 30 to 40 deliveries a day.”
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said on Aug. 22 that supplies of Christmas favourites like pigs-in-blankets could be affected.
Industry groups say that training for new drivers is taking months, with a backlog of 40,000 missed heavy goods vehicle (HGV) tests.
Walker said the solution is to add HGV drivers to the skilled workers’ list, which would allow them to be recruited from overseas.
He said supply chain problems were a “self-inflicted wound,” from the handling of Brexit, “caused by the government’s failure to appreciate the importance of HGV drivers and the work they do for us.”
Retailers are starting to offer incentives to bring in drivers. Tesco has been offering lorry drivers a £1,000 ($1,370) joining bonus.
Morrisons and the Co-op have both said they’ll retrain staff to become lorry drivers.
Other high-street names, including McDonalds, Nandos, and Subway have been hit by supply problems in the last few days, caused by labour shortages in various industries.
The British Retail Consortium, along with haulage industry representatives Logistics UK, has also called for the government to change the HGV driver status to allow overseas recruitment and to speed up testing.
Last week, the UK government said it was bringing in plans to streamline the HGV licensing process and to increase the number of tests.
Earlier in the week, McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes in most of its UK restaurants.
There’s also a broader shortage of labour, including for meatpacking and fruit-picking jobs.
Andrew Kuyk, the director-general of the Provision Trade Federation, which speaks for the dairy and pig meat trade, told the Guardian that there was no problem with produce being made.
“Food is still being produced on farm and in factories, but it’s getting it to the consumer that is proving the challenge in lots of different ways,” he said. “There is a lack of lorry drivers, warehouse staff, staff in retail distribution centres, in the supermarket to put it on the shelves.”
PA contributed to this report