The founder and owner of one of the country’s largest food producers said the industry is at “crisis point”.
Ranjit Singh Boparan, of the 2 Sisters Food Group, said the pingdemic was “masking” other issues, including Brexit-related shortages and Covid troubles.
Mr Boparan – known as the Chicken King because of 2 Sisters’ large scale involvement in the poultry trade – warned the Government needed to act or face the “most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years”.
The Government has introduced emergency measures which it says will protect food supplies in face of the so-called pingdemic, allowing thousands of workers to avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case.
But Mr Boparan said: “No-one could possibly have predicted that this toxic cocktail would come together at this time.
“It started with the pandemic – and in the last week or so with pingdemic, but since May this year the operating environment has deteriorated so profoundly I can see no other outcome than major food shortages in the UK.
“Supply of chicken and turkey is under threat. Our retail partners and the wider supply chain have worked together closer than ever before to ensure we retain food supply and this is of huge credit to everyone. But we are at crisis point.”
Mr Boparan, who featured on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2020 along with wife Baljinder with a fortune of £593 million, added labour was a concern, reporting 15% shortages among its 16,000-strong workforce with Brexit reducing available staff in the sector.
He said: “The critical labour issue alone means we walk a tightrope every week at the moment.
“We’re just about coping, but I can see if no support is forthcoming – and urgently – from Government, then shelves will be empty, food waste will rocket simply because it cannot be processed, or delivered, and the shortages we saw last year will be peanuts in comparison to what could come.”
Adding that feed inflation and adapting to the Covid reality also pose a challenge, he added: “These are unique, era-defining challenges which we started to tackle head on last year.
“But they’ve all come to a head in the past 12 weeks. Clearly these have brought continued and intensive pressure on our business, just like they have elsewhere.”
In a speech last month, Confederation of British Industry president Karan Bilimoria said the UK’s Shortage Occupation List ought to be updated “to help make sure the UK is open for business, and to get our economic recovery on the right track”.
He said: “Last year – in September 2020 – the Migration Advisory Committee recommended that we add certain roles to that list.
“Butchers bricklayers, and welders for example. Today, almost a year on, we worry those are exactly the same sectors facing shortages now.
“Businesses would also welcome a commitment to review the list annually, to keep it responsive to the ebb and flow of skill demands across the whole of the UK’s economy.
“And where there are clear, evidenced labour shortages, businesses should be able to hire from overseas.”