Iceland boss fears Brexit-linked supply chain chaos could ‘cancel’ Christmas

Shortage of lorry drivers is ‘impacting the food supply chain on a daily basis’

Holly Bancroft
Wednesday 25 August 2021 15:40 BST
<p>The boss of Iceland has called on the Government to add lorry drivers to the skilled worker list to help with the shortfall of workers </p>

The boss of Iceland has called on the Government to add lorry drivers to the skilled worker list to help with the shortfall of workers

The boss of supermarket chain Iceland has warned that the Brexit-linked supply chain crisis could “cancel” Christmas.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Managing director of Iceland, Richard Walker, said: “The reason for sounding the alarm now is that we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute and I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.”

He revealed that the retail giant is suffering daily shortages of food and drink products because of a chronic lack of lorry drivers. Iceland is currently operating shortfall of a 100 full time drivers and Mr Walker warned that this “is impacting the food supply chain on a daily basis”.

He added: “We’ve had deliveries cancelled for the first time since the pandemic began, about 30-40 deliveries a day. Things like bread, fast-moving lines, are being cancelled in about 100 stores a day.

“Soft drinks are 50 per cent less in terms of volume, so it is having an affect at shelf.”

His comments follow similar warnings from the boss of supermarket Co-op, Steve Murrells, who has said that “the shortages are at the worse level than at any time I have seen”.

Food outlet Greggs is also dealing with product shortages, it was revealed today. A spokesperson said the bakery was seeing “temporary interruptions in supply for some ingredients.”

Mr Walker revealed that stores were selling out of bread and “struggling to replenish as quickly as we need”. He warned that the continuing problems will start to affect the Christmas period, saying: “Of course we’ve got Christmas round the corner in retail. We start to stock build really from September onwards for what is a hugely important time of year.

“We’ve got a lot of goods to transport between now and Christmas and a strong supply chain is vital for everyone.”

Speaking about whether the chaos had been caused by Brexit, he said: “Yes I think so. But it is a self-inflicted wound. I wouldn’t say it’s an inevitable consequence of Brexit.”

He elaborated, saying: “This is caused by the Government’s failure to appreciate the importance of HGV drivers and the work they do for us.”

He called on ministers to add HGV lorry drivers to the essential and skilled worker list. “These HGV drivers have kept the show on the road for 18 months during the pandemic and it is criminal that we are not viewing them as skilled workers,” he said.

The supply chain chaos is forcing retail giants to reduce the products on offer in their stores, with The Independent revealing on Monday that McDonalds had run out of milkshakes and bottled drinks.

Grocery shoppers will also face less choice in the supermarket aisles as the chief executive of the Co-operative Group said that the food shortages were the worst he has known.

Steve Murrells told The Times that the company was having to reduce some food ranges because of “Brexit and issues caused by Covid”.

British Poultry Council Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said that members had reported a 5-10 per cent drop in weekly chicken production as a result of workforce issues.

The chicken shortage, which caused Nando’s to temporarily close 50 stores last week, has now hit cafe chain Greggs. The bakery confirmed a small number of products had been affected but stressed that its broad menu meant it had been able to mitigate the impact.

Tom Southall, Policy officer at the Cold Chain Federation, toldThe Independent: “Larger food chains are having to prioritise some products over others. They prioritise possibly what makes the most money or perhaps what’s been popular.

“I think we are going to see that for some time to come - certainly through the Christmas period. There’s a lot of planning that goes into Christmas and that’s happening now.

“We’ve heard that there are difficulties in processing turkeys for example.”

Mr Southall warned that shoppers might have to put up with a smaller selection on fresh produce in the run up to the festivities, saying: “Fruit and vegetables, things we are used to having fresh and getting a couple of days before Christmas, might not be available in the quantities we’re used to. Particularly the products that can’t be frozen. Things like brussel sprouts and other vegetables for example.”

The Christmas dinner favourite, pigs in blankets, could also be off the menu later this year. The British Meat Processors Assocation (BMPA) said yesterday that the production of the beloved treat could be cut by a third.

BMPA Chief executive Nick Allen said: “Some of the pig processors are having to cut down on how many pigs they are processing a week so that’s starting to have an impact on the farm.

“We are cutting back and prioritising lines and cutting out on things, so there just won’t be the totals of Christmas favourites like we are used to.”

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