Shoppers report fresh supply issues with empty supermarket shelves around UK

Brexit and Covid blamed for shortages

Jane Dalton
Friday 14 January 2022 13:13 GMT
Empty supermarket shelves in east London

Shoppers are reporting supply problems that have led to empty supermarket shelves around the UK for the second time in six months.

Fresh fruit and veg and cold goods are particularly in short supply, customers say.

Many people are blaming Brexit but others say it is down to soaring numbers of workers self-isolating because of Covid.

Long queues of lorries formed in Calais on Thursday as new import controls on goods from the EU began to bite after they came into effect on 1 January.

Some people who work in supermarkets or have family members who do said lorries had failed to arrive, causing shortages of goods.

Shoppers in places ranging from south London, Hampshire and Essex to Leicestershire and south Wales said they were unable to buy fresh produce, posting photographs on social media of the empty shelves.

But others showed pictures of full shelves, suggesting supply problems were sporadic.

Customers who had deliveries also reported rising numbers of items being unavailable or substituted.

Sainsbury’s appeared to be most affected but people said they had also seen empty shelves in Lidl, Morrisons and the Co-op.

A courier returning from France said it had taken him 11.5 hours to get from Calais to London because of the lorry hold-ups.

“I should have been making a delivery this afternoon into Heathrow,” he tweeted. “That’s now failed and it’s tomorrow now. Just as well it wasn’t urgent (it actually was) #BrexitDisaster.”

He said he had driven from Poland only to be told his paperwork was wrong, and other drivers who had been told the same risked having to drive back to where they had come from, leaving queues of lorries stuck at the French port.

Last year, shortages in supermarkets were blamed partly on lorry driver shortages following Brexit and partly on the “pingdemic”, when employees received alerts on the NHS app asking them to self-isolate because they had been in contact with an infected person.

Ministers appealed to people not to panic-buy, although many did, which exacerbated the shortages. The first items to run out of stock were lavatory rolls.

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said availability of goods was strong so any reduction in stock was isolated and for a brief time, adding: “All stores continue to receive daily deliveries. We are of course monitoring the situation with absences and we continue to operate as usual.”

The Co-op said it was not experiencing any unusual or significant availability issues.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, which represents retailers, said: “Our members continue to work round the clock to ensure that shelves remain stocked, and consumers can purchase the products they need.

“Labour shortages, including HGV drivers and other critical roles, continue to challenge retailers, and while staff absences due to self-isolation are currently manageable, further rises in absence rates would be increasingly unsustainable.”

Asked how much of the pressure was down to labour shortages and how much down to lorries not arriving because they are delayed at French ports, a consortium spokeswoman said they did not know, adding: “We do not actually have an indication of many empty shelves, so we believe these to be isolated incidents.”

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