UK's ‘worst food shortages’ spark warning of Christmas crunch for retailers

Lack of staff and lorry drivers has adverse effect on supermarket supply chains

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A British supermarket boss has said food shortages on the shelves are the worst he has seen as a supply crunch caused by a dearth of workers and the pandemic continues to affect major retailers.

Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-Operative Group, says the supply issues will result in less choice for shoppers.

"The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen," he told The Times newspaper.

The problems are blamed in part on rules introduced in the aftermath of Brexit that made it harder for EU citizens to live and work in Britain. In addition, many employees have been forced to self-isolate because of possible exposure to Covid-19.

Industry body the Road Haulage Association said Britain was short of about 100,000 lorry drivers from a pre-pandemic total of 600,000. The UK government has eased restrictions on the number of hours drivers can work temporarily in an attempt to improve the situation.

The managing director of supermarket chain Iceland warned UK shoppers that Christmas this year could be affected if supply chain issues persisted into December.

“We’ve got Christmas around the corner and in retail we start to stock-build really from September onwards for what is a hugely important time of year,” Richard Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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

McDonalds was forced to take milkshakes and bottled soft drinks off its menu on Tuesday in more than 1,250 stores across Britain, while high street restaurant Nandos was this month hit by a shortage of chicken.

Updated: August 25, 2021, 2:42 PM