Shoppers in the UK should expect permanent shortages of products now, according to a food and drink industry leader.
The food and drink sector was short of around half a million workers, CEO of the Food & Drink Federation, Ian Wright, told the Institute for Government’s panel on supply chain disruption.
The nation would not run out of food but long gone were days where customers could expect every product to be available at restaurants and shops, the trade chief said.
“That’s over, and I don’t think it’s coming back,” Wright said.
“The result of the labour shortages is the just-in-time system that has sustained supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants so that food has arrived on shelves or in kitchens just when you need it, is no longer working, and I don’t think it will work again. We are now in for permanent shortages.”
The country should get used to situations such as last week when supplies of bottled water were unable to be delivered to the entire the east of England because companies had to prioritise drivers.
“It’s a first-world problem and nobody is going to be completely bereft if they can’t get hold of bottled water,” Wright added.
The sector was short of an eighth of its desired workforce thanks to overseas workers returning home during the pandemic and staff opting for different lifestyles post-lockdown.
HGV drivers have left the sector to take on “Amazon and Tesco distribution jobs”, the industry leader told the thinktank’s discussion. “They’re nice jobs, they don’t require you to get up at 4am and they’re better paid,” Wright said.
It comes as retail and hospitality businesses have pleaded with the government to intervene over a shortfall of some 100,000 drivers, which has resulted in empty shelves and unavailable menus.
Chicken restaurant Nando’s was forced to shut around 50 outlets because of poultry shortages in the summer while fast food chain McDonald’s had to briefly take milkshakes off the menu too.
What’s more, supermarket shoppers at Coop, Iceland and Morrisons have been confronted with empty shelves with retail bosses warning that the shortages were likely to continue in the run to Christmas.
Thirsty Brits also encountered shortages of certain types of beers at JD Wetherspoons pubs last week while the chain also reported low stocks of bread thanks to the supply nightmare.