The UK food supply chain has been struggling during early summer 2021, and now it is dangerously close to complete failure. We’re already seeing gaps on supermarket shelves, and that’s going to get worse through the rest of 2021.
Food Supply Chain Already Struggling During 2021
There are far fewer workers available to harvest crops on UK farms this summer. Since Brexit, the EU nationals who would typically have taken those jobs are no longer working in the UK. The lack of workers has also affected food production plants, with some reporting vacancies of up to 16% of permanent staff. This is not including temporary absences due to the Covid-19 pandemic. UK farms are leaving crops to rot in the fields as they don’t have enough workers to harvest them.
The transport industry is also desperately short of drivers in 2021. This is partly due to a significant number of European drivers no longer travelling to the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic also caused the cancellation of many lorry driving tests. The industry has been left around 60,000 drivers short.
The government is temporarily relaxing the laws governing lorry drivers working hours to allow longer hours. This will not go anywhere far enough make up for the shortage of drivers, however.
Pandemic and Pingdemic Adding To The Problems
Rapidly rising Covid-19 cases, and the so called ‘pingdemic’, have made the already severe problems far worse. Pingdemic refers to the recent rapid rise in the number of people being pinged and told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app. Staff isolating for the required 10 day period is exacerbating the already desperate shortage of workers in the food supply chain. The British Meat Packers Association said that 5-10% of staff have been told to self-isolate. Many other areas of food production are similarly affected.
Empty Supermarket Shelves
During July, gaps have been appearing on supermarket shelves, and this is rapidly getting worse. There are now noticeable shortages of fruit and vegetables in many supermarkets, with salad items selling out very quickly. A number of other products also have gaps on the shelves including cereals and meat products. It is now impossible to avoid further shortages; crops being left to rot in the fields will never make it to the supermarkets.
Some supermarkets appear to be filling shelves to half depth so that they still appear fuller. Others are using cardboard shelf fillers printed with advertising to hide gaps on the shelves. Even these techniques won’t be able to disguise the problems for long.
It’s likely now that we will soon be seeing shortages similar to those at the start of the first lockdown. There are currently still many products available in the shops, with the shortages mostly in fruit and vegetables as well as some meat products. However, the food supply chain problems are only getting worse, and panic buying will begin as more people realise. Panic buying will mean that supermarkets have to ration some items, and there will be many more shortages.
Yet More Food Supply Chain Problems To Come
If the lack of staff in the food production and distribution industries wasn’t enough, there’s still more! There is a worldwide shortage of steel, meaning that canning factories are struggling to find material for the cans. One food that is particularly affected is tinned tomatoes. Italian factories that make tins for tinned tomatoes are already reporting that they will not be able to supply enough tins for this year’s harvest. So even if there is any improvement in our food supply chain, you can still forget about making that Bolognese.