People will now see 'permanent shortages' in supermarkets, industry boss warns

Supermarket products will not be as widely available as before the pandemic and Brexit, an industry boss has warned. 

Ian Wright, the Food and Drink Federation chief executive, said the days when UK consumers could expect to pick up nearly whatever product they want whenever they want are over.

Many businesses have reported huge issues in their supply chains in recent months, leaving some supermarket shelves empty, or forcing restaurants to remove items from their menus.

The farm to fork supply chain is missing around half a million of the four million people that usually work in the sector.

Mr Wright said part of this will have come from EU nationals leaving the UK amid the pandemic and Brexit.

He added a shortage of lorry drivers was in part due to them moving to better-paid jobs with online retailers, including Amazon.

Mr Wright, speaking at an event organised by the Institute for Government, said: ‘It’s going to get worse, and it’s not going to get better after getting worse any time soon.’

He added: ‘The result of the labour shortages is that the just-in-time system that has sustained supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants – so the food has arrived on shelf or in the kitchen, just when you need it – is no longer working.

‘And I don’t think it will work again, I think we will see we are now in for permanent shortages. Now these shortages don’t mean that you’re going to run out of food.’

Like last week when most of the east of England ran out of bottled water supplies, suppliers will make decisions to prioritise products which give them higher margins.

Mr Wright said: ‘That’s a first world problem. Nobody’s going to be completely bereft if they can’t get bottled water.

‘But what is changing now is that the UK shopper and consumer could have previously have expected just about every product they want to be on a shelf or in the restaurant all the time.

‘That’s over, and I don’t think it’s coming back.’

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