Booze shortage and less food on shelves at Christmas without action, sectors warn

There will be a shortage of alcohol and fewer food items in supermarkets this Christmas unless the government takes swift action to alleviate supply chain pressures, the retail sector has warned.

Supermarkets are gearing up for a bumper festive period this year after a muted Christmas 2021, but a serious lack of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers means some shops may have to ration food in order to ensure people can get what they need, according to a food sector boss.

And the Wine and Spirit Trade Association says action must be taken to "avoid some of our favourite tipples from disappearing from the UK supermarket shelves".

The group says it is now "taking up to five times longer" to import alcohol than it was last year and it's written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to demand action.

The letter, signed by 48 of the UK’s wine and spirit businesses, suggests without action to address the HGV driver crisis, supermarkets will be forced to increase their prices.

It said: "While businesses are doing their best and being as flexible as they can, this loss of certainty and predictability is hugely damaging for their supply chain - and ultimately their bottom line, consumers, and tax revenue.

"There is only so much businesses can do without having to increase costs for consumers."

Ministers are confident there'll be enough turkeys on offer this year but alcohol bosses say action must be taken to keep up booze stocks.

The group is demanding the government extends the temporary visa scheme for foreign HGV drivers for a year, facilitates better routes for freight, and provides regular updates on the processing of DVLA HGV licences.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has previously estimated there is a shortage of more than 100,000 qualified HGV drivers in the UK.

The Cold Chain Federation, a trade body representing the temperature-controlled logistics industry, has confirmed there will be fewer food items on the shelves this Christmas.

Shane Brennan, the group's chief executive, told the Commons Transport Select Committee: "It's not about shortages, it's about simplifying. Having less range obviously is one of the key decisions you can make in trying to make supply chains more efficient.

"And it's about reducing the amount of goods you're expected to put on the shelves and then working with the customer base to actually make that clear.

"We are very good at piling high and selling cheap at Christmas time.

"What we have to do is strategically scale that back in order to meet the promise that there will be the stuff you expect to see on the shelves, but not necessarily all the extras."

Mr Brennan said companies are being forced to be "risk averse about how they see this Christmas period rather than trying to make up lost ground in terms of revenue".

It has been estimated that there are 100,000 HGV driver vacancies in the UK. Credit: PA

The rationing of food items of shelves will not extend to turkeys however, according to the government.

Downing Street said turkey supplies were safe this Christmas but "individual sectors" would continue to face issues.

Potential issues with supply chains and winter pressures on the NHS were discussed by ministers at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Stephen Barclay reportedly told ministers "we face the dual challenge of managing the regular pressures the colder and wetter months can bring alongside the additional challenge of an ongoing global pandemic and the knock-on effects this is having, including on global supply chains and energy supply".

Mr Barclay gave an overview of the work he is leading on issues including food supply "noting that Government action had alleviated concerns over potential turkey shortages in the run-up to Christmas", Boris Johnson's spokesman said.

Asked whether the government could guarantee there would be presents under Christmas trees, the spokesman said: "We remain confident that we are taking the right action to deal with the supply challenges that we are seeing globally.

"That's not to say that individual sectors won't face some issues, as will be seen in other countries."