Supermarkets warn of panic-buying amid ongoing labour crisis

The NFU has now written to the prime minister urging him to implement a ‘Covid Recovery Visa’ to help alleviate ‘crippling’ labour shortages across the supply chain

Leading UK supermarkets are reportedly concerned about a surge in panic-buying during the run-up to Christmas, as supermarkets continue to face an “array” of pressures including the ongoing HGV driver shortage. 

The boss of Iceland has today warned customers against panic-buying over the period, as managing director Richard Walker told Sky News that the sector was “more likely” to see empty shelves due to the ongoing supply chain disruption and drivers shortage. 

Other problems cited included ongoing staff shortages in the retail sector, as well as higher energy costs, which have led to rising prices amongst food production and logistics. Supermarkets have also reported seeing an increase in supply problems facing CO2.

Meanwhile, Tesco is reportedly concerned that panic-buying could be “far worse” in the run-up to Christmas than it was during the early days of the pandemic, according to The Grocer.

Its warning came as the group reportedly met with the government’s new food and drink supply chain taskforce last week, in a bid to help the government tackle the ongoing labour shortage crisis.

According to The Grocer, Tesco warned the taskforce that it was unable to fill rising vacancies, forcing it to operate on a “substantial shortfall” of workers despite paying inflated wages, and said it was currently looking to fill around 800 HGV driver positions.

In light of the ongoing labour crisis, the NFU has now written to the prime minister urging him to implement a ‘Covid Recovery Visa’ to help alleviate “crippling” labour shortages across the supply chain.

Signed by 12 organisations, the letter said: “The food and farming sector remains on a knife edge due to the unprecedented shortages of workers across the entire supply chain. The industry came together in the summer to evidence these challenges, and the final report showed that there are an estimated 500,000 unfilled vacancies across the industry.

“The situation is not improving, in fact, images of empty supermarket shelves are becoming commonplace as labour shortages bite. As we move towards Christmas, there is a substantial threat of food inflation directly impacting the poorest families.”

It added: “That is why the entire UK food supply chain from farm supply to retail outlets are united in calling for an emergency Covid Recovery Visa to open up new recruitment opportunities as a matter of urgency. Without it more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter.

“It is a travesty that this is happening in parallel with UK food producers disposing of perfectly edible food as it either cannot be picked, packed, processed or transported to the end customer. Every day there are new examples of food waste across the industry, from chicken to pork, fruit and vegetables, dairy and many other products. The food is there, but it needs people to get it to the consumers.”

The NFU added that there have already been “long term consequences” amid the crisis as businesses have had to “take the decision to reduce production indefinitely or cease trading altogether”. It called on the PM to enable the industry to recruit from outside the UK over the next 12 months to help “get us through the winter”.

The letter’s signatories include: Agricultural Industries Confederation Limited; British Frozen Food Federation; British Meat Processors Association; British Poultry Council Limited; Dairy UK Limited; Federation of Wholesale Distributors; Food and Drink Federation; National Farmers’ Union; National Pig Association; Road Haulage Association Limited; The Cold Chain Federation and UK Hospitality.

Iceland and Tesco have been contacted by Retail Sector for further comment. 

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