United Kingdom

Experts warn there will be much less choice in supermarkets

Supermarkets are preparing for months of shortages that will leave gaps on shelves for everything from crisps and meat to toilet paper and flour.

Supply problems are expected to cause a noticeable drop in choice, casting Britain back to an era 50 years ago when most shoppers were offered just basic ingredients and a wider choice of food and household products was limited.

Sources said the impact – the result of a host of problems including a shortage of HGV drivers and a spike in demand for shipping containers worldwide as the global economy restarts after the pandemic – would be most fiercely felt on inexpensive but bulky goods such as toilet paper, pre-packed bread and chilled goods. 

Supply problems are expected to cause a noticeable drop in choice, casting Britain back to an era 50 years ago when most shoppers were offered just basic ingredients

‘Whether it’s attracting people to work in factories, fields, food processing plants or to drive lorries – it feels like the whole food and supermarket industry is grinding to a halt,’ said one senior food industry source.

Another said the ‘systemic’ problem has already spread to products like crisps and fizzy drinks thanks also in part to a shortage of CO2.

‘We’re already anticipating there’ll be two or three types of beef joint instead of six or seven, or a much smaller range of tomatoes. Toilet paper is a good example because it requires a lot of space to transport from one place to another and space in lorries is at a premium right now.

Another said the ‘systemic’ problem has already spread to products like crisps and fizzy drinks thanks also in part to a shortage of CO2

‘The aim will be to get products on to shelves but not anything like a full range of pack sizes and options – so don’t expect to match your toilet paper colour to your downstairs toilet wallpaper,’ the source said.

Supermarkets and convenience stores have been trying to hide gaps for weeks – often placing cans of alcohol or other less perishable goods in refrigerated cabinets which had previously held salads and ready-meals.

One supermarket director said: ‘This isn’t going away and it’s difficult to say right now what the solution is because there are so many factors. It’s a complete nightmare.

‘Suppliers don’t have drivers, their Eastern European workforces in processing factories went home during the pandemic or, more recently, for their summer holidays and simply haven’t come back. We are hearing these stories everywhere we go.’

Another director said firms are having to make tough decisions about where to direct lorries because of driver shortages./

Remote areas are more likely to suffer shortages as vehicles are diverted to high-demand sites where stock was likely to run out much more quickly.

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