Reality Checks – M&S, Co-op, even Ikea speaking out about shortages
The perfect storm brought by Covid’s ‘pingdemic’, HGV driver shortages, EU workers returning home, the labour crisis in the food processing sector and the near-end of the Brexit grace period are stacking up to alert retailers to the absolute reality that there will be issues in the run up to Christmas.
Household name companies such as Marks & Spencer and the Co-op don’t make hard hitting public statements just for the fun of it – they are clearly asking government and the powers that be to wake up and take stock of the potential mess in the lead up to the busiest time of the year for food retailing!
Even Ikea has put a statement on its website – stating its having difficulty getting around 10% of product.
There’s also been warnings of HGV, lorry and driver strikes – adding salt to the wound.
In a hard-hitting letter to its EU suppliers, M&S said neither the UK government nor EU authorities were prepared for the high levels of bureaucracy when border checks begin on 1 October.
Apart from Northern Ireland, over half of GB adults have now said they’ve experienced some sort of food shortage. Scotland in particular has been hit – according to the YouGov poll, 56% of adults in GB have noticed or experienced food shortages in their local shop or supermarket in the last few weeks.
Respondents in Scotland had experienced more shortages than anywhere else (67%). London seemed to be the least affected, with only 46% of respondents in that area noticing food shortages.
The research also found that those in the 50-65 and 65+ age demographics were more likely to have noticed shortages than those in the other age brackets (18-24 and 25-49).
The shortages stem from a lack of workers in the food and drink supply chain. The situation has been exacerbated by the shortage of HGV drivers. Stock is delayed getting to and from depots.
New rules and bureaucracy
The new Brexit rules mean lorry drivers importing goods will need some 700 pages of documents. In a letter to suppliers, M&S set out a wide range of problems, including a lack of vets for essential checks, governments’ unpreparedness – in some cases having not translated the rules into local languages, while it says some authorities “do not appear to know what will be required”.
It also said suppliers had expressed concern that in some EU states, officials who issue Export Health Certificates – needed for trade in animal products – only work standard office hours from Monday to Friday.
As “modern food systems rely on importing food seven days a week… this working pattern will cause significant disruption to that import schedule and exacerbate the HGV driver shortage”.
Call for common sense
M&S says EU markets represent over 25% of all UK food imports, adding “If we don’t see a more common sense approach to compliance, this is going to hurt everyone involved”.
As well as EU member countries importing into Great Britain, the issue will markedly affect goods crossing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.
Supermarkets which send products to Northern Ireland from Great Britain face only light-touch checks, under a so-called “grace period” which delayed some of the new post-Brexit processes.
The Northern Ireland Protocol helps prevent the need for checks on the island of Ireland’s internal border.
Five factors are impacting food supplies currently – Covid, Brexit, labour shortages in food processing, HGV shortages – and there’s even been threats of strike action – with Unite in negotiations with Booker. Combined, it creates a worrying picture for the busiest period of the retail year from October to December.