Supply chain problems could result in a shortage of wine and spirits at Christmas, a drinks trade body warns
The UK could face wine and spirit shortages this Christmas, a drinks trade body has warned.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said rising costs and supply chain chaos have held up deliveries, with imports now taking up to five times longer than a year ago.
The government said: “We do not expect disruption to the supply of alcohol this Christmas”.
The letter was co-signed by 49 firms, including Pernod Ricard, Moët Hennessy and the Wine Society.
It said the sector has been badly affected by the HGV driver shortage crisis, which the industry has blamed on factors including Covid and Brexit.
The letter said drinks businesses were still struggling, and further action was needed, particularly in the run up to Christmas, a critical trading period for the sector.
“Unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos,” it added.
“Businesses like ours previously able to fulfil orders in two to three days now have to operate on a day one for day fifteen basis,” the letter said.
In addition, businesses are reporting increased costs of around 7% – and often more – by freight forwarders to account for driver retention.
“This is particularly a concern for SMEs who are unable to compete with large businesses to attract drivers,” the letter said.
It said drivers and vehicles were “increasingly unpredictable” in their arrival times, which meant goods being either not ready or left waiting for collection.
Being unable to fulfil orders on time would mean lost business and could ultimately lead to increased costs for consumers.
The WSTA called for the temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers to be extended for a year and asked the government to act to help smooth congested freight routes from ports, and provide more regular updates on how many HGV driver licences are being processed by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK has a strong food supply chain and we do not expect disruption to the supply of alcohol this Christmas.
“The government acted quickly to tackle the challenges to our supply chains, which were brought on by global pressures including the pandemic and the international shortage of HGV drivers.”
It has invested £32.5m in roadside facilities for hauliers, put £17m into creating new HGV skills bootcamps, and launched a review of training, the spokesperson said.
“These measures are working, cutting the backlog through a huge increase in vocational licences issued and HGV tests conducted compared to before the pandemic, and there is now spare capacity in the testing system.”
The warning from the drinks industry comes as food distributors warned MPs that consumers could face less food choice this Christmas because of supply chain issues.
Shane Brennan, head of the Cold Chain Federation, said suppliers were scaling back plans to ensure they can deliver.
The Cold Chain Federation represents firms involved in the storage and distribution of chilled and frozen products, including food.
“It’s about reducing the amount of goods you’re expected to put on the shelves,” Mr Brennan told the Transport Select Committee inquiry into the road freight supply chain.
“We are very good at piling high and selling it cheap at Christmas time,” he said.
“What we’re having to do is strategically scale that back, in order to basically meet the promise that there will be the stuff you expect to see on the shelves, but not necessarily all the extras.”