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How the P&O Ferries crisis could affect independent retailers

With costs rising across the food supply chain, Brexit chaos and now issues at Dover, what’s in store for fine food retailers?

P&O Ferries has received backlash in the media over the past week after it lay off 800 British workers in favour of cheaper foreign labour. The ferry company has not only generated issues with British lawmakers, but they also caused delays at Dover after they ceased operations, which meant lorries were queuing for up to 24 hours carrying fresh and frozen produce. The supply chain in the UK, which was already hit by Brexit and Covid, now faces more problems with claims that fresh food will not be arriving at shops due to cancelled ferries.

How indies could be affected

The fallout of this crisis at Dover is set to affect independent retailers with possible shortages of European cheese, wine, fruit and vegetables.

As Richard Harrow, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation, explains, “The movement of food and drink in and out of the UK is clearly being disrupted as the 20 miles of stationary lorries in Kent demonstrates.

“This is particularly problematic for fresh and short shelf-life products such as seafood and meat exports and fresh produce imports as delays mean the products deteriorate and their value declines. The frozen industry is more fortunate in that our products stay fresh even when delayed, but the additional costs associated with delays are still extremely problematic.” “It certainly won’t help as it’s bound to disrupt supply and lead to more price pressures. There’s no doubt that we are in for an extended period of inflation and reduced consumer spending power, which will hit many food producers and retailers hard. “What’s more, this is just one of a number of other challenges the wider food industry is having to deal with, such as new and complicated import and export regulations and a major labour shortage. “The bad news is that there’s likely to be more disruption at our ports after the current problems are resolved, as a range of new import rules are due to be introduced later this year and unless the government acts to clarify how the rules will be implemented, we’ll see further delays at the border.”

What indies can do to mitigate the fallout

While not every independent retailer will be affected, Richard suggests that the current crisis could be part of a long-term consumer trend in favour of frozen products. He explains: “In the short-term, there is little that independent retailers can do other than find alternative UK suppliers, but options will be limited especially for seasonal products that are grown abroad and imported. “Increasing the range of long shelf-life frozen products will help cushion the blow of import disruptions. Many independent farm shops now sell lose frozen food to complement their fresh and ambient ranges. The pandemic saw many consumers switch to frozen and this trend had continued since we began to return to normal.” Another option is to champion British produce while issues with imported goods continue. Indeed, data from the Farmer Favourability Survey, conducted by OnePoll, found that 73% of the public often or always looks specifically for British food when shopping – the highest figure recorded since the survey began in 2012. Heather Parry, managing agent at the Farm Retail Association, concludes, “Independent retailers have adapted and changed during Covid and we are going to have to adapt again as life continues to be unpredictable.”


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