Trade faces another resilience test with more fresh produce deliveries being cancelled or delayed

"It’s 15 months since shelves were stripped bare at the outbreak of the pandemic. No one wants a return of those harrowing scenes," reports the Grocer.

"And importantly we do not expect the scale of the crisis to mirror that initial period, as the circumstances are different. Nonetheless there are grave concerns over the likely impact of the now well-documented labour shortages," it continues.

The publication has been reporting product shortages in the convenience trade, notably on the drinks side, as the HGV driver crisis has coincided with the reopening of pubs and restaurants, hot weather and the Euros.

"The problem is spreading like wildfire. While Morrisons has managed to avert the cancellation of wholesale supply deals at the 11th hour, driver shortages are now affecting supply to supermarkets, with a growing number of fresh produce deliveries cancelled, while food waste soars as deliveries are focused on supermarket replenishment," they explain.

UK retailers and their supply chain partners now face a perfect storm. Ken Murphy, the Chief Executive of Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, has admitted his company is having to “work hard” to keep up with the shortfall, while some wholesalers say they have already reached crisis point as they attempt to deliver to supermarkets, pubs, schools and care homes.

As problems mount, it’s not surprising the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) is calling for army drivers to be put on standby to protect vulnerable communities where food deliveries are at risk. It says fresh produce suppliers are already being forced to dump supplies of fruit and vegetables for lack of delivery drivers.

Other organisations and retailers are also sounding the alarm after a crisis meeting between the Government and haulage, supermarket, supplier and trade association leaders failed to achieve any progress. The Road Haulage Association (RHA), which represents freight transport companies, says the Government must temporarily suspend drivers’ working hours restrictions and place the role of delivery driver on the UK’s Shortage Occupation list.

Others are calling for the Government to temporarily suspend limits on the number of non-UK workers entering the UK because of the unfolding crisis. That’s a plea currently falling on deaf ears, however, as the Government insists: “Employers should focus on investing in our domestic workforce, especially those needing to find new employment, rather than relying on labour from abroad."