How widespread are shortages in groceries in the UK?
July 15, 2021 10:55 AM   Subscribe

I saw an English journalist tweet about nearly empty grocery store shelves in the UK, and went looking for more news about it, and found this BBC report about its causes, as well as some news reports about industry worries. But I haven't found any reporting online about how widespread the problem is. I asked my sister who lives in London, and her local shop has been stocked as normal, except for certain fruits. Is this only a problem in some parts of the country, or is this a nationwide problem?
posted by Kattullus to Society & Culture (13 answers total)
I was totally unaware of it until I saw that tweet yesterday, though my local supermarket (in Scotland) is in the middle of being refitted and even the staff don’t know where things are half the time, so we could be in the midst of a horrendous shortage and all be just assuming that everything’s been moved and is now sitting in another aisle.
posted by penguin pie at 11:02 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]

Our local supermarket is missing some things on its shelves, but that seems to be a regular occurrence and has been for years. I think it's more to do with their just-in-time delivery system being not very good. A rival supermarket down the road doesn't have this problem, and the shelves there were fully stocked yesterday.

Not to cast aspersions on John Harris because he's a thoughtful journalist who's not prone to hyperbole, but he does write for a very pro-Remain newspaper (The Guardian). After Brexit a lot of Remainer commentators gave dire warnings of food and medicine shortages. This seems to be an article of faith for some people, so maybe he's seeing empty shelves and putting 2+2 together to make 5? Or it could be a local supply chain issue, or the supermarket might have a lot of staff self-isolating, or there's a dispute going on with their truck drivers that isn't public knowledge, or, they can't get certain things from Europe because of COVID restrictions, or yes, it could be Brexit-related.

But there's no widespread shortages that are being reported either by journalists or people I know, for what it's worth.
posted by underclocked at 11:23 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]

We get our groceries delivered by Sainsburys and haven't noticed any supply problems for what we usually buy. My local small-ish Coop had its usual level of goods when I went in last week, certainly there wasn't noticeably a problem. My understanding is that our just-in-time delivery is very just-in-time so it relies very heavily on consistent European trade and transit. Potential problems are a perennial risk, even as actual problems are infrequent.
posted by plonkee at 11:38 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]

I haven’t noticed any issue in supply since March 2020 panic buying.
posted by laukf at 1:05 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]

Haven't seen any problems yet.
posted by crocomancer at 2:00 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]

No food shortages at my local supermarkets in Cumbria, but I work in nature conservation and there's severe shortages of materials. Timber and wire for fencing is hard to get, contractors have shortages of everything, and even just getting my ATV repaired is going to take a few weeks longer than normal. It's all showing in increased prices too.

I would assume (and hope) food is being prioritised over non-perishables but these shortages and price increases been going on for a long time (covid + brexit) and I feel like we should be seeing some sort of effect on the cost of other things too by now?
posted by sarahdal at 2:03 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]

No problems in my local supermarkets in Scotland.
posted by Klipspringer at 2:19 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]

Some shortages of very specific items in my local supermarket in Scotland - e.g. there's been no dog treats for a week, and lettuce is getting hard to come by, both locally and via online deliveries from Glasgow.
posted by Chairboy at 3:34 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]

Yes, this is a real thing, but people havent necessarily started noticing yet due to built up stock. This week my fruit and veg box contained a note apologising for all the substitutions lately and confirmed that they will unfortunately continue due to the shortage of UK truck drivers. I've also had issues with certain DIY materials where I/builders cannot source certain items in the UK due to the lack of shipments coming in.
posted by Polychrome at 12:41 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]

In the near future, the number of people being told to self-isolate (or actually testing positive) could have a significant impact on supermarket supply chains.
posted by Klipspringer at 2:04 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]

No problems in S. London. Nisa, M&S, Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose.
DIY and building materials may well be in short supply / more expensive due to the recent massive hike in demand rather than Brexit.
posted by Dr.Pill at 11:07 AM on July 17

Response by poster: An article was just posted in The Guardian titled HGV licence fast-track won’t stop UK food shortages, industry warns. Confusingly enough, it doesn't really go into the food shortage bit of the headline, except towards the end the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation (a trade association of companies specializing in moving temperature controlled freight) is quoted as saying:
In an industry where we beat ourselves up if we didn’t have 98% fulfilment of our orders to delivery, we are now at 80%. What we have seen in the last eight weeks is retailers starting to lower their expectations so instead of five deliveries a week they would go to three days a week.
If I understand this correctly, groceries in the UK are only getting eighty percent of the frozen and chilled produce they order. Which seems like something that would be noticeable only in certain shops. I have no idea if this is industry-wide, or if this particular part of the haulage industry is getting hit especially badly.
posted by Kattullus at 1:29 PM on July 20

The radio news this morning (BBC Radio 1) said that empty shelves are partly due to staff shortages who have been pinged by the covid contract tracing app and have to isolate, supermarket groups have asked the government to allow them to let employees who tested negative come to work.
posted by ellieBOA at 1:08 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

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