Food industry predicts empty shelves and price rises in latest Brexit dividend

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JANUARY 14: Supermarket shoppers walk past rows of empty shelves in Tesc

A supermarket shopper walks past rows of empty shelves in Tescos on January 14, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Shortages and higher prices could soon be seen on the mainland - Credit: Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The food industry is predicting a nightmare for British customers, with price rises and empty shelves caused by Brexit

It has been a gloomy week on the sunlit uplands of sovereign Britain as customers digest mixed news about Brexit’s impact on food. The downside is that your weekly shop is going to cost more; the upside is that you won’t be able to spend too much because we’ll soon be seeing shortages of some of your favourite foods.

Driving this, in what is becoming a familiar refrain, is a shortage of labour from EU countries after you-know-what. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) predicts that a shortage of truck drivers - some 15,000 from Eastern Europe have stayed away since new red tape came in at the turn of this year - will cause a perfect storm of higher prices and reduced stock when the customs grace period ends in October. 

Rod McKenzie of the RHA, said: “Not only will it be tougher to get all sorts of products into the UK, but there also won’t be enough drivers to deliver them to the supermarkets.”

For masochists who simply can’t wait until October to suffer, there is good news: The Cold Chain Federation (CCF), which handles the supply of frozen and chilled foods, says a lack of EU workers in packaging, production and warehousing is already affecting some products. “There will be outages day by day,” said CCF chief executive Shane Brennan.

Expect shortages of some meat, with the British Meat Processors Association “heading for a brick wall”, with production capacity down 10% because of staff shortages. Fruit and vegetables too could be in shorter supply, with Shaun Leonard from trucking company Turners Soham, saying: “The worst is definitely yet to come.”

Other items affected could include pasta and household goods. So prepare for more shortages of lasagne sheets and toilet rolls, this time without a pandemic to blame (if the situation improves slightly, prepare to use lasagne sheets AS toilet rolls, or vice-versa).

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But why will prices go up? Supply and demand. In order to fill driver vacancies, haulage companies will have to pay higher salaries, and the supermarkets that book the haulage firms will not absorb the cost but pass it on to consumers.

It’s all rather reminiscent of the joke at the start of Annie Hall: “Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.’”

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