Fears of food shortages – Dec 2020 to Jan 2021

In the UK, fears of stockpiling were back on the agenda as first the possibility of a No Deal Brexit, and then the UK’s third lockdown, caused both suppliers and citizens to once again have to worry about the availability of food on supermarket shelves. On December 13th, ahead of wide-spread reports that fresh fruit and veg would be hit by a No Deal Brexit and a backlog of lorry drivers at Dover following the closure of ports amid alarm at the new Covid variant, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said ongoing uncertainty made it harder for firms to prepare for the New Year – warning shoppers to not buy more food than usual. In January, new nation-wide lockdown restrictions led to a surge in demand for online shopping slots with ASDA, Tesco and Sainsbury’s moving to reassure customers and recommending they ‘shop considerately.’  

However, with more people now in hospital with Covid-19 than during the first wave of infections in April, supply chains are being affected by increasing numbers of the workforce self-isolating or quarantining. The Grocer reported that staff absence rates have trebled in many parts of the country since the start of December, with supermarket executives warning that should current rates of worker absence continue to rise, distribution will be severely affected. At the time of writing (11th January), Ocado had become the first retailer to warn of product shortages due to increased demand for online shopping services, staff sickness and self-isolation. However, the closure of the Out of Home sector once again is likely to see retailers continuing to benefit from increased sales, with December 2020 the sector’s busiest month on record according to Kanta.

View our UK Food Tracker in full.