Food industry thrown into disarray by labour shortages and inflation

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A deadly combination of structural changes is causing major unrest for the UK’s wider food and drink industry.

Grocery shelves are emptying as the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) reveals the industry is short of around half a million workers, equivalent to 1 in 8 of the total workforce.

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Companies in the hospitality and retail sectors have blamed a lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers for this disruption in the supply chain, something which itself is rooted in the 1.3 million EU workers that have left the country following Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

Sectors like agriculture and food processing are likely experiencing shortages due to low demand from poor pay and working conditions on unskilled migrant workers.

FDF Chief Exec, Ian Wright, has warned that these shortages will change the shopper experience on a “permanent” basis, stressing that supply chain issues will “not get better after getting worse any time soon”.

“The UK shopper consumer could have previously expected just about any product they want to be on the [supermarket] shelf or in the restaurant all the time. That’s over, and I don’t think it’s coming back”, said Wright at a government event in early September.

Harrison Jones, founder of frozen organic food company Equals Health, said: We’re clearly experiencing the aftermath of Brexit and the loss of labour that has come from it. However, that gap can be plugged with the many people that have been made redundant in recent months. 

“It can take up to three months and £5,000 for the government to fund and train potential drivers. We can no longer rely on European labour, so now is the time to invest in our own residents and become self-sufficient. We, like many of our neighbours, are recovering from the pandemic; we don’t need the extra punishment from Brexit. The government needs to step up.”  

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also noted that inflation had soared to its highest level in nearly a decade, at 3.2% in August. Economists have pointed to the ongoing supply constraints and the resulting higher food prices as reasons for the historic rise. 

Bridget Phillipson, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “People are already feeling the effects of inflation, in their weekly shop and at the petrol pump. 

“The Government must do all it can to secure the supply chains that keep our economy going”, she continued. To learn more about their frozen range of healthy organic foods, you can visit the Equals Health website here.

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