Food shortages worst in my lifetime, says Co-op chief

The boss of one of Britain’s largest grocers has said that supermarket shortages are now at a “worse level” than he had ever seen.

Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells said the chain had been forced to cut down on products as it struggled to get deliveries.

The problems stemmed from Brexit migration rules and Covid-19, he told The Times.

Shops and restaurants are struggling for stock amid labour shortages, with a dearth of fruit pickers, lorry drivers and meat processors.

READ MORE: Co-op to fail 10% of sustainability targets, report reveals

Last week, the head of Waitrose suggested that some families would be forced to go without a turkey this Christmas.

Murrells said the Co-op was retraining staff as lorry drivers because of an estimated 100,000 shortfall across the industry. 

About 14,000 European lorry drivers are thought to have left the UK last year, though some experts put this number at 25,000.

Supply chain chaos has forced supermarkets to cut back on variety, according to National Farmers’ Union vice president Tom Bradshaw.

“Rather than bare shelves, we’re seeing supermarkets rationalising their lines,” he said. 

“Rather than three different qualities of strawberry, there is just one.”

Earlier this week, British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson and Logistics UK head David Wells demanded the government to tackle the supply chain’s “unsustainable pressure”.

They called on business minister Kwasi Kwarteng to increase the number of lorry driving tests, create visas for European hauliers and bring in extra funding for driver training.

Government sources said they planned to “streamline” how UK drivers obtained licences for HGVs.

The Department of Transport has already raised lorry drivers’ hours from nine to 10 hours, plus two 11-hour stints per week.

However, unions derided the move as unsafe and one major dairy supplier said it “hasn’t helped”.

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