Three of Britain’s leading supermarkets today urged people not to panic buy after images of empty shelves in some areas of the country sparked a rush for the shops.
Tesco PLC (LON;TSCO), Sainsbury’s (LON:SBRY) and Lidl said they were responding to complaints from customers over shortages of certain products and blamed the HGV driver shortage and NHS Covid-19 tracing system that is keeping hundreds of thousands of staff off work.
According to the Road Haulage Association (RHA), the UK is short of 100,000 HGV drivers currently due to a combination of Covid-19, Brexit and the NHS app ‘pingdemic’.
M&S chief executive Steve Rowe meanwhile said that COVID-19 cases were doubling each week and around three times as many staff at the retailer were being pinged by the NHS app.
Rowe also warned that the number of M&S staff self-isolating meant the company may need to reduce opening hours at its stores and that late deliveries and food wastage were increasing.
Tesco flagged up the driver issue in June, though at that time chief executive Ken Murphy said it was working hard to address the shortfall.
"What I’m hearing is we can manage it and we have to play it as we see it," Reuters reported at the time.
The government yesterday announced plans to ease the shortfall by making it easier to get an HGV licence and cutting the cost of training, but a request from the RHA to allow temporary access to drivers from the EU was rejected.
There have been calls for the army to get involved if the situation worsens.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that stores are working together with suppliers so customers still have access to products they need.