Just when pub owners thought things couldn’t get any worse in the UK, they’re facing a food and beer shortage due to a combination of Brexit and COVID-19 issues.
Some pubs have even been forced to close because they don’t have enough kegs, with the dire beer shortage of European brands including Fosters, Birra Morreti and Heineken expected to continue well into September.
The “pingdemic” has been blamed for limiting numbers of available truck drivers. The play on words is a combination of “pandemic” and “ping”. It refers to being notified by the National Health Service COVID-19 app. When Brits are “pinged” by the app, they are advised to self-isolate for a set amount of time. The notification is sent after the app registers that they have been close contact with someone who has tested positive with COVID-19.
New rules came into effect last week, meaning that fully vaccinated people are no longer legally required to isolate if they come into close contact with a positive COVID-19 case. It’s hoped this will help alleviate the problem.
However, there is also a much smaller pool of Eastern European drivers due to Brexit working visa issues and COVID-19. Analysis of the latest ONS Labour Force Survey for the second quarter suggests that 14,000 EU lorry drivers left jobs in the UK in the year to June 2020, and only 600 had returned by July 2021.
Add to that strike action from the draymen responsible for around 40% of beer deliveries to British pubs, due to disgruntlement over paltry wage increases, and things are looking pretty dire for publicans.
It’s not just beer that’s been affected, there are also widespread food shortages throughout Britain. These are due to both staffing shortages and delivery issues.
Nando’s, for example, has been forced to close a tenth of its restaurants due to a shortage of chicken, while McDonald’s has been forced to stop selling milkshakes and bottled drinks at nearly 1300 restaurants.
Andrew Sentance, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee said: “The anecdotal evidence is not very reassuring when you hear problems in supply chains associated with a shortage of lorry drivers, meaning McDonald’s is running out of milkshakes and Nando’s out of chicken. It’s all a little bit unnerving.”
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, which represents butchers, abattoirs and processors, has even called on the British grovernment to allow them to use prisoners to fill the gap.
Speaking about the beer shortage, Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association said: “From large brewers and managed pub operators, to smaller breweries, leased and tenanted pubs and the independent free trade, the driver shortage is affecting the entirety of our sector.
“As a sector we are working with third-party logistics partners around the clock to ensure as many deliveries as possible. Brewers are actively looking at ways they can still do deliveries as are pub operators trying to get supplies to tenants and lessees.
“It is a testament to the resilience of our sector that it is going all out to fulfil deliveries, while brands like Nando’s are simply closing.
“Whilst we are grateful for Government engagement to date on the issue of the driver shortage, it is clear the immediate situation will not be rectified without their intervention.
“Adding HGV drivers to the shortage occupation list or temporary visas will be is essential to helping stabilise the current situation and help us at this critical time in our recovery.”
US food shortages
According to Bloomberg, some of the largest US food distributors are reporting difficulties in fulfilling orders due to a lack of workers.
Sysco Corp, North America’s largest wholesale food distributor, said prices for goods such as chicken, pork and paper products for takeaway packaging are climbing amid tight supplies.
The entire food sector is seeing “massive labor shortages,” said Benjamin Walker, senior vice president of sales, marketing and merchandising at Baldor Specialty Foods, a New York distributor. “Service levels are the lowest I’ve seen in my 16-year career, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away anytime soon.”
Finding truck drivers is “next to impossible,” he said, while freight costs are rising daily.
“We all thought it would be over by now. It’s just one thing after another,” he said. “This is going to be the norm for a while.”
Could Australia be next?
Around 7000 Australian truck drivers launched strike action this week after crisis talks between the transport union and Toll failed to reach an agreement.
The 24-hour strike put added pressure on a supply chain already struggling during COVID-19.
While the move disrupted food, fuel and parcel supplies, the TWU had promised this would not influence the supply of vaccines and essential medical goods.
The decision to strike came after months of failed talks and after a bargaining agreement collapsed. Workers are demanding more job security and better wages.
At 6am on August 30, truck drivers also blocked a major highway to protest against COVID-19 lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations. The demonstration was held on the M1 in Reedy Creek, south of Brisbane.
Meanwhile, in Shepparton, Victoria, more than 20,000 of the city’s 70,000 population are currently in isolation, which has lead to a critical shortage of essential supplies.
Many supermarkets are shut or cutting down their opening hours after being listed as exposure sites or due to having a large portion of the workforce in quarantine.
Premier Daniel Andrews revealed the army had been called in, telling reporters that “every part of life in Shepparton and across the Goulburn Valley has been impacted by the fact that many people are not at work”.
“The emergency management architecture will be in place but it will be in the main very, very simple things. Taking food to people’s doorstep. Getting scripts filled,” he said.