UK shortages of 2021 | The Independent


Boris Johnson hailed 19 July 2021 as “Freedom Day”, easing the final of the social restrictions imposed on the British public because the onset of the coronavirus pandemic 16 months earlier and drawing a line underneath among the darkest days in our current historical past.

The vaccine rollout had been a triumph, Covid-19 seemed to be on the ropes, Gareth Southgate’s boys had performed us proud at Euro 2020 and a summer time heatwave had descended. What may go fallacious?

That query was answered simply three days later, when eerie images of barren grocery store cabinets started to appear on social media, forcing each the shops themselves and authorities ministers to induce customers to not interact in panic-buying in response to the obvious scarcity of on a regular basis items.

The phenomenon felt like a return to the unhealthy previous days of March 2020 and the very starting of the pandemic, when frantic customers raced to assemble up as many six-packs of bathroom rolls and bottles of hand sanitiser as they might carry to make sure plentiful provides at house ought to society certainly collapse within the method of a Netflix zombie film.

This contemporary instalment of hysteria was blamed initially on a “pingdemic”, an explosion of notifications from the NHS Check and Hint app advising staff to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with somebody who has examined optimistic for the virus and therein inflicting chaos at workplaces throughout the nation.

With no exceptions made and official coverage nonetheless considered one of “contact isolation” slightly than “contact testing”, the UK financial system was apparently being hard-hit by employees absences in response to the smartphone-issued quarantine orders, an issue affecting each sector, from retail and hospitality to move, tourism and manufacturing, inflicting shifts to be rescheduled and providers to run late or be cancelled altogether.

However grocery store aisles left empty for the need of stackers or inventory would show to be merely probably the most instantly seen symptom of a variety of points that had been festering and have been starting to floor.

Given the extremely intricate and interconnected nature of the worldwide provide chain, through which outsourcing is frequent and a single product is seldom manufactured, assembled, packaged and shipped by one outfit alone, the chaos being wrought by Covid was not merely confined to Britain however taking part in out throughout the map, with illness absences at factories wherever probably resulting in bottlenecks and delays in all places.

The NHS app was retooled to be much less delicate on 2 August, which means fewer staff have been unable to work from home, however nonetheless the issues persevered, prompting the pundits to look just a little deeper for the basis trigger.

An underlying scarcity of HGV drivers was additionally clearly taking part in an element, a long-term headache already exacerbated by Brexit and worsened by the problems related to the pandemic.

The UK haulage business estimated that Britain had misplaced 25,000 European lorry drivers within the wake of the EU membership referendum as they have been compelled to return to their nations of origin by tighter visa guidelines and the lack of free motion of labour ideas.

The three successive nationwide lockdowns imposed in response to the Covid outbreak in the meantime meant that as many as 40,000 candidates to the DVLA in Swansea hoping to take a lorry driver’s check had been unable to take action, their kinds piled excessive and gathering mud.

Throw in an ageing workforce and British hauliers have been dealing with a shortfall of as many as 100,000 drivers.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker advised BBC Radio 4’s In the present day programme in late August that the shortage of drivers needed to be addressed by the federal government and was “impacting the meals provide chain every day”.

“We’ve had deliveries cancelled for the primary time because the pandemic started, about 30-40 deliveries a day,” he stated. “Issues like bread, fast-moving strains, are being cancelled in about 100 shops a day.”

Requested whether or not he blamed Brexit for the state of affairs, Mr Walker didn’t hesitate to say sure, branding Britain’s resolution to depart the EU “a self-inflicted wound”.

His sentiments have been echoed by different grocery store bosses, members of the Shadow Cupboard and, finally, even by transport secretary Grant Shapps and the Workplace of Funds Accountability, the latter pointing to a 15 per cent fall in British commerce with Europe as a contributor to the shortages.

For Trades Union Congress general-secretary Frances O’Grady, the fast progress of zero hours contracts and the “casualisation” of labor by way of the gig financial system was one other key issue.

“It’s not nearly pay and circumstances,” she stated. “It’s concerning the enterprise fashions that now we have seen mushroom over the previous 10 or 20 years.

“Provide chains are in peril. That ought to be a wake-up name for all of us. The options are fairly easy. It’s about night up that collective bargaining energy and about treating folks with dignity and decency at work.”

When the issues started to manifest anew within the form of the flash gasoline disaster of late September and early October, prompting drivers throughout the nation to queue across the block for entry to desolate service station forecourts, Mr Johnson’s Cupboard was compelled to behave.

It drafted in Military drivers to ferry petrol deliveries from distribution terminals to the pumps underneath Operation Escalin (a Brexit emergency backup plan hurriedly retrieved from a drawer), begged retirees to get again of their cabs and supplied short-term visas to European hauliers, who have been, understandably, not significantly inclined to assist out.

That episode – propelled to an extent by some unhelpfully alarmist media protection, centred across the inevitable photographs of snaking strains of site visitors – did finally ease, however not earlier than post-Brexit Britain had been likened to “boycotted Cuba” by Europe’s newspapers.

From the disastrous disappearance of Haribo to the nightmarish prospect of a world with no Irn-Bru, Walkers Crisps or Weetabix, here’s a reminder of among the key merchandise we ran dry of in 2021, the yr we went with out.


One of many first victims of the HGV driver disaster was the German confectioner, who first reported provide points on 2 July earlier than the extent of the issue turned frontpage information – a dire flip of occasions for Tangfastics loyalists.

Commerce journal The Grocer reported that Haribo had advised its wholesale and retail clients that it was “confronted with a number of challenges all through our provide chain together with a scarcity of drivers” however was “working flat out to handle the state of affairs”.

Not even gummy bears have been resistant to Britain’s 2021 supply disaster


Hain Daniels, Suntory and Danone Waters have been all stated to be experiencing issues on the similar time, prompting a variety of foods and drinks associations to signal an open letter to the federal government calling on European hauliers to be allowed again into Britain to avert the nascent catastrophe.


Scandinavian dairy big Arla, whose UK arm provides milk to roughly 2,400 British shops every day, stated on 30 July that it had been unable to finish deliveries to 600 outlets the earlier weekend because of the lack of drivers.

Ash Amirahmadi, managing director of Arla Meals UK, advised the In the present day programme it might be “fairly worrying” for customers if they might not discover as every single day a product as milk at their native nook store and referred to as on the federal government to work with business leaders to discover a answer and keep away from “a summer time of disruption”.

PS5s and Xbox Sequence Xs

One scarcity largely unrelated to the UK supply disaster however nonetheless a supply of main frustration to British customers this yr was the issue of acquiring Sony and Microsoft’s newest video games consoles, the results of a spike in demand throughout lockdown and, extra devastatingly, a global shortfall of semiconductors and different {hardware} elements.

Monitoring down a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Sequence X turned a close to full-time occupation, with devoted treasure hunters avidly following specialist social media accounts, chat rooms and liveblogs searching for the most recent updates on inventory drops, able to pounce in case the likes of Argos, Amazon, Sport, Smyths Toys or John Lewis occurred to take supply of a contemporary batch.

Fried hen

By mid-August, Nandos and KFC have been each operating wanting hen (the raison d’etre of each companies) whereas McDonald’s was unable to supply milkshakes or hold bottled comfortable drinks in inventory.

Issues have been getting critical.

Colonel Sanders was powerless to intervene


“While you don’t have folks, you might have an issue – and that is one thing we’re seeing throughout the entire provide chain. The labour disaster is a Brexit challenge,” stated British Poultry Council chief government Richard Griffiths.

As foyer teams for the retail and transport industries wrote to the enterprise secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, to demand an answer, UKHospitality chief government Kate Nicholls advised The Impartial: “Our figures present that 94 per cent of hospitality companies are experiencing issues, with about two-thirds of these saying some items merely don’t arrive, thereby lowering the menu they will supply clients and severely undermining gross sales.”


As increasingly manufacturers reported inventory supply issues, together with Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Co-Op and Costa, one improvement that stood out from the group was the information that the JD Wetherspoon pub chain had run out of Carling, Coors and Bud Mild, deliciously ironic provided that its wild-haired founder Tim Martin had been considered one of Brexit’s most tireless evangelists.

Flat-pack furnishings

Not even the crafty Swedes of Ikea have been immune, the corporate telling The Impartial on three September that every one 22 of its UK shops have been struggling to inventory full product strains, with 10 per cent of things affected.

“Like many retailers, we’re experiencing ongoing challenges with our provide chains as a consequence of Covid-19 and labour shortages, with transport, uncooked supplies and sourcing all impacted,” a spokesperson stated.

“As well as, we’re seeing greater buyer demand as extra persons are spending extra time at house. In consequence, we’re experiencing low availability in a few of our ranges, together with mattresses.”


Scottish comfortable drink firm AG Barr turned the most recent firm to be hit by the provision chain snarl-up on 28 September.

Chief government Roger White stated of delays to the transport of his firm’s signature product: “There’s a tightness with drivers and now we have had explicit disruption too with supplies, significantly aluminium cans. Inflation is throughout us for the time being – supplies, wages and provide amongst different issues – so now we have to watch out how we handle this.”

Irn-Bru in its pure habitat


Luckily, the state of affairs improved in time for the Cop26 local weather summit in Glasgow in November, when delegates from all over the world have been left variously bedazzled or perplexed by the bubble gum-flavoured soda.


Local weather change was blamed for the unhealthy wheat harvest that meant there was little pasta to be discovered on our grocery store cabinets in October.

Excessive dry climate in Canada and heavy flooding in France and Italy had collectively conspired to create extreme shortages of durum wheat, a key ingredient on this most basic of staple meals, inflicting costs to soar by 90-100 per cent amid worldwide provide issues.

“It’s loopy. I’ve been doing this for 17 years, however I’ve not seen this earlier than,” commented Eurostar Commodities director Jason Bull.


The precariousness of the UK’s agriculture sector is nicely documented however contemporary concern was raised on 12 October when it emerged that tomato and cucumber growers have been being compelled to close down manufacturing due to the exorbitant price of holding greenhouses heated and buying nitrogen-based fertilisers.

Potato farmers have been additionally struggling to soak up huge will increase in the price of chilly storage, the Nationwide Farmers Union (NFU) stated.

“We’ve got a really actual danger now of exporting components of our farming business abroad and lowering the capability of UK agriculture to feed the nation,” warned the NFU’s vice chairman, Tom Bradshaw, calling on British supermarkets to pay their suppliers extra.

Walkers Crisps

As with the dearth of video games consoles and pasta, this one was really not attributable to the lorry driver scarcity.

As an alternative, Leicester’s favorite salted snack suffered an IT glitch whereas updating its software program, leading to widespread provide disruption and forcing the corporate to ramp up manufacturing of such lunchtime mainstays as Quavers and Wotsits.


Gary Lineker will need to have been inconsolable.


One other exception to the rule, a collection of strikes by members of the Unite commerce union on the Kettering and Corby vegetation that manufacture the favored cereal between September and November was the explanation Britain discovered itself staring down the barrel of a Weetabix deficit.

The employees undertook the commercial motion over working circumstances and pay, accusing their employer of “fireplace and rehire” ways, a apply the producers denied partaking in.

Vegan sausage rolls

Greggs, the Newcastle-based finances bakery, scored a triumph when it launched a meat-free sausage roll in 2019, in some way managing to outlive the sneers of Piers Morgan and see the Quorn-stuffed pastry develop into a excessive road favorite.

However that too was left briefly provide in mid-November, with London significantly hard-hit, a blow for workplace managers hoping to entice employees again to their desks and a lifetime of lunchtime meal offers.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen

Survey knowledge, gathered by Kantar Public between 19 and 22 November and shared with the Workplace for Nationwide Statistics, revealed not simply ongoing delays in crisp manufacturing however, extra concerningly, a scarcity of over-the-counter painkillers.

One retailer in 5 was discovered to be operating low on paracetamol and ibuprofen with the UK within the midst of winter flu season – though maybe the diminished availability of wines and spirits will play into our arms right here by leading to fewer Christmas occasion hangovers and thus a diminished demand for the treatment.