Tesco has warned the government that it is worried about panic-buying in the run-up to Christmas as a shortage of HGV drivers results in empty shelves, reports suggest.
Britain’s biggest supermarket told a meeting of the government’s new food and drink taskforce it could be “far worse” than stockpiling that took place at the start of the pandemic last year, according to trade magazine The Grocer.
Tesco – which has been offering HGV drivers signing-on bonuses of £1,000 since the summer – reportedly warned the Defra official chairing the meeting last week that it was still looking to fill around 800 such vacancies.
The supermarket warned that the problem was industry-wide and attempts by different retailers to recruit from the same pool of drivers was like “moving deckchairs around”, according to ITV, which also reported on the meeting.
One Tesco executive is said to have told the government that it was worried the situation would deteriorate in the run-up to the festive period, adding that “the pictures of empty shelves will get ten times worse by Christmas and then we’ll get panic-buying”.
The supermarket called for a temporary easing of rules to make it easier to bring in workers from abroad to solve the problem.
Road haulage firms say there is a shortage of around 100,000 drivers across the UK – and companies across the economy are being affected.
More recently, a shortage of carbon dioxide – a knock-on effect of the surge in gas prices – has added to supply chain problems because of CO2’s crucial role in food and drink production.
Details of the meeting emerged as the National Farmers Union published a joint letter from food industry bodies to the prime minister calling for a 12-month “COVID recovery visa”, enabling companies involved in the supply chain to recruit “critical roles” as a short-term response to labour shortages.
It said there were an estimated 500,000 vacancies across the industry.
Without the visa, “more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter”, the letter said.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We have good availability, with deliveries arriving at our stores and distribution centres across the UK every day.
“While the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers has led to some distribution challenges, we’re working hard to address these and to plan for the months ahead, so that customers can get everything they need.”
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise business is facing a range of challenges and we are taking steps to support them, including streamlining the process for new HGV drivers and increasing the number of driving tests.
“Progress has already being made in testing and hiring, with improving pay, working conditions and diversity.
“We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points.”