The boss of the UK unit of European dairy giant Arla Foods has warned of a summer of disruption to fresh milk supplies as a shortage of haulage drivers curtails its ability to deliver to major supermarkets.

Arla’s UK managing director Ash Amirahmadi told the BBC today (30 July) the business had suffered from a driver shortage since April, and was unable to deliver milk last Saturday to 600 of the daily 2,400 stores it services.

“It’s very worrying for customers when they go into shops and find that the shelves are empty. Our assessment is that we’re in a driver shortage crisis and therefore we’re asking for the industry and Government to work together to recognise we’re in a crisis and actually address the issue,” Amirahmadi said in an interview with the broadcaster.

The Government last week revealed plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their heavy goods vehicle (HGV) licence following industry complaints about an acute shortage of large truck delivery drivers.

In an open letter to the road haulage industry, signed by ministers including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Environment Secretary George Eustice, the Government has pledged to ease driver qualification requirements to tackle the current shortage.

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By GlobalData

The problem was highlighted in a letter sent by the Road Haulage Association (RHA) to Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the end of June. It was countersigned by Ian Wright, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Nick Allen, the chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) and Richard Harrow, the chief executive the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF).

The letter warned of supermarket delivery issues leading to empty shelves unless action was taken.

Amirahmadi stressed the plans should be accelerated. “Unfortunately at the moment, there’s about 10% of the stores every day that we can’t deliver to. At the weekend, it’s worse,” adding it would be “tough and challenging” to get through the summer.

He told the BBC Arla had agreed to increase the salaries of third-party hauliers, and was even offering a GBP2,000 (US$2,792) bonus if they were prepared to work weekends. And the issue is likely to get worse through the summer holidays, he said.

“We’re trying to avoid a summer of disruption. By how much, we cannot fully predict, but I think that’s why we really need to take bold action in time for the summer. The food is there in the factories, it’s just about getting it to the shops. So that’s our key problem.”