The chief executive of UK big four supermarket Tesco has warned preparations for the new Brexit deadline will be more difficult than the initial deadline in March as retailers gear up for the busy Christmas period. 

CEO Dave Lewis told the BBC the supply network in the UK will be full of Christmas stock at the end of October, the new threshold when the country is set to leave the European Union. There would be “less capacity” for stockpiling longer-life items, he said.

Lewis said Tesco had bought extra stock of long-life items in preparation for 29 March, but now claims it would be harder to make similar preparations this time round.

“We’ll do whatever is practical depending on how things develop between now and then,” he told the BBC. “But the challenge will always be those things which are shorter life – fresh produce. That’s what the UK imports quite a lot of.” 

A no-deal Brexit could mean tariffs and delays at the border that interrupt supplies of some food, Lewis added.

“If as part of no-deal there is no tariff, there is no problem,” the Tesco chief said. “We could be absolutely fine.”

He also spoke about the possible outcome on shoppers should the UK leave the trading bloc with no-deal in October.

“Empty shelves depends on what no-deal means,” Lewis said. “If there’s a problem at the border, if there’s a problem with tariffs then there could be interruption.”

Lewis also touched on the subject of using plastic packaging in Tesco stores, but pointed out how measures to tackle the environmental issue could in fact lead to more waste.

Eliminating plastic packaging for loose goods could give rise to damaged items, and in turn higher prices, he warned.

“We can’t change everything tomorrow, it’s not practical,” he said.

Lewis told the broadcaster that while Tesco has removed plastics where it can and introduced the option for customers to bring their own packaging, getting rid of it completely would require huge changes across the supply chain which would involve “9,000 suppliers across 35,000 products”.