The CEO of UK grocer The Co-op has amplified concerns over UK food shortages as post-Brexit immigration rules and a lack of qualified haulage drivers has led to empty shelves for some products.

Steve Murrells, the CEO of the Co-op, told The Times newspaper that “the shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen,” adding the grocer is reducing some ranges due to manufacturers’ diminishing ability to get products to stores as the HGV shortage bites.

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Logistics UK, which represents the transport industry from road to rail, sea and air, joined the British Retail Consortium this week in urging the Government to review rules on temporary work visas for EU nationals.

The BRC estimates there is a shortage of 90,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers, a situation made worse by a backlog of people in the UK waiting to take their tests as a result of the pandemic, while the training of haulage drivers remains a lengthy process.

The shortage of available workers has hit crop farmers in areas such as fruit and vegetable picking, for example, while fast-food restaurant chain McDonalds said this week it had run out of milk shakes. And last month, Arla Foods, a European dairy firm with operations in the UK, warned of disruption to fresh milk supplies linked to the dearth of HGV drivers.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) representing meat companies in the UK has also waded in on the labour debate, expressing concern about a shortage of pork for the Christmas festive season, echoing a similar warning by the British Poultry Council over the availability of turkeys.

Nick Allen, the CEO of BMPA, told a London newspaper in comments confirmed by a spokesperson, that its members are around 12-13% down on staff. Christmas dinner favourites like pigs in blankets could see production cut by a third, he said.

“We are cutting back and prioritising lines and cutting out on things, so there just won’t be the totals of Christmas favourites like we are used to,” Allen noted.