Christmas food range will be limited to avoid shortages, MPs told

The Transport Select Committee heard the logistics industry is focusing on what it believes is ‘achievable’ in terms of what can be delivered.

Shoppers in supermarket
Shoppers in supermarket

There will be a reduced range of food items available to buy this Christmas due to supply chain issues, MPs have been warned.

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, a trade body representing the temperature-controlled logistics industry, said the sector is focused on what it believes is “achievable” in terms of what can be delivered to stores.

He told the Commons Transport Select Committee: “It’s not about shortages, it’s about simplifying. Having less range obviously is one of the key decisions you can make in trying to make supply chains more efficient.

“And it’s about reducing the amount of goods you’re expected to put on the shelves and then working with the customer base to actually make that clear.

“We are very good at piling high and selling cheap at Christmas time.

“What we have to do is strategically scale that back in order to meet the promise that there will be the stuff you expect to see on the shelves, but not necessarily all the extras.”

Mr Brennan said companies are being forced to be “risk averse about how they see this Christmas period rather than trying to make up lost ground in terms of revenue”.

The supply chain is facing a number of pressures, such as drivers leaving the industry and difficulties recruiting new ones, border issues and delays with the movement of shipping containers.

Global shipping supplies are in “an unprecedented period of stress”, Mr Brennan told the committee.

He said it is taking two or three days for fresh food arriving at UK ports to be delivered to stores, whereas this would normally happen on a same day or next day basis.

For frozen food, the timescale has increased from between one and three days to up to five and six days.

“We’re seeing significant changes and having to re-plan on that basis,” Mr Brennan said.

“The thing that’s different today compared to four months ago is, whilst that was a difficult adjustment period four months ago, people know that’s now the situation and are planning their decisions on that basis.

“It’s not as good as it was, but it’s what works.”

Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at trade body Logistics UK, told the hearing that the sector is “adjusting to the new normal”.

She said: “We are a dependable sector who does their absolute utmost, and you’ve seen this throughout the whole of the Covid crisis. I think there is calmness.

“I also think that as a society, even though we’ve had panic buying over petrol, I think we are getting more used to seeing fewer things on shelves and that being OK, and knowing it’s coming.

“Perhaps not getting something the next day but having to wait a few days for it.

“All things that we know as a society we need to be moving towards in our decarbonisation, not the instant gratification and demand.”

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