A group of British wine, sparkling wine and spirits retailers and producers are warning that due to the lack of truck drivers during the Christmas season, only limited deliveries and a reduced range will be possible.

Almost 50 companies have issued a letter calling on Transport Minister Grant Shapps to take “urgent action”, otherwise some alcoholic beverages are in danger of disappearing from supermarket shelves.

Philip Plickert

Business correspondent based in London.

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Specifically, the visas for foreign truck drivers, which have so far been limited in time, have to be extended to one year and the transport routes from the ports improved, the companies write in the letter that the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has distributed.

In addition to many wine retailers, the signatories also include companies such as Campari Group UK, Moet Hennessy and Jägermeister UK.

Your situation is critical.

Where it used to take two to three days for a delivery, the process now often takes fifteen days.

The transport companies have increased their tariffs by an average of 7 percent or more.

Container backlogs

Ed Baker, managing director of Kingsland Drinks, which fills around 185 million bottles of wine a year, around every eighth bottle drunk on the island, describes the situation of his company. Because of a backlog of beverage containers, there are bottlenecks at the railway hubs near Manchester or in the port of Liverpool. "The extra costs for the drivers will drive up prices and if products arrive too late, this can mean that some drinks do not make it to the supermarket shelves during the festive season."

The selection of some fresh foods could also be reduced in the next few weeks, warned Shane Brennan, head of the Cold Chain Federation, the association of logisticians for chilled goods, in a parliamentary hearing. There is no threat of a shortage, but due to simplified supply chains there is a smaller range of products. Grocery deliveries that used to take a day are now on the way for three days. Christian Härtnagel, head of Lidl UK, said that real stock shortages in supermarkets have only been an isolated problem so far. The availability is now better than ten weeks ago. "But this Christmas is going to be a lot harder than any Christmas before," he told The Grocer.

According to the UK Freighters Association, up to 100,000 truck drivers are missing in the UK.

Tens of thousands of drivers retire every year, and many gave up their stressful job during the Corona period.

And since Brexit, tens of thousands of Eastern Europeans have moved away as drivers.

The government has promised an additional 5,000 visas, but demand is moderate.

Transport Secretary Shapps hopes accelerated driving tests will alleviate the shortage, but industry warns it will take too long.