Christmas Selection Box Supplies Hit By Labour Shortages
Chocolate and biscuit companies are being forced to cancel the production of festive items like selection boxes due to the strain on supply chains caused by ongoing labour shortages.
The disruption, which is largely down to a dearth of lorry drivers and warehouse workers in the UK, is having a major impact on "Christmas-themed, specialist" items like selection packs, according to Dominic Goudie, the Head of International Trade at the Food & Drink Federation (FDF).
A spokesperson for Mars Wrigley, which produces the Celebrations selection box as well as Twix, Snickers, and its flagship Mars Bar, confirmed that shortages of HGV drivers and warehouse staff had "adversely impacted our ability to deliver some products we would like this Christmas."
They did not comment on their individual products, and sought to reassure the public that "there will be plenty of their favourite Mars Wrigley treats to go around this festive season."
It is latest example of how severe labour shortages in the UK are preventing companies from filling supermarket shelves with the range of products that they would usually provide. The FDF estimates there are half a million unfilled jobs across the UK's food and drink supply chain.
“There is already a very real impact on consumer choice," Goudie told PoliticsHome.
He said companies he had spoken to had been forced to reduce product lines in the run-up to the busy festive period, with staple products being prioritised over Christmas-themed items.
“Companies say disruption has calmed down a bit in recent weeks but only because they are reducing their product lines and ceasing production of many goods that they usually sell at Christmas, in order to focus on large-volume items which they sell all year round," he explained.
“It’s impacting Christmas-themed products, like selection packs of chocolates and biscuits, because companies are prioritising the bread-and-butter, everyday products in their portfolio."
He added that some companies had gone as far as scrapping Christmas product lines so they can begin preparing for Easter, as labour shortages mean "there is only so much they can do."
A government source insisted that supply chains had "really stablished" in recent weeks.
Averting empty supermarket shelves this Christmas is one of the many challenges facing Boris Johnson, who in October brought in former Tesco CEO Sir David Lewis to advise on resolving the issues facing businesses, in anticipation of a surge in demand during the festive period.
Lewis is assisting Stephen Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is the minister in Johnson's Cabinet chiefly responsible for addressing the issues facing supply chains.The government has also recently introduced temporary visa schemes, allowing overseas workers to plug gaps in what ministers have deemed to be the most high-priority sectors.
Many overseas workers left the UK following its departure from the EU and during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving big holes in the labour force. However, post-Brexit immigration rules have made it more difficult for businesses to fill those gaps by recruiting workers from abroad.
5,000 foreign HGV drivers are allowed to work in the UK until March, while 5,500 poultry workers from abroad can apply for visas which expire at the end of the year. The government has also created 800 six-month visas for overseas butchers amid a major backlog of pigs on farms.
PoliticsHome reported on Thursday that the slow rollout of the butcher visa scheme has meant it has yet to have a major positive effect on the industry, with the government this week admitting that just "tens" of successful applicants from overseas are due to arrive in early December.
There is also growing frustration among industry figures with what they say is the government's refusal to disclose exactly how many visas have been granted to overseas workers. "We are told the information goes to the Prime Minister but we never even get the headline figures," one said.
A government spokesperson said: "The UK has a highly resilient food supply chain which has responded well to unprecedented global challenges."
“We are continuing to work with supermarkets and industry to ensure they have the supplies they need over Christmas and to minimise disruption caused by global pressures."
“We have taken extensive action to tackle the HGV driver shortage and our measures are working. We’ve seen a huge increase in vocational licences issued and HGV tests conducted, compared to before the pandemic.”
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