Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director of EHL Ingredients explains how the perfect storm of Brexit, the ‘pingedemic’ and Covid cases is leading to staff shortages and empty shelves.
The UK food industry and the whole supply chain is disrupted at the moment due firstly to the ‘pingdemic’ and staff isolating after being contacted by the Covid app, secondly as staff have contracted Covid so are off work sick, and thirdly a lack of UK-based workers to fill roles, due to Brexit and foreign workers returning to their home countries.
In the last few months, this has all come to a head and left us, and many other food suppliers, in a recruitment crisis as we are having staffing issues, which is having a knock-on effect on the whole food industry. There are already food items missing from supermarket shelves as a result of the shortage of workers and Brexit complications.
The staff shortage will affect all areas of the bakery sector – from grain and milling, to production and shop staff, the whole bakery manufacturing channel will feel the effects of the lack of workers at some point. Finding skilled, reliable employees is going from being a challenge to a real crisis and there’s stiff competition to find and keep employees.
For us, working in a spice warehouse is not an easy role to fill due to the health and safety, allergen awareness, and product knowledge required. It’s hard to find suitable staff who can perform the job well and who will stay in the position.
We’re very lucky to have some very loyal employees who have been with us for years. But, we’re about 20% down on staff at the moment, which is adding pressure to our team and putting a strain on employees at all levels and affecting our customers too.
The whole bakery manufacturing channel will feel the effects of the lack of workers at some point
On top of this, we’re still in the middle of a haulier crisis due to the shortage in HGV and LGV drivers in the UK.
While the UK government has attempted to make it easier for food industry workers to resume working, we’re keen to be cautious to avoid any further members of our team having to self isolate.
We’re feeling frustrated that there hasn’t been a clear plan for how we maintain supplies and the flow of products through the distribution channel since Britain’s exit from the EU – and there doesn’t seem to be any solutions coming in the near future. These issues began with Brexit and have been exacerbated during the pandemic. No other European countries are experiencing shortages like this, supermarket shelves in France and Germany are well stocked, the hospitality sector has supplies and staff in Europe.
We can only hope the government comes up with a solution before the Christmas rush to avoid unhappy shoppers and excessive price hikes.