Staff shortages across the supply chain are continuing to cause disruption for hospitality and foodservice businesses, forcing some kitchens to contend with a lack of ingredients.
A labour crisis affecting food manufacturers and processors means they are struggling to keep up with order demand, with The Guardian reporting that suppliers are trying to draft in prisoners via a scheme that allows inmates to undertake paid work on day release.
Dayle Evans, landlord of the Morlais Castle Inn in Merthyr Tydfil, told The Caterer he has had to delay opening his pub's kitchen for six to eight weeks due to a shortage of produce.
Evans has been renovating the pub, which was closed for 23 years, throughout the pandemic, but could only open for drinks service when trading began around 10 weeks ago.
"Our suppliers are telling us directly that due to Brexit there are no staff available in Europe and no ingredients," he said.
"From spices to potatoes, nothing is being harvested. There is no logistical support or staff to transport [produce] either. That's had a knock-on effect for everyone in this country."
He added that smaller businesses like his own were struggling to compete with bigger companies on orders. "All these large companies are going to take priority over businesses like ours. We're at the bottom of the rung and it's had a huge effect on us."
Chicken supply issues
A spokesperson for buying specialist Lynx Purchasing said shortages were expected to last for several months and that processed chicken and potato products were a particular issue.
Earlier this month KFC warned customers that some menu items may not be available or that packaging may look "a little different" due to "some disruption".
Last week Nando's was forced to lend 70 of its team members to help short-staffed suppliers after a lack of ingredients forced around 50 of its restaurants to close. The chicken chain, which runs more than 400 UK sites, said some restaurants had shut to restock, while others were running a limited service due to team members self-isolating. All restaurants have since reopened.
Rachel Dobson, managing director at Lynx Purchasing, said poultry supply was being hit by the ongoing impact of Covid-19 worldwide: "Many poultry products are processed in regions where vaccine rollout is well behind ours, so demand is high across the board, with supermarkets securing supplies wherever they can, and the prices being paid by pubs and restaurants, and the supplies available reflect this," she said.
"A fast-food brand that is dependent on a specific product such as chicken obviously sees the impact more quickly than pubs or restaurants that have more diverse menus, but most pubs will have a chicken burger, chicken skewers, chicken Kiev or other prepared chicken products somewhere on their menu."
A lack of manufacturing staff in the UK is also being blamed for the shortage of poultry products. "The people whose job it was to cut up and portion chickens have left the country and there aren't enough left to do it," said David Read, chairman of procurement specialist Prestige Purchasing.
"The reality around Brexit is that an enormous number of workers, many of whom were on furlough, went back to Europe and found jobs and haven't come back."
Read added that some food importers have simply given up sending produce to the UK due to increased congestion at ports and the added paperwork required after Brexit. According to a study conducted by Haulage Exchange, 31% of haulage companies said they were avoiding working with the food and drinks industry due to increased checks and admin on certain products.
Read said many of the larger food manufacturers who shifted their focus to retail during the pandemic had been slow to wake up to the fact hospitality was trading again. This, coupled with reported shortfall of around 70,000 trained HGV drivers, means they are struggling to get products into wholesalers.
"There are massive shortfalls of big branded products all over the place," he said. "It's a bit of a nightmare. It's not damaging enough for the most part to close businesses, but you can see the serious impacts it's having through Nando's and KFC. There have been a lot of restaurants, from pizza chains to Indian or Italian restaurants, that have struggled to get hold of speciality product.
"I've got a client at the moment who's had a particular spirit on their menu which has been out of stock in the country for 10 weeks now. It just doesn't exist in the UK."
Food price inflation stood at 1.6% in June, according to the CGA Prestige Foodservice Price Index, but supply chain issues could see it rise further over the next few months.
Shortages of delivery drivers and warehouse staff have led to manufacturers offering higher wages to attract more UK staff, which is expected to put pressure on pricing.
"[This] in turn will put a lot of stress of margins and will probably push pricing up and consumers will pay more… we are probably facing a period of inflation," said Read.
There is uncertainty, too, about the scale of a possible spike in demand in September as schools return and more workers are expected to return to the office. The busy Christmas period is also looming, with concerns that an already pressured poultry supply chain could struggle.
Read advised hospitality business owners to keep menus small and stay in close contact with suppliers to avoid an empty larder this autumn.
"Suppliers have never been in this situation before, and they genuinely don't know what's coming at them," he said. "Many are still struggling to work out whether contract caterers are going to order huge amounts of food in September because everyone's piling back into offices or only a little bit because most people are still staying at home.
"To help, operators can work closely with suppliers on their sales forecasting so it doesn't come as a surprise when huge orders start flooding through. Many caterers have sprawling menus which they change a lot. In a situation where supply markets are struggling, that level of unpredictability becomes difficult to manage."
He added that planning for Christmas would go a long way to helping avoid a lack of stock. "A turkey is not a million miles away from a chicken. People buy fresh and there's going to be huge pressures on the supply chain in terms of slaughtering and preparing turkeys.
"It would be enormously helpful if operators can start engaging with suppliers now about what their requirements will be through the Christmas period."
Dobson said pubs and restaurants need to be flexible over the next few months, particularly with pressures on poultry supply.
"[It's] going to be important to have a plan B if your usual supplier can't meet demand, whether that's an alternative product or speaking to other suppliers about availability," she said.
"Ultimately though, every pub and restaurant has a similar challenge, because chicken dishes are a menu staple, and as operators plan for Christmas, the best advice is to keep talking to suppliers – and make the most of whatever freezer space you have when products are available."
Photo: Ed Phillips/Shutterstock.com
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