Tonnes of food and drink are at risk of being wasted unnecessarily every week because of the current shortage of delivery drivers, says online retailer Approved Food.
The Yorkshire-based company is calling for further support for the industry to recruit drivers, who are in demand following the impact of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, but also wants supermarkets to engage with more food redistributors to prevent waste.
It has been widely reported that Tesco suppliers are binning almost 50 tonnes of fresh food every week because of too few HGV drivers being available to transport it to stores.
The pandemic, coupled with the effects of the Brexit transition on the availability of foreign workers, means drivers are in demand at a challenging time for the food sector.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) estimates the shortfall of drivers has now reached around 70,000. It predicts that shoppers will see increased costs passed on to them and has suggested a 12-point plan for the sector that includes a seasonal visa scheme for qualified HGV drivers, priority driving tests and improvements to the road network.
The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has already warned that its members are struggling to get food deliveries out to supermarkets, restaurants, pubs, schools, and care homes. Some convenience stores have had to put up signs warning customers of empty shelves. It wants the army to step in to help carry out deliveries.
Approved Food brand ambassador Jonathan Straight explained that 50 tonnes of waste might be around half a dozen trucks full, dependent on exactly what was being transported. He urged supermarkets to work with more organisations with the capability to redistribute this food.
“This issue does not need the army – many organisations would be glad of this food. Wasting precious resources is not acceptable, especially when we have a problem with people going hungry,” he said.
Andy Needham, MD at Approved Food, added: “Lockdown and Brexit have amplified the challenges that already existed in the logistics sector, and these have now reached critical levels.
“There were already issues surrounding attracting younger workers to the industry, competition from warehouse jobs and a skills gap caused in part by the expense of training HGV drivers.
“With the restrictions now in place dictating how firms can recruit from Europe, there needs to be more incentive and training for people living in the UK to want to work as drivers to help both the food service and logistics industry get back to where they once were.
“Yet, despite the shortage, we need to see a more open attitude to who has access to supermarket surplus food in order to prevent it from being binned unnecessarily.”