Why we should take these food shortages seriously

The shelves in some supermarkets are increasingly bare again. But what’s causing the food shortages? Will they continue? And what can you do about them?

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Supermarket aisle with empty green trolley

Image source: Getty Images

It feels like Groundhog Day! It’s been 18 months since the first lockdown, and once again many shops have empty shelves and food shortages.

Here, I take a look at why we should take these food shortages seriously. I investigate why there might be long-term problems and consider how we can cope if we can’t buy the food we need.


Why are there food shortages?

There are a couple of main reasons for the recent food shortages.

Firstly, there is a long-term shortage of HGV drivers in the UK. This means that supermarkets are struggling to distribute food from ports to their warehouses and from their warehouses to their stores. According to the BBC, the lorry driver shortage has been caused by Brexit, a backlog of HGV driving tests due to Covid, a glut of drivers retiring, and tax changes making it more expensive to be self-employed in the UK. 

Secondly, the recent surge in gas prices has forced some UK fertiliser factories to close. These factories produce carbon dioxide as part of the production process, and can’t afford to pay the increased prices. This has led to a UK shortage of carbon dioxide which is used in the meat, vegetable and fizzy drinks industries. It’s also used to help keep food fresh when it is stored and transported.

Will we see long-term food shortages?

According to experts, the HGV driver shortage is likely to continue for some time. There are some signs that more youngsters are training as lorry drivers, and some firms are offering a £5,000 signing-on bonus. But it will take a while to plug the gap of an estimated 100,000 drivers.

On a more positive note, the problems with manufacturing carbon dioxide should be sorted very soon. The government has agreed a cash injection with the US firm CF Industries to help them restart carbon dioxide production.

I think it’s also likely that the supermarkets will adapt quickly to the challenges they face. They may respond by cutting product ranges and offering us less choice. But they need to make a profit, so it’s unlikely they’ll want shelves to be bare for too long.


What can we do about food shortages?

As a Mum of four growing kids, I know how stressful it is when you can’t buy food. My husband and daughter spent hours during the first lockdown trying to buy our weekly shop and came back with a handful of items!

Thankfully, most shops aren’t completely bare this time around. But is there anything practical we can do about the food shortages? Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Be flexible with your weekly shopping list. Have a few other meal ideas in your back pocket in case the shops don’t have what you need.
  • Plan a few store cupboard meals. Lentils, chickpeas, baked beans and tuna are all cheap staples and are less likely to be affected by carbon dioxide shortages. 
  • Experiment with other food choices. If particular brands or products are unavailable, it’s a good time to find others that you might like just as much.
  • Use your freezer. It’s a good idea to have a few fall-back options in the freezer just in case.

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