Supermarkets accused of 'disguising' poorly-stocked shelves amid supply shortage

14 October 2021, 16:24 | Updated: 14 October 2021, 18:24

Clockwise from left: a 'disguised' shelf with piles of boxes of Roses, an apology for low stock, and the logjam in Felixstowe
Clockwise from left: a 'disguised' shelf with piles of boxes of Roses, an apology for low stock, and the logjam in Felixstowe. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By James Morris

Supermarket shoppers have accused shops of “disguising” their poorly-stocked shelves by piling products as high as possible.

It comes amid supply chain shortages caused by insufficient numbers of HGV drivers, with the British Retail Consortium having warned “further disruption may be unavoidable”.

This week, pictures have emerged of front-loaded shelves in supermarkets as part of apparent attempts to conceal a lack of goods.

Staff at one Sainsbury’s in Glasgow, for example, stacked boxes of Roses and Quality Street 10 tins high at the front of the shelf – hiding the bare space behind them.

Chocolate boxes stacked high in a Glasgow Sainsbury's on Sunday
Chocolate boxes stacked high in a Glasgow Sainsbury's on Sunday. Picture: Alamy

Tim Clark, meanwhile, tweeted a photo of an aisle at George – Asda’s clothing arm – stocked with dozens of boxes of Lynx.

But the supply chain issues – and supermarkets’ apparent attempts to disguise them – have now been happening for the past month.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) research released on Friday last week found 17% of adults in Great Britain had been unable to buy essential food items between 22 September and 3 October because they were unavailable.

On 17 September, Stuart Turner tweeted this photo, which he said was taken at a Co-op in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, of a fridge filled with hundreds of bottles of HP Sauce and Heinz salad cream.

On 24 September, Heather Penny also tweeted a photo of packets of chocolates... in fruit and veg baskets.

Going into the winter, retailers have expressed fears the ongoing supply chain issues will result in empty shelves and higher prices this Christmas.

A massive logjam of cargo in Felixstowe, meanwhile, has led to shipping company Maersk opting to divert vessels away from the Suffolk port, which is the largest in the UK.

An apology for low stock at a Co-op in Cardiff on Saturday
An apology for low stock at a Co-op in Cardiff on Saturday. Picture: Getty

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said retailers have been “working closely with suppliers to mitigate issues, including finding alternative routes to bring goods into the country, but further disruption may be unavoidable”.

Toy retailers have also warned of shortages ahead of Christmas. One, Gliddons Toy Shop in Sidmouth, Devon, urged customers to “buy now”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak sought to play down the supply issues today, promising: "I'm confident there will be a good amount of Christmas presents available for everyone to buy."

The UK has been hard hit by fears of supply shortages, partly due to a lack of HGV drivers as a result of Brexit.

Read more: Now 'grinch' Khan blames steward shortage for cancelling London NYE fireworks

The coronavirus pandemic has also prevented HGV driving tests, while systemic problems in the industry relating to pay and conditions has also led to a shortage of drivers.

Pandemic restrictions and poor weather conditions have also affected shipping in China and east Asia, and had knock-on impacts worldwide.