Britain facing shortage of Diet Coke and Coke Zero products
2nd September 2021

Britain could be hit by a Diet Coke shortage: Shops run low on Coke Zero and Diet Coke as drinks giant warns of ‘shortage of aluminium cans’ due to lack of HGV drivers

  • Coca-cola said there is a current ‘shortage of aluminium cans’ and HGV drivers
  • Drinks conglomerate said it’s faced a ‘number of logistical challenges’ recently
  • Comes after JD Wetherspoon announced a shortage of certain beer products 
  • UK suffering 100,000 shortfall in HGV drivers, while Europe short of 400,000 

Coca-Cola has announced it is being hit by a Coke can shortage – threatening the supply of some of Britain’s favourite soft drinks – as it becomes the latest casualty of the UK’s supply chain crisis.

The drinks conglomerate revealed today that there is a current ‘shortage of aluminium cans’ compounded by a shortfall of HGV drivers owing to Brexit and the Covid pandemic.  

It comes after pub chain Wetherspoon’s revealed yesterday it was suffering from a beer shortage as the full scale of Europe’s 400,000 lorry driver shortfall was revealed – while McDonald’s, KFC and Nando’s have all suffered with supply issues recently, with the latter having to close several stores.  

Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) admitted it has faced ‘a number of logistical challenges’, including pressure on HGV driver numbers, but said it has continued to deliver ‘extremely high service levels’. 

It comes after social media users have complained of a scarcity in Diet Coke and Coke Zero products in recent weeks. 

‘So many items not available and was told there was no Diet Coke or Coke Zero “due to a national shortage”‘, complained one Twitter user this week. 

Another told Sainsbury’s in Leatherhead: ‘Been awful for months, no Coke Zero for weeks.’  

Nik Jhangiani, chief financial officer of CCEP, said: ‘Supply chain management has become the most important aspect following the pandemic, to ensure we have continuity for customers.

Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) said it has faced ‘a number of logistics challenges’ recently, including pressure on HGV driver numbers

A lack of HGV drivers has impacted businesses and supermarkets across the country in recent months

‘We are very happy with how we have performed in the circumstances, with service levels higher than a lot of our market competitors.

‘There are still logistical challenges and issues though, as with every sector, and the shortage of aluminium cans is a key one for us now, but we are working with customers to successfully manage this.’ 

It comes after JD Wetherspoon  apologised to its loyal customers across the country yesterday as it confirmed that it has seen supplies of Carling and Coors beer hit by the disruption, with some pubs not receiving deliveries amid the shortage of HGV drivers.

Lorry driver and factory staff shortages attributed to the Covid pandemic and Brexit employment rules have impacted businesses and supermarkets across the country in recent months. 

In a statement, Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: ‘We are experiencing some supply problems with both Carling and Coors, which means that some pubs do not have the products available.

‘We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused. We know that the brewers are trying to resolve the issue.’

Shoppers and customers take to Twitter complaining of a shortage of Coke Zero and Diet Coke

The firm did not provide further details regarding the supply issues but it is understood it is directly related to a shortage of HGV drivers, with bosses at the Road Haulage Association last week warning there is a shortfall of around 100,000 drivers. 

It claimed this has been driven by thousands of European drivers leaving during the pandemic and not returning, and called on the Government to add drivers to the Shortage Occupation List to make it easier for overseas workers to address the shortfall. 

Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin has been a passionate supporter of Brexit and earlier this year denied reports that his pubs were impacted by Brexit-related staff shortages.

But with mainland Europe experiencing an estimated 400,000 driver shortfall, the global supply chain crisis raises questions about the extent to which Brexit is really responsible for the UK shortage.  

Research by logistics analysts Transport Intelligence found that Germany was missing between 45,000 and 60,000 HGV drivers last year. That number is increasing, with the International Road Transport Union warning of a 185,000 shortfall there by 2027.

Mainland Europe is experiencing an estimated 400,000 lorry driver shortage as port closures across China and the Far East during the Covid pandemic have sparked a global supply chain crisis. This map  shows how the worst affected country in Europe is Poland, while Scandinavia is experiencing a small shortfall than Britain, Germany, France, Spain or Italy

Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin has been a passionate supporter of Brexit and earlier this year denied reports that his pubs were impacted by Brexit-related staff shortages

Pictured: a social media user tweeted an image of a poster on a Wetherspoon pub window warning customers that it is running out of stock of Carling, Coors and Bud Light ‘due to supply issues regards to a lack of lorry drivers’

Britain is currently facing its own 100,000 shortfall of HGV drivers, which retail bosses have partly blamed on changes to migration rules post-Brexit and EU employees returning home (stock)

Why is there a supply-chain crisis? 

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors is being partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications. 

But global factors are relevant too, bosses say, including Chinese port closures and a lack of shipping containers. US Vice President Kamala Harris urged Americans to buy Christmas toys early due to a shortage there. 

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, told MailOnline Britain has so far been unable to shake its dependency on EU workers who have been leaving due to the pandemic.

The supply of new workers is also being held back by stricter visa rules introduced on January 1.

The most common complaint among UK retailers and food producers is the shortage of lorry drivers, which the Road Haulage Association currently puts at 100,000.

Thousands of prospective drivers are waiting for their HGV tests due to a backlog caused by lockdown, while many existing ones have left the UK after Brexit or to be back with their families during Covid.

Importers are also suffering a financial hit, with dramatically rising transport costs caused by a global lack of shipping containers and a slowdown in freight movements resulting from port closures.

Chinese authorities recently shut Ningbo-Zhoushan port, which is one of the world’s largest container terminals, due to a Covid outbreak.

Gary Grant, founder and executive chairman of toy chain the Entertainer, said the cost of shipping a container from Asia had increased from $1,700 to more than $13,000 (£8,000) over the past year.

France has also faced a similar crisis, with the country facing a shortage of around 43,000 drivers since 2019. The shortfall in Italy in 2019 was estimated to be around 15,000, Transport Intelligence said. 

Jose Gomez-Urquiza, chief executive of immigration agency Visa Solutions, told The Daily Express: ‘We’re living through the worst driver shortage that we’ve seen in recent history, by far.’  

A lack of lorry drivers and food processors in Britain has been partly blamed on the new Brexit visa regime introduced on January 1, which penalises lower-skilled migrants in favour of those with qualifications. 

But responding to reports of the shortage in Europe, one former Tory MEP – David Bannerman – triumphantly: ‘Definitely not Brexit then’. 

Experts have claimed the shortage is due to a combination of factors including EU employees returning home after Brexit and lockdown restrictions causing the cancellation of 40,000 HGV tests. They also cited poor wages and the closure of a tax loophole for some drivers.

The crisis is also hitting British tourism, as hoteliers and bar owners try to manage a surge in holidaymakers as people opt for vacations at home than abroad, and staff shortages caused by a rising number of Covid infections and a recruitment slump post-Brexit. 

Even schools are being warned to stock up on food for hot meals, with Federation of Wholesale Distributors communications chief David Visick warning September is going to be ‘incredibly challenging for food distributors who are struggling to find enough delivery drivers’.    

The supply chain crisis is now starting to hit British households, with shop prices rising month-on-month, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: ‘There was a slight rise in prices on the previous month. There are some modest indications that rising costs are starting to filter through into product prices. 

‘Food retailers are fighting to keep their prices down as far as possible. But mounting pressures – from rising commodity and shipping costs as well as Brexit-related red tape, mean this will not be sustainable for much longer, and food price rises are likely in the coming months. 

‘Disruption has been limited so far, but in the run-up to Christmas the situation could get worse, and customers may see reduced choice and increased prices for their favourite products and presents.

The supply of popular Christmas products is likely to be hit by domestic labour shortages and issues with global shipping 

This Department for Transport graph also showed that the number of goods vehicle operator licences in issue in Britain was 69,000 in 2019/20, down from 91,000 in 2009/10

The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium reveal a 0.4 per cent month-on-month rise in August driven by a 0.6 per cent rise in non-food prices in the UK (stock) 

‘The Government must act swiftly and rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, provide temporary visas for EU drivers, and make changes on how HGV driver training can be funded. Without Government action, it will be the British consumers who will pay the price.’

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at research group NielsenIQ, which helped provide the data, said: ‘The good news for shoppers is that shop price inflation remains below consumer price inflation and any moderate increases in prices are being driven by wider economic conditions and seasonal supply changes.

‘With shoppers now returning from their summer holidays, many will be reviewing their household budgets.

‘So the next few months will be an important time for retailers to keep prices stable by absorbing as much of any increase in their supply chain costs as possible.’  

The indications of rising prices in Britain come as inflation in the EU surged to its highest level in a decade with mounting costs of energy, goods and services hitting household spending.

The statistics body Eurostat has estimated that eurozone annual inflation is expected to be three per cent in August, up from 2.2 per cent in July – the highest level since 2011, as inflation moves sharply above the European Central Bank’s target of two per cent. 

More than a quarter of food and hospitality firms have been hit by low stock levels in recent weeks as Britain’s mounting supply chain crisis takes it toll, according to new figures.

The Office for National Statistics said its recent business survey found that 27 per cent of food and accommodation firms have reported lower than normal stock levels – the worst-hit of all the sectors.

Low stock levels were also reported by 23 per cent of manufacturers and 25 per cent of firms in the wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles industry. 

The latest ONS fortnightly business poll revealed that firms across the UK have been struggling to get hold of materials, goods and services. 

More than one in seven construction firms – 15.4 per cent – said they have not been able to get the materials they need in recent weeks, while 9 per cent of hospitality firms also reported the same issue.

Nearly one in five manufacturing firms – 18.4 per cent – have had to change suppliers or find alternative ways to get materials, goods or services, with 16.5 per cent of construction firms and 11.4 per cent of food and hospitality companies reporting the same, according to the ONS.

 Retail bosses in Britain have warned that the industry faces a shortfall of 100,000 lorry drivers as the impact of Covid and Brexit strangle supply chains, threatening a shortage of popular gifts and staple foods

This graph from the Department for Transport shows how the number of goods moved and lifted and distance travelled by vehicles has varied, compared to a baseline of 2004 Q4

It found less than half of builders and hospitality firms said they had been able to source all the materials, goods and services they needed without issues – at 42.1 per cent and 46.2 per cent respectively.

Just over half of manufacturers – 51.4 per cent – said they were able to get hold of the materials and goods they needed in the survey between July 26 and August 8.

However, Ministers have rejected business leaders’ plea to be allowed to hire more EU workers to solve problems with HGV driver shortages.

Businesses called for temporary visas to let European workers fill some of the half a million vacancies caused by the Covid pandemic and Brexit. But the Government wants employers to invest in UK-based workers rather than relying on labour from abroad.

Supermarkets and suppliers are struggling to meet demand following an exodus of drivers from EU countries, who returned to the continent during the pandemic and remained there.

This is coupled with the health crisis bringing DVSA testing centres to a standstill, creating a huge backlog of drivers taking their HGV test. A review of the Shortage Occupations list, which sets out jobs where overseas workers can apply for visas, is not due until next year.

Proposals had been floated for the Government to bring forward the review so HGV drivers could be included to ease the problems facing the supply chain.

But according to the Financial Times, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to business leaders on Friday saying foreign labour only offered ‘a short-term, temporary solution’.

Mr Kwarteng urged employers to help the ‘many UK-based workers [who] now face an uncertain future and need to find new employment opportunities’.

His letter comes ahead of the UK’s furlough scheme ending on September 30.

Driver shortage could push food prices higher

Supermarkets and hauliers have warned that shoppers could face long-term higher prices for food as result of systemic changes to the supply chain.

The Road Haulage Association said the ‘substantial’ pay rises offered by firms in need of new drivers could force supermarket bosses to pass the costs on to customers. 

Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the RHA, said that the shortage of drivers needs urgent Government action and firms have offered better incentives and pay deals to secure potential recruits.

‘Certainly drivers’ pay is increasing, often by quite substantial amounts,’ he said. ‘This in turn is a cost that will need to be passed on, and given the tight profit margins of most haulage operators that means their rates to customers will have to go up.

‘In turn, this may mean more of us paying higher prices for goods, services and shopping – including food prices – going forward.’

One supermarket boss also said that increasing wages for drivers will result in inflationary pressure for retailers.

‘Paying drivers more, in itself isn’t the solution as it is resulting in them making choices about the level of working hours and balancing reduced hours along with weekend working,’ they said. ‘It will also create more inflationary pressure in the sector, which no one clearly wants.

‘To ease the pressure we need the Government to quickly allow us to access the EU labour market, whilst the industry must also play its part in increasing the driver pool through fast-track driver programmes and apprenticeships.’

The food retailer also warned that the food supply issues facing the UK are now embedded and won’t improve unless direct action in the short, medium and longer term is taken.

According to the FT, Mr Kwarteng said in his letter to the British Retail Consortium and Logistics UK: ‘I am sure you would agree on the importance of utilising the strength of our domestic workforce and how our migration policies need to be considered alongside our strategies to ensure UK-based workers are better able to secure decent employment opportunities.’

A Government spokeswoman said: ‘We have a highly resilient food supply chain and well-established ways of working with the food sector to address food supply chain disruptions.

‘We recently announced a package of measures to help tackle the HGV driver shortage, including plans to streamline the process for new drivers to gain their HGV licence and to increase the number of driving tests able to be conducted.

‘However, most of the solutions are likely to be driven by industry, with progress already being made in testing and hiring, and a big push towards improving pay, working conditions and diversity.

‘We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.’

Several Government departments are liaising over the supply chain issues, including the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Department for Education, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Home Office officials are said to be blocking the review being brought forward, amid concerns it could lead to other sectors demanding inclusion.

A source said: ‘It has been floated and seems like the obvious solution but there’s been a lot of pushback from the Home Office.’

HGV drivers are currently not included on the list but there is pressure from supermarkets to include them to help ease the shortfall while more UK drivers are trained.

The current average age of a UK HGV driver is 55 and ministers are concerned an ageing workforce needs replacing.

Government officials are working closely with the DVLA to increase the number of tests taking place and have vowed to streamline the process.

They have also increased funding for apprentices to get more workers into the industry but want to ensure the UK is less reliant on overseas drivers.

The shortages have hit several retailers and restaurant chains. Nando’s saw a shortage of chickens due to a combination of not enough drivers and fewer staff working in meat factories.

Other delays have also impacted McDonald’s, which said this week it had run out of milkshakes and bottled drinks as it prioritised deliveries of other products in the interim.

Organisations from the food and drink industry have recommended a 12-month Covid recovery visa to help firms recruit staff such as HGV drivers, and an expanded seasonal worker scheme for the horticulture sector.

National Farmers Union vice president Tom Bradshaw said it was ‘simplistic’ to argue that the end of the Government’s furlough scheme will lead to an increase in workers to fill the current high number of vacancies.

Stores are struggling to replenish shelves with bread and other essentials amid the escalating delivery driver shortage that threatens Christmas.

Bosses at Iceland and the Co-op say cancelled deliveries are causing the worst gaps on shelves they have ever seen. Separately, the chairman of Tesco warned of some festive product shortages at Christmas, which could include gammons and pigs in blankets.

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