U.K. C-Stores Contend With Driver Shortages

Smaller retailers are under extra strain to creatively source goods to stock their shelves.

August 06, 2021

Truck driving at dusk

COVENTRY, England—A driver shortage in the U.K. has done more than keep shelves empty at local convenience stores—it’s sent operators into their vans to pick up needed supplies after working full shifts, the Financial Times reports. Paul Cheema, who often drives to wholesalers to retrieve orders or purchase stock, said he recently worked 12 hours, then hopped into his van to replenish store shelves.

“At the weekend, we ran out of bread and milk,” Cheema told the Times. “So, I got in the van. It’s a pain, but we are here to serve our community and we need full shelves.”

The supply crunch has been exacerbated by coronavirus surges and Brexit. The Road Haulage Association said the country lacked 100,000 drivers. The inability to get food staples has been a popular topic on the national forum C-Talk, which Cheema started for small store operators. “People are at breaking point,” he said.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) lobbied the U.K. government to exempt fully vaccinated drivers and shop staff from self-isolating after a COVID-19 exposure but negative test to help ease the shortages of staff, but that change won’t take effect until August 16.

Adrian Costain, another small shop owner, had to shop at other stores to fill empty shelves at his own. “We are obtaining a much better service from our smaller suppliers,” he said. “Across the U.K., driver shortages and the need to isolate are impacting supply chains and the delivery of goods,” said Nisa, a store co-op with 4,000 members.

It’s not just the small stores feeling the pinch; even larger chains are running into difficulties. Wholesaler AF Blakemore dropped 10% of its cold orders to more than 900 SPAR locations recently to re-adjust its network. “Whilst the creation of COVID-19 test centers within distribution centers will benefit colleague availability, more action is required to help to alleviate driver shortages,” said Sarah Ellis, AF Blakemore’s group marketing director.

In the United States, many retailers are facing hardships in getting supplies due to driver shortages as well, with some hiring from abroad to ease the labor squeeze. A two-part NACS Daily series recently examined the truck driver shortage. Read “Trucker Shortage Hits Home” and “Higher Pay for the Long Haul.”

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