Supply chain

Britain’s supply chain crisis – the battle for our booze

In the latest of our supply chain problems articles could booze be the next casualty.  The government is doing nothing to help this crisis.
Photo Anna Girolami

Is there really going to be a battle for our booze?

We love it, don’t we? Whether we’re out on the lash (hey kids, always drink responsibly) or hunkering down in front of Call The Midwife with a warming glass of Malbec, I don’t think anyone would try and deny that we love our booze.

My own preference has long been to drink at home (work, childcare, my inherently anti-social nature). But during the last eighteen months of lockdown, even the most ardent clubber has been forced to Netflix and chill. Home drinking is in. Lockdown is now behind us but that trend is likely to continue.

If the supermarkets run short of booze, does anyone want to predict the consequences?

What no booze?

Let’s start with beer. Is there actually a problem?

Direct observation suggests there might be. As I wander around the various supermarkets of the area, the shelves on which the bottles of real ale usually squat are sparsely populated whilst crates of American Budweiser and Australian Fosters are stacked high. Tesco and Sainsbury’s have both reported shortages of beer.

Why do we have Budweiser but no craft beer? A lot of real ale is made here, after all. It’s not as if we have to import it. The answer is that there may be beer at the breweries, but it can’t get to our shelves up here in the East Midlands.

The shortage of HGV drivers means that retailers are having to prioritise deliveries. And what they prioritise is the Budweiser and the Fosters that they sell in huge quantities. Those of us wanting something a little more interesting are just going to have to go and forage for it.

Wine o’clock running late

Wine imports are particularly susceptible to the effects of Brexit. Three quarters of the wine we drink in Britain comes from the EU. Whatever Liz Truss may want you to believe, Australian wine makes up only less than ten per cent of our consumption at the moment.

Brexit is significantly slowing down wine imports from the EU – mainly because of an astronomical increase in red tape (aka bureaucracy) but the lorry driver situation doesn’t help and neither does a shortage of cardboard.

The big companies can still deliver crates of Pinot Grigio and Shiraz to your doorstep (although the prices are rising) but if you’re after something else, you may have to wait a bit. My recent order from a smaller, Italian firm took several weeks to arrive and, when it did show up, substitutions had been made.

Thus far, supermarket wine, at least, seems to be holding up. The shelves remain full, as far as I can see (although if you know different, please do tell us[LB1] ). I went to Majestic over the weekend to stock up a bit. Was it just coincidence that the charming store manager was pushing American wine as hard as he could?

Levels may be holding but prices are rocketing. A couple of years ago, Papavero was my go-to table wine. At between five and six quid a bottle, it gave delicious value for money. Look at it now.

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The government isn’t listening

The battle for our booze may not yet have erupted but the lines are surely being drawn. None of the problems are being addressed; the government’s proposal to have the army deliver everything is surely more dog whistle to their base than sensible suggestion.

Two thousand squaddies with HGV licences is hardly a substitute for the industry’s 100,000 driver shortfall. Meanwhile, real lorry drivers may strike (and frankly who could blame them?) while business leaders have started bemoaning the government’s ideological deafness to the need for closer co-operation with the EU.

So watch this space. What will happen when the Bud runs dry? Maybe I’ll see you on the barricades, comrade.

Ok Rehab specialises in addiction treatment including for alcohol. If you are struggling with addiction please reach out for help.

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