By James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) -Britain could face a shortage of alcohol this Christmas unless the government steps up its efforts to address a lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, the wine and spirits industry warned on Wednesday.
The prospect of limited alcohol lines follows panic buying at Britain's fuel pumps, soaring heating prices and shortages of items ranging from consumer electronics to crisps and vegan sausage rolls.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said 49 businesses including Moët Hennessy UK, Laurent-Perrier UK, Pernod Ricard UK, C&C Group and Matthew Clark, had put their names to a letter to transport minister Grant Shapps calling on him to take urgent action over HGV driver shortages and freight disruption.
"There is mounting concern amongst our membership that unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos," said WSTA CEO Miles Beale.
"We are already seeing major delays on wine and spirit delivery times which is pushing up costs and limiting the range of products available to UK consumers."
The WSTA said its members had reported that importing products was taking up to five times longer than it did a year ago, with businesses that had previously been able to fulfil orders in two to three days experiencing shipments taking 15 days to process.
It also noted that freight costs had increased by 7%, as delivery firms have had to increase HGV drivers' wages to retain them.
The WSTA wants Shapps to extend a temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers from Feb. 28, 2022, to a minimum of one year, to ease the burden on industry and allow for a sufficient increase in domestic drivers.
It also wants his department to facilitate better routing of freight from ports and smaller UK-based driver networks for short-haul journeys.
The UK government said it did not expect disruptions to the supply of alcohol this Christmas, however.
“The government acted quickly to tackle the challenges to our supply chains, which were brought on by global pressures including the pandemic and the international shortage of HGV drivers," said a government spokesperson, noting 32 steps taken to tackle the shortage.
Britain's two biggest supermarket groups, Tesco and Sainsbury's, are currently running big wine promotions, indicating no immediate threat to wine supplies.
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Potter and Hugh Lawson)