Is panic buying back? The truth about supermarket food shortages in the UK

Are supermarket food shortages a real possibility amid the ongoing pandemic?

Is panic buying in supermarkets back? The truth about supermarket food shortages in the UK
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's just three days until Christmas, but alleged supermarket food shortages have thrown festive meal plans into chaos this week.

Following the announcement of the Tier 4 lockdown in London and the South East this weekend due to a new strain of the coronavirus, the UK has been cut off from many countries around the rest of the world.

With fears over the new Covid-19 variant running rampant throughout the UK, countries including France reacted quickly - closing down borders to UK transit at the beginning of the week.

France quickly banned hauliers from carrying freight across the Channel to the UK. And so far, the measures have meant long lorry queues at the borders of Dover and Kent - routes which typically carry tonnes and tonnes of fresh produce between the UK and Europe. 

But does the disruption mean that we will see - or might already be seeing - supermarket food shortages at our local Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda or Waitrose? We explore what has been said about the supply chain so far this week...

Are there supermarket food shortages in the UK right now?

In the lead-up to Christmas, Brits shop for more food than ever - with many of us planning to stock up tables with festive grub and snacks for a few days at home, and off work.

And with the announcement of Tier 4, more people than ever will be shopping, as many of us scramble to pick up Christmas food for an unexpected few days at home. 

But are there food shortages in our favourite supermarkets? And will we struggle to get the food we want/need?

So far, Tesco and Sainsburys have warned that there could be 'serious disruption' to their supply chain shortly, if the current border issues continue to rage on. They have predicted that they could see a shortage of fresh foods such as lettuce, citrus fruits, broccoli and other fruit and veg if the chaos with hauliers taking freight across the Channel to the UK is not sorted within days.

However, Sainsburys has reassured customers that almost all of their Christmas food was 'already in the country', while Tesco have explained that they have plenty of Christmas food in, and are asking customers to 'shop normally'. They instead warned that only if nothing changes with the border issues, will they see shortages in some of their fresh produce, as mentioned above. 

The Prime Minister's spokesperson has also insisted that the UK has a 'diverse supply chain' suggesting that supermarkets should not see disruptive supermarket food shortages.

Andrew Opie, who is the director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, also explained that supermarkets will normally be well stocked up in the run-up to the festive period.

Is panic buying in supermarkets back?

supermarket trolley, supermarket food shortages

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Some locations across the UK have seen queues outside of supermarkets in the last day or so, with evidence that some shoppers are buying more than they usually would.

But it's important to bear in mind that queues may be because of social-distancing measures, and an increase in people needing to buy Christmas food due to the Tier 4 restrictions.

In a press conference two days ago, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, urged the public that there is no need to panic buy.

He said, "There is absolutely no reason to be doing any panic buying of any sort, or going out and keeping large supplies of things."

Supermarkets have also insisted that they have enough stock to go around for everyone for the 25th, suggesting there is no reason to buy more than you need for the few days that they will be closed.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on