Sainsbury’s has warned shoppers of shortages of lettuce, broccoli and citrus fruit in the run-up to Christmas, after France banned hauliers carrying freight across the Channel amid fears over the new coronavirus strain.
The supermarket said the ingredients for a traditional Christmas lunch were already in the country and available, but shelves could be empty of some fresh produce imported from Europe during the coming days.
“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” a spokesperson said.
“We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritises the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.”
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said he was talking to his French counterpart, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, in an effort to restart freight. He told Sky News: “The absolute key is to get this resolved as soon as possible.”
Asked if consumers would face shortages in supermarkets, Shapps said: “The supply chain is pretty robust, in as much as you get variations in supply all the time. For the most part, people won’t notice it.”
Sainsbury’s said: “All products for the Great British Christmas lunch are already in the country and we have plenty of these. We are also sourcing everything we can from the UK and looking into alternative transport for product sourced from Europe.”
Seeking to downplay the problem, Shapps said container freight was not hit by the French ban on travellers.
But hauliers also warned of shortages of produce from across the Channel after the 48-hour ban because long queues of lorries in Kent trying to get out of the UK could deter lorry drivers from Europe from entering in the first place.
The leader of Kent county council, Roger Gough, said in the run-up to Brexit “we are anticipating some 17,000 vehicles coming into Kent to make the crossing over the next couple of days”.
Operation Stack has been activated, which involves queuing lorries on the M20 when there is disruption in Channel crossings.
The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, Richard Burnett, said the disruption could cause problems with fresh food supply this week.
“With it being so close to Christmas, we are looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we are likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“And that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that’s part of the challenge that we are facing today.”