Chicken, milkshakes, candy: They’re disappearing in Britain’s truck driver shortage.

Because of Brexit and other reasons, Britain doesn’t have enough truck drivers, and that’s causing all sorts of items to go scarce.,


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Chicken, milkshakes, candy: They’re disappearing in Britain’s truck driver shortage.

Before Brexit, British trucking companies could hire drivers from continental Europe at short notice and with ease.
Before Brexit, British trucking companies could hire drivers from continental Europe at short notice and with ease.Credit…Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Aug. 26, 2021, 5:04 a.m. ET

Across Britain, a slow-burning problem has ignited into a supply chain crisis in recent weeks as restaurants, supermarkets and food manufacturers warned customers that some popular products may be temporarily unavailable because of a shortage of truck drivers.

McDonald’s milkshakes, Nando’s chicken, Haribo sweets and supermarket milk are among the items that have become scarce in Britain over the summer. But it goes far beyond food: Nearly every industry is complaining about delivery problems. And already organizations are warning that logistics issues could upend the arrival of Christmas toys and the trimmings crucial to family holiday meals.

A long-running shortage of truck drivers has been exacerbated by a post-Brexit exodus of European Union workers. Adding to the problem are disruptions to new driver training because of the pandemic. And for years, the trucking industry has struggled to attract new workers to a job that has traditionally been low paid and required long, grueling hours.

“Ninety-five percent of everything we get in Britain comes on the back of a truck,” said Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, and estimates that there is a shortfall of 100,000 drivers. “So if there are not enough trucks to go around — and we’ve got reports of big companies with a hundred trucks parked up at any one time — there simply is less stuff being delivered.”

Earlier in the summer, German candy company Haribo said it was struggling to get its sweets into British shops. Arla, a large dairy producer, said it was having to skip up to a quarter of its deliveries. Last week, Nando’s, the popular restaurant chain, had to close about 50 of its restaurants because of a shortage of its famed peri-peri chicken.

The delivery problems are forcing other companies to triage what they sell. McDonald’s took milkshakes and bottled drinks off the menu this week, allowing it to focus on serving burgers and fries.

British shoppers should expect to see even more companies reduce their product options and prioritize their best-selling items, Mr. McKenzie said.

The United States also faces a shortage of truck drivers. Britain’s crisis is similar in that it’s been years in the making, as trucking companies have failed to attract younger workers. The average age of a truck driver in Britain is nearly 50. Six years ago, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport said that just 2 percent of drivers were under the age of 25 and that by 2022 the industry would need 1.2 million more workers.

Then, after the 2016 Brexit referendum, the value of the British pound plummeted, making it less lucrative for continental Europeans — truck drivers included — to work in Britain, prompting some to return to their home countries. That trend was exacerbated by the pandemic, when many wanted to be closer to their families.

When Britain took the final step of leaving the European Union at the end of last year, it meant drivers from continental Europe could no longer be employed at short notice and with ease in Britain.

“Until December there was never going to be a labor shortage because, as soon as there was a sign of one, a company could talk to their agency in Poland or elsewhere and get them to send some people over,” said David Henig, a trade expert at the European Center for International Political Economy, a research institute.

Efforts to fill those jobs with new British drivers have been stymied because over much of the last year, pandemic lockdowns prevented driving exams from taking place. The Road Haulage Association estimates that as many as 40,000 tests were not conducted. Training a new driver takes up to six months.

“It’s getting worse,” Mr. McKenzie said. “No doubt, no question. It’s getting worse week on week.”

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