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During the first lockdown in March, stockpiling of food staples such as pasta, flour, and tinned goods led to empty shelves at major supermarkets across the UK. In many cases for independent retailers, this led to increased sales as shoppers broke their usual habits to get the supplies they needed.
With Brexit fast-approaching on the 31st December, worries are growing that the country may face another bout of panic buying due to fears of food shortages. Tesco revealed last week that it was stockpiling long-life food in preparation for Brexit disruption, with John Allan, the company’s chairman, saying he could not rule out the possibility of temporary shortages.
According to a report in The Sunday Times, the government has advised supermarkets to stockpile food and essential supplies, with food producers and emergency planners predicting that a no-deal Brexit would “spark panic-buying on a scale that could dwarf the coronavirus crisis”.
“Supermarkets and ministers are hugely worried about panic buying,” a senior supermarket consultant told The Sunday Times. “They saw what happened over Covid when people started hoarding toilet rolls and now how quickly it can go wrong.”
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said retailers were preparing as best they could for Brexit amid the continued uncertainty. “Retailers are doing everything they can to prepare for all eventualities on 1st January - increasing the stock of tins, toilet rolls and other longer life products so there will be sufficient supply of essential products,” she said.
“While no amount of preparation by retailers can entirely prevent disruption there is no need for the public to buy more food than usual as the main impact will be on imported fresh produce, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, which cannot be stored for long periods by either retailers or consumers.”
But while stockpiling could see large supermarkets facing shortages and rationing, for independent food shops, it provides another opportunity to deliver for their communities where larger chains cannot.
“The independent retailers that I know and work with have had substantial increases in sales – initially with lockdown and the massive log jam and panic buying that left empty shelves in supermarkets, whilst many independents, in particular farm shops whose supply chain is short and local, had plenty of stock, and found new customers,” says Edward Berry of food and retail consultancy The Flying Fork.
If another round of stockpiling begins in response to Brexit – or if price hikes for imported foods end up making British-made produce more competitive, independents will be there once again for their communities with full shelves.