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Co-op boss warns grocery shortages at ‘worst level ever seen’ amid empty-shelf crisis

THE boss of Co-op has warned grocery shortages have hit the “worst level ever seen” amid Britain’s empty-shelf crisis.

Steve Murrells says the retailer is struggling to get deliveries of products due to a national shortage of HGV drivers.

The CEO of the Co-operative Group, 56, told the Times: “The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen.”

He blamed the supply disruption on “Brexit and issues caused by Covid”.

Mr Murrells said: “It is chronic. When you can’t get any bottled water, that is… fundamental.

“For the last five or six weeks things have been getting worse.”

He also said the firm was retraining staff as lorry drivers in a desperate bid to help fill vacant roles -but shoppers will face less choice in the meantime.

It comes a week after restaurant chain Nando’s shut almost 50 restaurants because of reduced chicken supplies.

Retailers and restaurants chains, including Subway, Iceland, KFC, Greggs and McDonald’s, have all been hit by product deficits as meat packers and other manufacturers have also faced significant worker shortages.

Plus our boozers are also running dry.

Road haulage bosses have estimated there is currently a mammoth shortfall of some 100,000 drivers.

This is partly caused by the exit from the UK during the Covid pandemic of thousands of EU drivers who have not yet returned.

The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen.

Industry groups have also said training of new, replacement drivers will take months, making the shortfall in numbers difficult to resolve quickly.

Labour shortages, which have also hit meat packing and fruit picking jobs, are causing shops and fast food restaurants to struggle for stock.

Subway and McDonald’s are some of the latest victims of the shortages.

Sandwich chain Subway said it has seen “minor supply chain shortages” but stressed it has ensured that disruption to customers is minimal.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes in most of its UK restaurants due to the ongoing supply problems.

The burger chain has also been left without bottled drinks across its 1,250 outlets in England, Scotland and Wales.

McDonald’s said: “We apologise for any inconvenience, and thank customers for their continued patience.”

A spokesman said the group was “working hard to return these items to the menu”.

McDonald’s supply woes came after Nando’s was last week forced to shut around 50 restaurants amid a chicken shortage.

It blamed staffing shortages at suppliers and a reduced number of lorry drivers.

Tesco’s chairman warned that UK supermarkets could see food shortages at Christmas due to Brexit-related supply chain disruption.

John Allan urged Government boffins to change rules for lorry drivers to allow for more emergency workers from overseas to help solve the problem.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that supermarkets would normally be building stock now ahead of Christmas.

Mr Allan added: “We are very short of drivers – it’s a combination of many EU drivers having decided to go home and also the age profile.

“At the moment we’re running very hard just to keep on top of the existing demand and there isn’t the capacity to build stocks that we’d like to see.

“So, in that sense, I think there may be some shortages at Christmas.

“But, I wouldn’t want to over-dramatise the extent to which that would be the case.”

The Sun is trying to ease shopping woes by launching a massive new campaign to recruit tens of thousands of HGV drivers to beat the delivery crisis.

The good news is that driver pay is up 12 per cent this year, with experienced drivers able to pocket up to £45k.

Fuel tanker drivers can take home even more — up to £60k a year.

Many firms are also offering £2k signing-on bonuses to new recruits.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As we continue to build back better, I urge anyone starting off in the working world or looking for a new opportunity to kickstart their career in HGV driving by signing up now.”