Trade

Panic-buying in UK will return ahead of Brexit transition end, experts say

LONDON — Britons got a taste of what a food shortage might look like during the coronavirus pandemic, and it does not bode well for Brexit.

The coronavirus crisis has seen worried Brits panic buy toilet paper and food as the virus sweeps across the globe. For most, it is the first time in living memory that food availability has been reduced, caused by the just-in-time supply chains being unable to cope with the sudden increase in demand, despite no shortage of supply.

Research from consumer analysis firm Kantar found supermarket sales for March topped those usually seen during Christmas, with an average household buying five days worth of extra groceries. Social media was awash with images of bare shelves.

Experts have warned that the U.K. public, drawing on such coronavirus experiences, could eschew their previous complacency around Brexit and rush to the shops to stockpile again as the transition period draws to a close.

When a no-deal Brexit loomed last year, with warnings that disruption at the U.K. border with the EU could lead to food shortages, only a small number of people listened. Twice, Britain came within days of a no-deal departure, but an army of shoppers did not descend on stores.

“In a no-deal Brexit situation, with tariffs and regulatory checks, some supplies could stop overnight” — Dominic Goudie, head of international trade at the Food and Drink Federation

Things will be different this time, experts say, and not just because there will be guaranteed disruptions at the EU-U.K. border, deal or no deal. Consumer psychologist Dr. Cathrine Jansson-Boyd said Brits will “definitely” begin panic-buying again, assuming they have not run out of their coronavirus stockpiles. “They will think, Ive been through this recently, Im worried about it, lets start thinking about what happens if this becomes reality,” she said.

Erik Millstone, a University of Sussex professor with expertise in food safety, agreed. “It is clear that when people anticipate shortages they rush to the shops to try to stock up, and exhortations [by the government against this] on their own have been proven insufficient.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We are confident in the resilience of our supply chains. There is no need for citizens to stockpile now or in the future.”

Not quite in time

The coronavirus outbreak highlighted the problems with the so-called just-in-time supply chains. In the current system, stores hold little in the way of stock beyond what is on the shelves and in transit. Supplies are delivered regularly in small quantities, meaning costs can be kept low and problems with products can be rectified easily. That is why the pandemic led to in-store shortages.

Such a “lean supply chain” for groceries doesnt have any flexibility to deal with situations of panic-buying, said Dr. Sam Roscoe, a senior lecturer in operations management at the University of Sussex Business School.

“A just-in-time philosophy is all about standardization, repetition and having known demand. But with Brexit and the coronavirus, that demand is just not known and [the industry] cant forecast for it,” he added.

Dominic Goudie, the head of international trade at the Food and Drink Federation, insisted the supply chain is “actually pretty robust,” but warned that “the Brexit impact on the supply chain would be worse than the coronavirus.”

“In a no-deal Brexit situation, with tariffs and regulatory checks, some supplies could stop overnight,” he said. The government has confirmed that the new trading regime with the EU will involve new customs forms and checks, raising the prospect of big delays, during which fresh food could rot at the border.

Another concern is that delivery drivers who do not have the correct paperwork after the end of the transition period could end up stuck. “[With the coronavirus,] some drivers are worried that if they drive into another country they could be at risk of infection or the borders could close and they could be stuck there,” Goudie said. “In a Brexit situation … drivers cRead More – Source