July 26, 2021


2 Sisters Food president warns possible shortage of chicken products in UK



UK shoppers could be hit by shortages of chicken products if the UK poultry sector's labour crisis is not resolved soon, according to 2 Sisters Food Group president Ranjit Singh.


Speaking as the government confirmed last week that it would exempt some supermarket depot and food manufacturing workers from quarantine rules, Singh warned labour shortages masked other fundamental issues plaguing the poultry sector, with the United Kingdom "facing a food crisis like we've never seen before".


Ongoing labour issues linked to Brexit alongside soaring commodity prices were the real drivers of the crisis, said Singh.


Those issues, which had been further exacerbated by shortages of CO2gas in recent weeks, would soon lead to shortages of a raft of added-value poultry products from 2 Sisters and the wider sector, as processors focused on ensuring core products, such as whole birds, remained available.


"There is a real risk if this situation continues that not only will shelves be bare, what is there will be simplified products," Singh told The Grocer.


"There just isn't the resource out there so shoppers will just have to get used to basic offerings and less choice. A lot of our added-value poultry products, for instance, are complex and labour-intensive. We're just about managing at the moment, but something needs to change and urgently."


Singh added 2 Sisters had seen an average 15% shortage of labour across its 16,000 workforce this year, the majority of whom worked in chicken and ready meal production facilities.


He also took aim at the fact there remained about two million people on furlough in the UK, despite the economy being "essentially open" and a failure by government to "reclassify our frontline workers to the correct status so we have a corridor open for EU workers into the UK", referring to the Home Office's refusal to rethink its shortage occupation list for unskilled workers.


Elsewhere, feed inflation was at an eight-year high, Singh said. Wage inflation was "unprecedented", while wheat, soy and other components had risen by more than 50% over the past year, with packaging up 20% and energy costs up 30%.


"These are unique, era-defining challenges which have all come to a head in the past 12 weeks. Clearly, these have brought continued and intensive pressure on our business, just like they have elsewhere," he pointed out.


"This cannot be sustained indefinitely. The critical labour issue alone means we walk a tightrope every week. We're just about coping, but I can see if no support is forthcoming – and urgently – from government, then shelves will be empty, food waste will rocket simply because it cannot be processed or delivered, and the shortages we saw last year will be peanuts in comparison to what could come."


- The Grocer