Wetherspoon’s short on some beers as Brexit affects deliveries

Pub chain confirms shortages of Carling and Coors, with one notice blaming ‘lack of lorry drivers and strike action’

Last modified on Wed 1 Sep 2021 15.22 EDT

The pub chain Wetherspoon’s is experiencing shortages of some beer brands, including Carling, Coors and Heineken, amid a Brexit-induced shortage of delivery drivers and industrial action.

Parent company JD Wetherspoon, which is led by vocal Brexit-supporter Tim Martin, confirmed on Wednesday that some of its pubs did not have the beers in stock, after customers flagged the issue on social media.

One such post included a picture of a notice put up by the pub chain blaming “lack of lorry drivers and strike action”.

Molson Coors Beverage Company, which owns the Carling and Coors brands, confirmed that driver shortages had led to difficulties in supplying Wetherspoons: “Like many in our great British brewing and pub sector we have been hit by the HGV driver shortage,” it said.

“While overall our availability is good, there are intermittent pockets of pressure in our supply network that are unfortunately affecting a number of Wetherspoon’s pubs. We’re working around the clock with our customers and third-party logistics partners to ensure we minimise any impact to our customers.”

Wetherspoon’s spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “We are experiencing some supply problems with both Carling and Coors, which means that some pubs do not have the products available. We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused. We know that the brewers are trying to resolve the issue.”

The company later added that it had initially run short of products supplied by Heineken, which provides six of the pub group’s 23 draught beers, as a result of industrial action by the brewer’s drivers. It said those shortages had put pressure on other beer brands which had then run out in some pubs.

The Heineken strike is part of a wave of threatened action over pay and conditions by unions who say that Brexit-related shortages of drivers should prompt a long-desired pay rise.

Stuart Gilhespy, regional organiser for the GMB, said the union had written to Carling and Coors’ delivery partner GXO Logistics asking for a pay increase for drivers delivering beer in the next few days or the company would face industrial action.

“Post-Brexit, the UK is desperately short of qualified HGV drivers. Demand is such drivers have real power, know their worth and will go elsewhere if they don’t get the pay their skills warrant,” he said.

Wetherspoon’s is the latest in a series of companies to admit to supply disruptions partly caused by a shortage of lorry drivers. Difficulties in getting visas to work in the UK post-Brexit have combined with the Covid-19 pandemic and tax changes to prompt some drivers to leave the trade or return to their homes in the EU. Demand for home delivery has also increased competition for drivers.

Grocery chain Iceland has said poor availability of lorry drivers could ruin Christmas. There has also been disruption at other restaurants with McDonald’s cutting milkshakes from the menu while Nando’s closed about 50 restaurants because of chicken shortages.

Supermarkets and other businesses have been forced to offer sign-on bonuses of £1,000 to tempt in qualified drivers.

Logistics UK, which represents freight owners including supermarkets, has estimated a shortage of 90,000 HGV drivers, including about 25,000 from the EU who have gone home since Brexit. On top of that, there is a backlog of 45,000 lorry driving tests because of Covid-related delays. The tests are expected to yield about 25,000 drivers.

The shortages appear particularly awkward for JD Wetherspoon, which controversially spent almost £95,000 on more than 2m beer mats and other pro-leave paraphernalia during the referendum in 2016.

However, in June Martin called on the UK government to introduce a “reasonably liberal immigration system” to help bring in workers from the EU as hospitality businesses struggled with recruitment.

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