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Lunchtime at Greggs: Steak bakes with a side of ambivalence as food shortages hit

Lunchtime at Greggs: Steak bakes with a side of ambivalence as food shortages hit
Diners tucking into butties and melts in Sheffield tell Colin Drury they are unconcerned about items running out – but some wonder if lack of delivery drivers is down to decline of working conditions rather than much-blamed Brexit

一世t is one of the most outrage-inducing stories of the week – but no one, it seems, has told the good people of 谢菲尔德 那.

A shortage of lorry drivers has resulted in McDonald’s being left without milkshakes and Greggs facing a run on certain unidentified ingredients. Some supermarkets have said they have some empty shelves.

Fury at the situation has erupted everywhere from social media to, well, other forms of social media. Some have expressed fears of a repeat of the Great Chicken Shortage of 2018 when KFC ran out of chicken.

然而, live at the scene – which is to say, outside a Greggs in Sheffield city centre – all is (for now?) calm.

“Just got a sausage and bean melt, mate,” says Peter Larvin, an automatic door engineer, currently tucking into an early lunch outside the city’s Moor shopping parade branch.

How livid would he have been had they not had any left? “Not very,” the 42-year-old shrugs. “I’d have got something else instead.”

Supplies here, in any case, appear in good nick this Wednesday lunchtime – although there is a vague suggestion some of the vegan options may not last all day. “They probably will,” decides one staffer after a moment. “They’re not the most popular thing we sell.”

The simplified explanation for all this chaos is, inevitably, 脱欧. Without access to European labour markets, so the theory runs, the HGV industry simply cannot access the drivers it needs to keep itself running.

Another interpretation might be that the systematic and decades-long erosion of working conditions faced by drivers – exacerbated by supermarkets squeezing supply chain costs – is now rather coming home to roost. Longer hours, unpredictable shifts and oft-unrealistic driving targets combined with comparatively low pay has made trucking, some argue, an increasingly unappealing option to young British workers.

“My mate’s a driver,” says Larvin, who is from Bradford. “He reckons this is the first time in years he’s been on half decent money because they’re panicking and paying up a bit. Should have been doing it years ago, shouldn’t they?”

Would he himself pay more for a sausage melt if that cost was passed on to the customer? “Aye, probably,” comes the reply. “I do like my sausage melts.”

Both he and colleague Wayne Deegan – seeing off a sausage roll and coffee – voted Brexit, and remain more than happy with their decision.

Would they change their mind if it meant an end to steak bakes and such like? “Oh yes, mate,” comes a reply. “I’d emigrate to Spain in that case. Only I couldn’t, could I? Brexit’s stopped that too, hasn’t it?”

He is, for clarity, being sarcastic.

John and Krystal Currie are fans of Greggs’ bacon butties

确实, such apparent indifference to food shortages is pretty standard here today.

A husband and wife – John and Krystal Currie – admit they’d be “gutted” at having to end their morning routine of enjoying a bacon butty together if such dire straits ever came to pass.

But by and large the mood is summed up by another respondent who declines to give their name. What would they do if they couldn’t get their lunch time sarnie from Greggs? A perplexed look. “I’d go to Beres instead,” is the reply.

Beres, for the uninitiated, is a family-run pork sandwich shop with outlets across Sheffield.

确实, herein may lie something of a coda to this whole situation.

While big chains and big supermarkets warn of shortages, independent retailers largely appear altogether relaxed about the situation.

Why so? Because smaller traders tend to use more local produce which not only means less food miles, it also means less reliance on huge HGVs thundering up and down motorways and across continents. Where they do import foods, they generally pay more for smaller contracts, effectively meaning more nimble, more robust supply options.

“It’s not a universal picture but there will be very few of our members concerned about this,” says Richard Stevenson, technical manager with the National Craft Butchers association. “Their day-to-day produce will generally come from nearby farms and abattoirs so you’re talking small-scale deliveries – vans basically – from trusted sources…

“To some extent this is actually an opportunity because, just like during last year’s lockdown, people turn to us when the supermarkets have issues, 和, unless something extraordinary happens, we will be able to meet those needs.”

Greengrocer Alan Parkes says supermarkets are crying wolf over shortages

It is a view seemingly shared among traders at Sheffield’s Moor Market, 一种 100 yards on from Greggs. On his fruit and veg stall, Alan Parkes says he has no worries about getting his produce over the coming months.

Is that because all his stuff is local? “No, love,“ 他说. “Those pineapples didn’t come from Sheffield.”

Rather, he reckons there may be a little tactical crying wolf being deployed by the big chains and supermarkets.

“Want my opinion?” the 59-year-old asks. “They would rather run out of a few things and cause a bit of commotion than actually pay a bit more to get supplies moving. They’ve spent years squeezing down prices to make themselves rich. This is what happens.”