We visited supermarkets in Sheffield after national reports of bare shelves and this is what we found

It’s bleak times to have fears of a UK food shortage make it to every front page even once – let alone twice in as many years.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 4:32 pm

The prospect of self-isolating staff and a critical scarcity of HGV drivers dominated national papers yesterday. These were accompanied by picture after picture of desolate shelves and exasperated shoppers.

Which made for quite a contrast when The Star went out to investigate and found things looking… normal.

Across four different local ‘express’ shops and two superstores, the only common items The Star saw which were lacking in all of them were flavoured sparkling water and ice cream – which speaks as much to the summer holidays as it does a food shortage.

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The Star went out to see how empty Sheffield's supermarket shelves were. There were gaps  - but a food shortage was hard to argue.
The Star went out to see how empty Sheffield's supermarket shelves were. There were gaps - but a food shortage was hard to argue.

The stores we visited on Thursday morning were the Asda in Queens Road, Tesco Express in Sharrow Lane, Sainsbury’s Local on Machon Bank Road, Asda on Howard Road, and the Tesco and Sainsburys superstores off Abbeydale Road.

This isn’t to say there were no empty shelves at all. All the stores we tried had at least one item missing. At the better end of the scale were the lack tonic water in one store, smoked salmon in another and Taste The Difference crisps in a third. Items that are a necessity for precisely no one.

Where it was a problem was the superstores’ noticeable shortage of some basic and store’s-own items: microwaved rice, pasta, soup, teabags, vegetable oil and a number of cereals including porridge oats were scarce.

The cereal and porridge aisle at Tesco Superstore off Abbeydale Road.

It spelt another knock for low income households, because all these items were still on the shelves as branded or ‘The Best’ options.

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But a food shortage was not apparent. Past the newspaper stands lined with pictures of barren shelves were fruit and veg aisles in good shape and meat sections with no gaps. Two members of staff in one superstore were spending their shift on their hands and knees scraping the “two-metres apart” white tape off the floor.

But, this does not mean the issue has passed.

The flavoured sparkling water shelf at the Sainsburys Local on Machon Bank Road. This was the only visible shortage other than ice cream in this store.

The fact that shelves were lined again the day after ministers and supermarket brass were questioned by papers and on Twitter about empty shelves could just as easily point to emergency shifts overnight to get deliveries done.

The very real experience of thousands of staff across the country also cannot be ignored. The shortage of HGV drivers has been a burgeoning issue for months and Covid cases have not stopped rising and rising. The concern is currently focused on the workers in the supermarket, but it could soon pivot to how the source of food in factories and plants will soon be cut short by staffing issues.

A heated argument is ongoing between the two camps saying that self-isolation rules need to be relaxed since the NHS App is, uh, warning too many people to self-isolate. The other side is saying this is not a “pingdemic” but the same pandemic that, no, has not gone away yet, sadly.

The Star could not in good faith report today that the shelves in Sheffield were barren, because we did not see it for ourselves.

At Tesco Superstore, there was a large gap in microwave rice - but only the store brand and basic brands. Higher prices options were readily available.

Maybe deliveries had just arrived, maybe the struggle is worse in other cities. But it may be a very different state of affairs by the end of the weekend.