Lorry driver shortage HGV lorries depot

The HGV driver shortages affecting availability to convenience stores last year have begun to improve, according to Unitas managing director John Kinney.

Throughout 2021, a combination of Brexit and the pandemic was blamed for a lack of delivery drivers.

The shortage, which affected all wholesalers and suppliers, led to issues with availability, wastage and hindered the ability for retailers to meet their rebate targets.

Speaking to betterRetailing at the Unitas annual trade show last week, Kinney said there were fewer concerns among wholesalers about the issue.

The group is made up of wholesalers such as AF Blakemore, Parfetts, Dhamecha, Dee Bee, Filshill and United Wholesale Scotland.

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“I’m not hearing a lot from members about concerns of drivers internally. Some of them are incentivising and have offered double digit pay increases,” he said.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and drivers will stay if we pay them well.”

A member of a wholesale trade body told betterRetailing they had also begun to see the driver shortage improve.

Kinney said one challenge faced by wholesalers was the poaching of drivers. “Amazon is one company that told drivers they’d pay the penalty clause of exiting their contract early,” he said.

Despite the shortages improving across Unitas’s wholesale membership, Kinney urged suppliers to ensure last year’s issues are not repeated in the run-up to Easter. “How many more drivers are there leading up to Easter compared with Christmas? The numbers probably haven’t changed significantly,” he said.

“We’re talking to suppliers and asking if they’ve forecasted to ensure the convenience sector is in a good position for Easter.

“We can’t just bottle a problem that might come across the line again. We had issues where the suppliers provided products to the multiples and not independent retailers.

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“That’s not right. We don’t want the multiples to get preference.”

Commenting on the development of Unitas’s Today’s and Lifestyle Express fascias, Kinney said the firm had started offering increased financial incentives to retailers for compliance.

“A lot of ranges changed through Covid-19 due to availability. The main task is to get retailers back into the support of core range,” he said.

“It’s never been about increasing numbers, [it’s about] rewarding our members for compliance.”

Following the implementation of delivery fees by Nisa, Costcutter and Booker, Kinney said Unitas had received an increased number of enquiries from retailers. “We’ve been hearing from a lot of unhappy retailers who feel like they’re being neglected and no longer part of the strategy of a big player,” he said.

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