Scottish pub chiefs have warned that beer taps could run dry as staff shortages leave the industry facing a potential “catastrophe”.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association has reported issues facing several suppliers of alcohol and CO2, which helps run draft beer fonts.
It comes as more people are visiting boozers in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions being relaxed.
We have been speaking to publicans and suppliers in Tayside, Fife and beyond to find out how the issue is affecting the region.
Orders cancelled at Fife pub
Morag Douglas, owner of The Star pub in Burntisland, says her businesses has been experiencing issues for weeks.
She said: “I’ve had particular problems with Heineken of late, the past two weeks they’ve just cancelled my delivery on a Friday.
“The week before they bumped it from the Friday to the Monday so that’s been a bit of a problem.
“The other one is Tennent’s, we’ve had problems getting stock from Heverlee which is a beer they do.
“The CO2 shortage is another thing that could potentially impact things, because you need CO2 to dispense beer.”
Pub owners are now trying to source stock from elsewhere to keep thirsty customers happy.
Morag added: “We’ve had to go to Allson Wholesale in Glenrothes to pick up stock ourselves, which is costing us more than it would normally.
“My husband went to pick up stock there last Friday and he said there was a large queue because loads of people were in the same boat.”
Fears situation may get worse
There have been reports of some pubs in Tayside not being able to sell certain beers because they have run out of gas.
Sheena Cochrane, who runs The Vault in Monifieth, says her business has coped well so far – but admits it is an uncertain time.
She said: “Recently our deliveries are quite often late and they’re coming with some items missing without us being told they’re going to be missing, so we’re having to scramble around trying to get them from elsewhere.
“For instance, we sell quite a lot of John Smith’s, but Heineken are limiting to two kegs so that’s kind of difficult.
“Our CO2 supplier Abergas is usually very good but CO2 has become a little issue just the past week.
“We usually have five but they only had three, so we’re getting by, but if that continues for any period of time it will become an issue.
“We’re not a huge venue, places that are bigger and hold more stock I think will be having more problems.”
One of Dundee’s most prominent publicans, Jimmy Marr, says he has been warned about potential shortages.
He said: “The last couple of weeks, it’s been a bit better from what it was coming out of lockdown.
“The first couple weeks out of lockdown weren’t very good at all with any of the suppliers.
“The brewers are warning that it could be rough again over the next two or three weeks and to try and persevere with them.
“We’re just constantly keeping an eye on our stock levels, and when we are getting orders, trying to keep a wee bit of higher stock than we normally would do.”
Long queues at wholesalers as pubs stock up
Colin Drysdale, managing director of Allson Wholesale, says there has been unprecedented demand for alcohol products – as pubs try to fill the gaps left by other suppliers.
He said: “Our priority is to maintain supply to our existing loyal customer base, and to keep their cellars replenished.
“We are lucky we have the scale to hold vast stocks of both draught and packaged beers, and so stock is not an issue.
“However, our distribution capacity is now at its maximum, and any non-existing Allson customers are now having to collect from our depot in fleets of small vans and cars.
“Long queues have been forming, in a situation that has never been experienced before.
“We are trying where possible to help new customers with some stock to see them through, and working with them to get through this challenging period.”
Why is there an alcohol shortage?
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, says a shortage of staff availability for deliveries – and in warehouses and breweries – means businesses are struggling to get hold of supplies.
In addition, proposed strike action by some staff working for GXO – which delivers for Heineken, Belhaven and other suppliers – is threatening to exacerbate the problem.
What are companies doing about it?
Heineken UK: “Due to the resource issues we continue to face in third party logistics, we have notified our customers that we will not be able to fulfil all orders after having explored every possible option for delivery.
“We continue to work with our partners to resolve the situation, while exploring alternative methods to get our beers and ciders to customers.”
Greene King/Belhaven: “The issue of labour shortages is widespread and having an impact on the whole industry.
“We are working closely with our distribution partners to find a resolution to continue providing the excellent service we pride ourselves on to our loyal customers.”
Tennent Caledonian Breweries: “We are continuing to keep up with demand for Tennent’s Lager at Wellpark Brewery.
“Our onsite brewing operations and carbon recapture facility means that we are able to scale up production to meet demand and we have our own supply of CO2 onsite that makes us self-sufficient.
“Delivery capacity is currently an industry-wide issue, however with our in-house distribution network we continue to work in partnership with our customers to fulfil demand.”
Abergas: “Whilst certain UK and European plants are producing CO2, there are some not operating at full capacity and others have encountered delays coming back onstream, both of which continues to place a strain on the availability of liquid CO2.
“As such, the entire supply situation continues to remain fragile and, with reduced product available to us from our supplier, Abergas are obliged to continue to supply product on a restricted basis.
“Whilst we appreciate this is not ideal for publicans, until we have confirmation that CO2 plants are back operating at full capacity, we cannot yet commit to a full recovery plan to get CO2 and mixed gas cylinders filled to meet demand and ask that, where possible, customers continue to conserve consumption.”
GXO: “We favour dialogue in all our negotiations. Discussions are ongoing in order to reach agreement, in particular for the hospitality sector that is only now emerging from the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.”