Tesco has introduced buying limits on items including toilet roll, eggs, rice, soap and handwash. Customers at the supermarket are now limited to one item per person of toilet roll, and up to three products of eggs, rice, soap and handwash.
It is understood the extra limits are pre-emptive measures to help smooth demand in the coming weeks, rather than a reaction to shortages or a change in buying behaviour. They are on top of a three-item limit on essential items such as flour, dried pasta and anti-bacterial wipes which has been in place for several months.
On Monday supermarkets and wholesalers warned of shortages of lettuce, broccoli and citrus fruit around Christmas as thousands of lorries were stranded in Kent after France closed its borders to the UK.
“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said.
Tesco previously introduced a buying cap on toilet roll in November in anticipation of a repeat of the panic buying that took place in March, and has encouraged customers to “shop as normal”, saying it had plenty of food up to 25 December.
French authorities have announced that journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume on Wednesday, but those seeking to travel must provide a negative Covid-19 test result.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said stranded truck drivers would begin receiving Covid tests on Wednesday, but warned it “will take two or three days for things to be cleared”.
The travel ban was imposed in response to fears about a more infectious coronavirus variant which is spreading in the UK. More than 2,800 HGVs were stuck in Kent on Tuesday afternoon as a result of the disruption.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, told the business select committee on Tuesday: “If we do not see the empty trucks, which have already delivered to warehouses and stores, getting back over the Channel, they will not be able to pick up the next consignment of fresh fruit, vegetables, salad vegetables.
“What we’ve been told by members is that unless those trucks can start travelling again and go back to Spain and Portugal and other parts of Europe, we will have problems with fresh produce from 27 December.”