Consumers are likely to see reduced availability of fresh fruit and veg from next week, the food and drink sector has warned after France and the UK agreed a deal to ease the travel ban.
The 48-hour port closure, imposed after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant in England, meant no lorries or ferries were able to sail from ports, resulting in huge queues in Dover.
Last night (22 December), the UK and French government struck an agreement to allow hauliers to continue to travel between the two countries, providing they test negative for Covid-19.
While the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said this was 'very welcome progress', it said the first challenge was now to 'clear the backlog'.
The industry body said priority must be given to perishable loads like seafood and other fresh, short shelf-life foods.
Food companies are now looking to the army and local authorities to instigate a quick and efficient testing system in Kent that can allow trucks onto ferries and the Channel Tunnel.
But even working quickly and with Calais possibly shut for Christmas Day, the FDF said it could take until the New Year to return to normal operations.
"Lorries will take time to return to their normal pattern of collection and delivery," FDF’s chief executive, Ian Wright said.
He said this would likely mean consumers would see reduced on-shelf availability of some fresh vegetables and fruits, beginning next week.
"We will also see potential significant disruption to the flow of ingredients into the UK," he warned.
"Though all in the industry are already working hard to mitigate any impact for shoppers they are almost certain to be impacts across the supply chain."
He said the government must also ensure that continental lorry drivers were willing in future to bring their trucks to the UK to ensure that the ‘carousel’ of trade runs smoothly.
"They must be confident that they can exit the UK quickly and efficiently next time," Mr Wright added.
“Many businesses have lost very valuable - but uninsurable - consignments in these delays through no fault of their own.
"They will note that compensation is being offered to those who had to cancel domestic train journeys as a consequence of the Tier 4 announcements.
"Ministers have a moral duty to offer those who have lost product nothing less.”