The supply chain problems are being caused by a number of issues including the widely reported lack of HGV drivers and the impact of the ‘pingdemic’ on haulage and warehouse workers.
The Road Haulage Association, the road transport trade association, recently revealed that there was a shortage of 100,000 drivers.
While this is affecting beer deliveries it also means that kegs are unable to picked up and refilled for use.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “Like many other industries across the UK, the Heavy Goods Vehicle driver shortage and other labour shortages are having an impact on our sector. For some, this is leading to keg shortages and longer return times on kegs.
“As a sector our members are working with third-party logistics partners around the clock to minimise disruption within the supply chain and ensure as many deliveries as possible.
“Whilst we are grateful for Government engagement to date on the issue of the driver shortage, it is clear the immediate situation will not be rectified without further intervention.”
William Lees-Jones, managing director of JW Lees Brewery, said: “Most of our beer sales are in our own pubs and so the ratio from kegs to sales is normally about 2.5 to one whereas with our national account business if we are doing business with pubcos the ratio goes up to 8 to 1.
He adds: “This means for every keg that is being used we need 8 in the supply chain to service them as it takes time to get them back.
“There is just a huge number of empties in the system. We keep sending out trucks to pick up empty kegs.”
Shortage of qualified HGV drivers
A Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company spokesperson said: “The shortage of qualified HGV drivers is heavily impacting multiple areas of the brewing and on-trade sector, including keg uplift.
“While we are currently managing keg uplift owing to a surplus of empty kegs in storage across our sites, we like others are experiencing some delays with the pick-up and return of empty kegs. Our teams are working incredibly hard to support customers and we thank them for their patience during this time.”
Kegwatch, which acts to recover and combat the theft of kegs said it has seen a steady increase since May to pick up empties that suppliers will not or have not uplifted.
Hector Taylor, chairman of Kegwatch, said: “Since the pandemic started last year everyone will have noticed containers left sitting outside pubs and clubs awaiting uplift. Through our security work we have identified organised crime networks who target such pubs and we have successfully worked with police leading to a number of arrests.
“We believe that the failure to uplift empties promptly has undoubtedly led to the huge increase in containers being modified for other uses and have a concern that the rise in stainless steel scrap price will also increase risk of thefts.”
He added that beer kegs and casks remain the legal property of the owning brewer, or container operator, throughout their operational life and Kegwatch recommend pubs keep their empties secured prior to uplift i.e. in their cellar where possible.
“However suppliers also have duty to uplift container promptly for return and the current issue regarding driver shortages is clearly having an adverse impact with regards to timely uplifts,” he added