Walkers crisps shortage could last until end of month after IT glitch

Production is ‘at a reduced scale’ because of system upgrade disruption

Last modified on Sun 7 Nov 2021 10.31 EST

British shoppers may face shortages of some of their favourite crisps until the end of the month after a botched computer upgrade disrupted the world’s biggest crisp factory.

Walkers has been forced to prioritise its most popular varieties – including cheese and onion, ready salted and salt and vinegar, as well as Quavers and Wotsits – after the glitch forced it to slow production. A spokesperson said “more niche” varieties had been slowed.

“A recent IT system upgrade has disrupted the supply of some of our products. Our sites are still making crisps and snacks but at a reduced scale,” a Walkers spokesperson said. “We’re doing everything we can to increase production and get people’s favourites back on shelves. We’re very sorry for the inconvenience caused.”

The IT issue has added to the problems faced by the British food industry – along with most other manufacturers – during months of delays and disruption caused by the pandemic.

Tesco has been using cardboard cutouts of fruit, vegetables and other groceries to fill gaps on shelves because of supply problems. Shoppers have spotted fake carrots in Fakenham, cardboard asparagus in London, pictures of oranges and grapes in Milton Keynes and 2D washing liquid bottles in Cambridge. Sainsbury’s has also used outline drawings of packaging to fill shelves.

In August, McDonald’s blamed supply chain problems when it was forced to pull milkshakes from its menus in Great Britain. The chicken restaurant Nando’s had to close shops because of poultry shortages, and rival chain KFC had to cut some items from its menus.

Some parts of the food industry have also said they have suffered from worker shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit, with European workers facing more hurdles to work in the UK. UK farms have in the last month been forced to slaughter thousands of healthy pigs themselves – meaning they are not suitable for sale for meat – because of a shortage of abattoir workers. Some meat processors have also resorted to shipping carcasses to the EU to be butchered, before bringing them back to sell in the UK.

Beyond the food industry, companies have warned of possible future shortages of products ranging from fake tan to toys, with issues ranging from power cuts in China to shortages of container space and lorry drivers once products reach the UK.

Supply shortages have reached their worst levels since the mid-1970s, according to surveys by the Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s biggest business lobby group.

The supply chain problems have highlighted rich economies’ reliance on “just-in-time” deliveries and automated processes. Walkers’ main crisp factory in Leicester is usually able to churn out as many as 5m bags a day, and production normally only stops on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, according to the Leicester Mercury.

Walkers, which is owned by the US food and drink conglomerate PepsiCo, is usually relatively profitable. Accounts from 2020 showed profits at Walkers of £38m from revenues of £265m despite higher health and safety costs because of the pandemic.

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