Beer drought fears eased as draymen strike action called off says Heineken, but shortages continue


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A strike by distributors of some of the biggest beer brands in the country has been called off - but many pub landlords in the county say shortages are set to continue.

Pubs across the county had been bracing themselves for a 'late-summer beer drought' after a pay row between a major distribution company and its delivery teams threatened to see supplies halted over a series of day-long strikes over the coming weeks.

The strikes planned for the coming weeks are off - but supply issues continue
The strikes planned for the coming weeks are off - but supply issues continue

But this morning it was called off after the Unite union struck a deal with distribution firm GXO Logistics - previously known as XPO Logistics.

It would have had significant effects as the firm delivers beer to around 40% of the country's hospitality outlets.

GXO distributed many major brands, among them those under the Heineken umbrella.

They include the likes of Amstel, Tiger and Birra Moretti.

A statement sent to suppliers from Heineken this morning - and seen by KentOnline - says the strikes are off subject to a ballot of the 1,000 draymen (the name of those who deliver beer for breweries) to take place next week.

Beer deliveries are proving erratic - providing pubs with yet another headache
Beer deliveries are proving erratic - providing pubs with yet another headache

However, the hospitality industry isn't out of the woods just yet after a turbulent 18 months which has seen outlets forced to close for many months due to the pandemic, and then face the twin problems of staff shortages and the pingdemic forcing workers to have to isolate.

Kelly Earle runs the Rising Sun pub in Delce Road, Rochester.

She said pubs such as hers have already suffered shortages due to a host of issues.

She explained to KentOnline: "We've had product shortages pretty much since we re-opened after the lockdowns.

"There was a shortage of the barrels the beer goes in, then the pingdemic and there's a shortage of drivers.

Kelly Earle runs the Rising Sun pub in Rochester
Kelly Earle runs the Rising Sun pub in Rochester

"This unfortunately effects us massively. We've suffered enough during the pandemic and now we're suffering again because of other things out of our control."

She says orders she has been placed have been restricted due to the shortages - and often when she does receive beer deliveries they are less than ordered.

"Normally," she says, "ahead of the bank holiday my cellar would be full of back-up stock but I've barely got enough for a quiet week.

"I ran out of Fosters, Budweiser and Moretti last week.

"I've now got one barrel of Fosters to get me through the weekend and I'll be lucky if that lasts by the end of tonight."

Drinkers at the Rising Sun have seen supply issues impact on their top tipples
Drinkers at the Rising Sun have seen supply issues impact on their top tipples

She has been forced to warn her customers that there will be shortages - stressing that is outside her control.

She adds: "Other pubs I speak to are having the same issues. We just can't get hold of the stock."

Phil Thorley, operations director at Thorley Taverns in Thanet, says his firm are suffering the same problems.

He explained: "Although this strike has been called off we have been having a nightmare for the last month with both wet and food deliveries.

"One, is it going to turn up? Two, is what you've ordered going to be there?

Philip Thorley, director of Thorley Taverns
Philip Thorley, director of Thorley Taverns

"That is proving extremely challenging alongside the driver shortage as well as staff shortages in the hospitality industry currently.

"We've had failed deliveries this week with no strike. It's happening all over.

"Breweries are saying they have beer and that it's a driver supply issue.

"The most frustrating thing is you don't get warned about it. It just doesn't turn up.

"It's challenging times at the moment. But hospitality is such a resilient industry it's not the last straw as we'll always have the doors open but it is frustrating."

Beer barrels have often proved challenging to get hold of
Beer barrels have often proved challenging to get hold of

He admits his 19 venues have been forced to move stock around the sites in Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs to ensure nowhere runs dry.

But, he warns: "At the moment we're pretty much there but there will be times we can't sell everything to everyone."

The Society of Independent Brewers has urged pubs to look to smaller brewers to plug the gap left by unfilled orders.

It chief executive James Calder said: "Amid fears of taps running dry, pubs, bars and restaurants should look beyond mass-produced beers from the global brands and speak to their local independent breweries. Being local they have the flexibility to brew and get beer directly into venues up and down the UK.

"The UK’s independent brewers are ready and waiting to fill the supply gaps we’re seeing hit an already struggling hospitality industry."

Beer supply issues are just the latest blow to the hospitality industry
Beer supply issues are just the latest blow to the hospitality industry

But the Rising Sun's Kelly Earle said it is not so simple.

She explained: "It would be great to go to local brewers, but I'm tied to my beer - I have to buy from my brewery.

"And if I can't get the orders I'm expecting, I'm not making enough money to buy in beers even if I could."

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