Some supermarkets are already publicly putting systems in place to safeguard against the shortfall, said a source close to the sector.
“The Co-operative, for example, announced that it was looking to avoid a potential national shortage of van and lorry drivers by establishing a new training programme for more than 100 staff,” the source said.
“Other major retailers have also told me they could boost their activity in this area,” the source added, but refused to give further details on which retailers.
Drivers due to retire
More than 45,000 HGV drivers were due to retire within the next two years, according to figures from the Road Haulage Association (RHA). Not enough new drivers were coming through to replace them, the figures showed.
Supermarkets and food manufacturers would be hit hardest by the shortfall, as their businesses depended on the swift and efficient movement of perishable goods between factories and stores, according to the source.
The Co-op last month launched its ‘Warehouse to Wheels’ programme to train warehouse workers at eight food depots to become light goods vehicle (LGV) drivers, Chris Whitfield, retail and logistics director at the Co-op, said.
Afterwards, they could become full-time drivers or remain in the warehouse until they were needed at peak times, he added.
Despite more activity, the sector was still in a critical condition. “The shortage is still going on and we have been lobbying tirelessly for the Treasury to provide us with funding to train more drivers,” an RHA spokeswoman claimed.
“It’s not something we can let go away and we would like to see a new government take it more seriously,” she said.
It cost £4,000 to train new HGV drivers and the haulage industry needed financial help from the government to bridge the gap, the spokeswoman added.
More than 60% of current HGV drivers in the UK were aged 55 and over and only 5% were under the age of 25, she said.
Meanwhile, Morrisons had also launched a programme similar to the Co-op's in a bid to boost the number of its HGV drivers, a spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
"We are well placed to spot any emerging issues and find ways to ensure they don't impact our customers," she said.
"We've introduced a 'warehouse to wheels' programme to start training more than 100 of our existing employees to become HGV drivers. We've also found a number of ways to improve efficiency and are planning to reduce the total number of miles and journeys our drivers need to undertake."