Waitrose supply problems: why are there supermarket food shortages - is retailer giving out vouchers?

Food shortages have been seen at the retailer’s stores in Edinburgh, Eastbourne and London. While some have blamed the issues on Brexit, there is no evidence this is the case

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Waitrose has apologised to customers and offered some of them vouchers after an IT glitch left shelves bare at several stores.

The upmarket retailer, which has been struggling to fill its shelves since last Thursday (25 May), reportedly ran out of fresh and bakery items at many of its stores over the bank holiday weekend. Shortages have hit locations including: Cambridge, the Channel Islands, Cheltenham, Maidenhead and London.

It comes just weeks after supermarkets suffered severe food shortages after bad weather hit supplies from the key fresh food producing areas of Spain and Morocco. Tomatoes, peppers and raspberries were among the products affected, with stores imposing purchasing limits on some of the affected items.

The shortages, which led to a spike in food inflation, have been followed by more bad news for retailers. The Competition and Markets Authority has been investigating the country’s largest chains over ‘greedflation’ claims, while the government is planning to bring in a food price cap similar to one in place in France.

But what is going at Waitrose - and what has the supermarket said about the issues it is experiencing? Here’s what you need to know.

Why has Waitrose had food shortages?

Waitrose has been struggling to fill shelves in several of its stores since last week. Affected products have included bakery items, fresh fruit - such as apples and pears - as well as meat and dairy products. The retailer has said its issues stemmed from a problem with an update for an IT system it uses.

Waitrose has had empty shelves in at least several of its stores as a result of an IT glitch (image: PA)Waitrose has had empty shelves in at least several of its stores as a result of an IT glitch (image: PA)
Waitrose has had empty shelves in at least several of its stores as a result of an IT glitch (image: PA)

According to ITV journalist Richard Gaisford, the problems began when a worker pressed the wrong button during the upgrade. The mistake led to a fault that meant the supermarket could not see its stores’ sales, which impacted its ability to measure stock levels.

The retailer handed out £5 vouchers to some of its disgruntled customers. These carried a message which read: “We’re sorry if we did not have everything you were looking for today”. Given the worst of its problems appear to have now passed, you may no longer be able to access them.

NationalWorld has seen evidence of the shortages at Waitrose’s London stores in Mill Hill and Kensington, as well as in Edinburgh and Eastbourne. While some social media users have blamed the shortages on Brexit, there is no evidence that the UK’s exit from the European Union was a factor.

What has Waitrose said?

In a statement to the PA News Agency given on Wednesday (31 May), Waitrose said it had fixed the cause of the glitch in its systems update. It added that the availability of affected products was improving, with all of its stores now receiving deliveries as usual.

A spokesperson for the supermarket said: “We are really sorry that some branches have had low stock. We’ve fixed the cause of the issue, with extra deliveries already out with stores. We’re grateful for the hard work of our teams and the understanding of our customers.”

It comes after supermarkets have battled several supply crises over the past 12 months. Sunflower oil was in short supply in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, while the availability of fresh British eggs has been hit by one of the worst outbreaks of bird flu the UK has ever seen.