Why the UK is suffering a Walkers crisps shortage

Production issues have forced snack giant to prioritise most popular varieties

Walkers crisps on a supermarket shelf
(Image credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

First it was milk, then fuel, and now UK consumers are struggling to stomach shortages of another everyday staple.

Walkers bosses have been forced to reduce production of the Leicester-based snack maker’s crisps – which are “purchased by nine out of ten UK households”, according to the Leicester Mercury – as a result of a computer glitch during a recent IT system upgrade.

A Walkers spokesperson said the botched upgrade had “disrupted the supply” of some products. “We're doing everything we can to increase production and get people’s favourites back on shelves,” the spokesperson added.

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The company is prioritising the making of popular varieties “including cheese and onion, ready salted and salt and vinegar, as well as Quavers and Wotsits”, said The Guardian. But supplies of what Walkers described as “more niche” varieties are shrinking.

The Sun reported last month that PepsiCo, the US food and drink conglomerate that owns Walkers, had asked retailers to stop including its products in promotions, in a bid to avoid shortages. Checks by the newspaper found that Walkers crisps multipacks were already listed as out of stock or unavailable on the websites of supermarkets including Tesco, Ocado, Asda and Morrisons.

Supply chain problems have plagued multiple industries in recent months. The findings of surveys by the Confederation of British Industry suggest that supply shortages are at their worst levels since the 1970s.

The crisis has been exacerbated by manufacturing and shipping disruption resulting from the global pandemic, and by a shortage of HGV lorry drivers, supermarket shelf-stackers and farm workers owing to Brexit.

The supply chain issues are expected to continue in the coming weeks, with fears that Christmas will be affected. In September, farming assocation chiefs warned that Brits were likely to face a “national shortage” of turkeys as a result of Brexit labour shortages.

The possibility of having to go without Walkers crisps too has triggered (tongue-in-cheek) outrage among social media users. “I can tolerate no bog roll, petrol and all the other nonsense but a shortage of Walkers crisps is too much for me,” tweeted one snacks fan.

The Mirror reported that “opportunistic hoarders” are trying to cash in by selling packets of Walkers at inflated prices on eBay. A Leicester-based trader “is listing a 32.5g pack of Walkers salt and vinegar crisps for £6.89 that would usually cost about 60p”, said the paper.

But while crisp lovers are currently feeling the bite of the shortage, the long-term outlook is brighter. The company’s Leicester factory recently underwent a £14m upgrade that included the creation of a new storage facility. According to the Leicester Mercury, the new building is set to increase the factory’s storage capacity by 29%.

Walkers has also continued to stack up healthy profits “despite higher health and safety costs because of the pandemic”, said The Guardian. In 2020, the company turned a profit of £38m from revenues of £265m.

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