“We could see the random disappearance of products and well-known brands from shelves because supply has been interrupted,” Ian Wright, the CEO of the UK Food and Drink Federation, told CNN.
“We won’t run out of food, but you will find that your favorite brands are sometimes in short or no supply.”
Wright says it’s important that food retailers are prepared, but it’s not yet time for shoppers to start hoarding supplies.
“Individual customers should keep an eye on what’s happening,” he says, “they need to wait and see what happens in the next week or two weeks, before they start making any moves.”
But many British businesses, as well as consumers, have already begun stockpiling in anticipation of the UK crashing out of the EU, a move that could trigger a sudden imposition of customs barriers and costly trade tariffs on goods traveling between Britain and its biggest trading partner.
“Nestle have said that they are ensuring a continued supply of ingredients, we’ve also heard that from Ferrero, and from a number of British companies who only operate in the UK, but whose products included important ingredients from Europe,” Wright said.
Fears of supermarket shelves laid bare have led some British citizens to start stockpiling themselves as the Brexit deadline approaches.
Graham Hughes, a travel writer who lives with his partner and two children in northeast England, has been buying food for months for his family.
The biggest problem, he says, will be fresh fruit and vegetables, something you can’t stockpile.
He’s largely bought canned and dried foods to supplement meals: tinned tuna, cans of chicken soup, noodles, rice and a lot of baked beans.
“It’s about making sure the kids don’t go hungry, that they don’t go without a meal, and making sure there is always going to be food there,” Hughes said.
The cans of Heinz Baked Beans he buys — a British staple — are produced in the UK, but the raw haricot beans and tomatoes inside are imported from North America and Southern Europe, respectively, both of which Britain currently trades with via the EU’s single market.
Until the UK makes its own deals, the beans and tomatoes could be subjected to higher tariffs. That, paired with issues of customs procedures holding up products and trucks at the border, have led Brits like Hughes to prepare for the worst.
But they’re still a minority.
“I think most people are thinking it’s going to be fine because they’ve never had the experience of being in a country where things have gone horribly wrong, where supply chains have been disrupted,” Hughes said, giving the examples of Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
“We’re an island that can’t make enough food for itself.”
CNN’s Martin Goillandeau, Livvy Doherty, and Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report.