UK food and drink sector battling serious shortage

Brexit and COVID have both played a major role in slashing the number EU workers currently employed in the UK.

According to data from The Grocer, the UK’s total food and drink workforce fell dramatically at the beginning of the pandemic, from 2.1 million people in 2019 to just 1.7 million in the first quarter of 2021. While it reached 1.8 million by Q3 2021, the data does not account for the impact of furlough ending at the end of September, as official data for this period is not yet available.

The reduction has largely been driven by a significant reduction in the number of EU workers employed by the food and drink sector in recent years. In 2017, there were 339,845 EU workers employed, accounting for 16% of the UK’s total food and drink workforce. However, the number of EU workers employed in UK food and drink began falling in the lead-up to Brexit and by Q1 2021, there were just 218,069 EU workers – accounting for 12% of the total food and drink workforce.

Last year, the decline in EU workers accelerated, with 162,188 EU workers employed by the sector by Q3 2021, accounting for 9% of the workforce – its lowest level in a decade. The percentage of non-EU workers has also fallen, from 7% in 2011 to 4.5%.