Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets members of the public during his visits to Doncaster Market, in Doncaster, northern England, on September 13 2019. Preparedness in Britain for a no-deal Brexit remains ‘at a low level’, with logjams at Channel ports threatening to impact drug and food supplies, according to government assessments released this week. Picture: Jon Super/AFP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets members of the public during his visits to Doncaster Market, in Doncaster, northern England, on September 13 2019. Preparedness in Britain for a no-deal Brexit remains ‘at a low level’, with logjams at Channel ports threatening to impact drug and food supplies, according to government assessments released this week. Picture: Jon Super/AFP

Britain is unlikely to run out of essentials such as toilet paper in the event of a no-deal Brexit but some fresh fruit and vegetables could be in short supply and prices might rise, supermarket bosses warned this week.

Retailers John Lewis and the Co-operative Group, as well as the government's reluctant publication of a report late on Wednesday, shed light on what shoppers might expect to find, or not find, on supermarket shelves after October 31.

The government has demanded that supermarkets prepare for a potentially chaotic no-deal Brexit by stockpiling food, but supermarket bosses say it is almost impossible to store fresh food for any length of time and people might not find everything they want on the shelves.

Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op, said it had secured extra storage space but he expected shortages of some fresh foods and subsequent price rises.

"We are very clear on where we think inflation will come through, which will be, in the main, fruit," he said.

"We would be stockpiling the essential items that you would expect. Water, toilet paper, long-life cans."

We would be stockpiling the essential items that you would expect. Water, toilet paper, long-life cans
Steve Murrells, CEO,  Co-op Group

Murrells said that fruit such as apples, pears, blueberries and strawberries might have to be transported more expensively by air freight from the southern hemisphere to avoid congested ports.

The availability of vegetables in the UK is also at risk as the EU provides about 86% of lettuces and 70% of tomatoes, according to the British Retail Consortium.

"Clearly . in short-life fresh produce that's imported from Europe, that would be harder, if the flow of stock is interrupted," Rob Collins, the MD of John Lewis's supermarket group Waitrose, told reporters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on October 31, and has vowed he will not ask for a delay.

The "Operation Yellowhammer" report on the worst-case scenario, released by the government, pointed to potential problems snarling cross-Channel trade routes and disrupting supplies of fresh food.

John Lewis chair Charlie Mayfield said the assessment chimed with what his department store and supermarket group expected from a no-deal scenario.

"The publication of the Yellowhammer documents gives a bit more insight, but frankly I don't think it tells us anything particularly new that we didn't already know," Mayfield told reporters after warning that the impact of a no-deal Brexit could be "significant".

He said the continuing uncertainty meant consumer confidence had taken a battering and John Lewis was seeing a reluctance by consumers to make big-ticket purchases in its department stores.

David Potts, CEO of grocery chain Morrisons, agreed that consumer confidence was weak but said the grocer was somewhat shielded from any Brexit chaos as two-thirds of what it sells is British.

Though supermarkets say they are restricted in what goods they can stockpile, there might be some solace in them saying that, so far, customers have shown little sign of panic buying.

Reuters