Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells has warned that grocers will face a “pinch point” in fresh food availability in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Murrells and The Co-op’s food boss Jo Whitfield said the business was taking action to plan for all possible outcomes, but urged the Government to provide “certainty” around its EU exit strategy.

As part of that mitigating action, The Co-op has, like Morrisons, contacted HMRC about becoming an ‘authorised economic operator’.

Murrells said the move would give the business “a little more comfort were issues to arise at border control”.

But he said The Co-op is not yet stockpiling food in preparation for a potential hard Brexit – and warned it would not be able to do so in the fresh categories that are most regularly imported from outside the UK.

Speaking after The Co-op unveiled a rise in profits during the first half of its financial year, Murrells said: “There are two realities here. One is that, if we do need to stockpile longer shelf-life products, we’ve got the capacity to do that. At the moment, we are choosing not to.

“Two, we think the real pinch point will actually come on fresh anyhow. By definition that has a shorter shelf-life and it will limit our ability, even if we had a plan to quadruple the chilled capacity that we currently have.”

He explained that “the vast majority” of food imported to the UK was “short-life” fresh produce such as apples, raspberries and strawberries, which could not be stockpiled – and would therefore suffer from availability issues.

Murrells added: “We are nimble and agile enough to do the right thing to protect availability, but we are all keen that the government hears the concerns and that we are able to keep product flowing through.”