Reduced ferry freight capacity resulting from P&O’s sacking of 800 staff yesterday could have a serious knock-on effect on the food supply chain in the coming days, industry chiefs have warned.

P&O ferry logo on the side of a ship

All ferry services were cancelled today after P&O abruptly fired 800 employees and said it plans to replace them with cheaper agency staff. 

Cold Chain Federation chief executive Shane Brennan said P&O supplied around a third of the freight capacity between Dover and Calais, and the disruption was already causing chaos for hauliers. 

He warned that the time P&O keeps its ferries in ports would lead to an accumulative effect on the food supply chain, starting next week.

“We’re OK for now but if this carries on, which it looks like it will, it could start to get problematic next week and the week after,” he said. 

Brennan said the Dover to Calais route is often disrupted for a few days at a time by weather, but if the delays continued for a week or more then grocers could begin seeing reduced deliveries and slower delivery times. 

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, agreed with Brennan and urged P&O to find a solution with the union to restart the flow of goods.

“Retailers are working with other ferry companies to ensure disruption to P&O ferry services does not interfere with the movement of fresh food between GB, NI and EU,” he said.

“Nonetheless, a prolonged interruption to P&O services, which are an important part of UK supply chains, could eventually impact the flow of goods. We urge the ferry company and union to find a speedy resolution to the current issues.” 

One source at a grocer said it had used P&O to ship products to stores in Northern Ireland and had worked out alternative routes with a different provider. He also said the retailer would be looking at importing products into other major ports such as Hull.

While he said there was no “immediate impact” on availability, he warned that the situation could change if the stalemate wears on into next week and beyond. 

A source at a different grocer echoed his thoughts, saying “any time there’s any disruption at a port, there’s always bound to be a knock-on effect”.

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