Lufthansa is flying in 80 tonnes of fruit and vegetables to help restock UK supermarket shelves amid fears that the lifting of a French blockade will not prevent some shortages in stores.
The German airline said it was carrying a cargo of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries and citrus fruits, and considering whether to put on additional special cargo flights to meet demand.
It said a B777 freighter aircraft would arrive at Doncaster Sheffield airport at lunchtime on Wednesday.
The flight comes as supermarkets and their suppliers scramble to find alternative ways to stock shelves as thousands of lorries and vans remain stuck outside Dover.
Retailers warned on Tuesday that vehicles would need to begin moving within 24 hours or there would be shortages of fresh produce including lettuces, tomatoes, citrus, soft fruit and cauliflowers in stores from 27 December.
Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said on Wednesday there could still be problems in stores despite the lifting of the blockade.
“It is good news for consumers as the French borders have now reopened, however it is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible. Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods,” he said.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) now estimates that up to 1,000 lorries and thousands more small vans are waiting to cross the Channel after the two-day French ban on freight arriving from the UK.
The trade body said it could take several days to clear the backlog because the Dover port area was in “gridlock”. “This is going to be a long process taking not hours but days,” a spokesman said. “Nothing is moving.”
It is expected to take days to clear the backlog of vehicles, despite the lifting of the travel ban, as drivers must be tested for Covid before being allowed into France.
The Department for Transport said testing of drivers on the M20 and waiting at an emergency parking facility at Manston airport had begun with help from the military.
On Wednesday, furious truck drivers scuffled with police and sounded their horns in protest. Police said there had been disturbances in Dover and Manston “involving individuals hoping to cross the Channel” and one arrest had been made.
The RHA urged any delivery drivers not already in Kent to stay away until the situation eased.
While some fresh food shelves could look bare in coming days, retailers urged shoppers not to panic buy. They said there would still be plenty of food as traditional Christmas fare such as potatoes, carrots, brussels sprouts and parsnips were largely grown in the UK and there were plenty of supplies of long-life goods such as tinned and packet foods.