Germany’s Lufthansa is airlifting fresh fruit and vegetables to the UK on Wednesday as firms seek to beat the lorry chaos at sea ports
The airline is carrying 80 tonnes of food from Frankfurt to Doncaster Sheffield Airport in a Boeing 777.
Almost 3,000 lorries remain stuck in Kent despite moves to re-start cross-Channel access from Dover.
Some supermarket aisles are looking bare, with Tesco capping the purchase of some items such as eggs and rice.
France shut its border with the UK on Sunday for 48 hours to stop the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus found in the UK.
“Lufthansa Cargo is currently examining whether additional special cargo flights can be offered during the next days. We are also checking if a regular flight might be possible,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.
“This could be with a freighter, but we are also examining if we could use passenger aircraft for freight flights only,” she added.
Some firms have been chartering private aircraft to move goods such as food, textiles and livestock as the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel closed.
French residents and nationals who can prove they have had a negative coronavirus test will be able to travel from Wednesday, and lorry drivers can do so after a rapid lateral flow Covid test.
The food imports will be flown from Frankfurt, a major food distribution centre in Europe that receives goods from food producers all over the continent including Spain, the Netherlands and France.
In 2019, Frankfurt Airport handled 2.09 million tonnes of cargo, according to Airports Council International.
German companies imported €11.1bn (£10bn) of fresh fruit and vegetables – equivalent to 19% of the combined imports of all European countries, latest data from the Netherlands’ Center for the Promotion of Imports (CBI) shows.
The airport’s cargo terminal has 12,000 sq m of temperature-controlled warehouses, including 2,000 sq m (21,530 sq ft) of cold storage.
Britain imports nearly half of its fresh vegetables and the majority of its fruit, both mainly from the EU. In the past, the UK has turned to other means when fresh produce has been under threat.
In 2018, thousands of iceberg lettuces were shipped from Los Angeles to the UK due to a summer heat wave increasing demand for salad, while the hotter weather made it difficult to actually grow lettuces.
Sainsbury’s has warned that if the port chaos continues, the UK could see shortages of lettuce, salad leaves, broccoli and some citrus fruits – which are typically imported from Spain and Italy.
And on Wednesday, Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, warned that some shortages could worsen.
“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.