Britain Confronts Fears of a (Gasp!) Tea Shortage

For a country of morning-and-night tea drinkers, even the suggestion of a shortage of the household staple can elicit a nervous gulp.

So there might have been more than a few people spooked when signs in some Sainsbury’s grocery stores this week warned customers that supply issues had affected the “nationwide” availability of black tea, as Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea caused shipping delays.

Yorkshire Tea and Tetley Tea, two of the most popular tea companies in Britain, said in statements that they were monitoring the situation to ensure they could maintain supplies of black tea, but that orders were being fulfilled.

“This is a critical period which requires our constant attention,” Tetley said in a statement. It said that it had implemented measures in recent months to mitigate any disruption to supplies because of shipping issues.

Tom Holder, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, which represents more than 200 retailers in Britain, said that the Red Sea attacks had led to some delays, but that he did not expect them to last long. “It’s a blip,” he said, adding that he expected companies to adjust their orders to account for the lengthened shipping times. He said shortages had probably been exacerbated by people panic-buying tea, somewhat like the toilet paper shortages at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Retailers assured customers that stores currently had plentiful supplies. Sharon Hall, the chief executive of the U.K. Tea and Infusions Association, which represents tea businesses selling in the country, said that they had “good stocks of tea.”

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