UK supermarket Tesco claims it has nothing to do with supply chain issues.

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Earlier this month, British consumer-goods publication The Grocer surveyed 1,000 people to ask whether they were concerned that the country's ongoing supply chain issues would affect their ability to stock up on holiday favorites this year. Over half (56 percent) of those who responded said they were either worried, slightly worried, or very worried that they wouldn't be able to find the food and drinks they wanted at the supermarket during the festive season. 

Meanwhile, some supermarkets in England have reportedly been filling empty produce sections and bare store shelves with pictures of whatever items should've been in those spaces, while others are using their empty freezer cases to display non-food items like toys and games. 

Organic produce on grocery store shelves
Credit: Artur Carvalho / Getty Images

According to The Guardian, these out-of-stock items are just an ultra-visible representation of the consequences of the truck driver, fruit and vegetable picker, and food processing plant worker shortages. There have also been issues at the country's ports, where handlers can't unload and re-pack the deliveries that seem to have arrived all at once — and then there are ongoing complications from Brexit and the ongoing pandemic to deal with, too. Pictures of the inedible cardboard foodstuffs have also been shared widely on social media. "Tesco have the fake asparagus out this morning," one widely shared Tweet read, and it was accompanied by two pictures of produce bins filled with photos of rubber-banded fresh asparagus spears.

Other Twitter users included pics of what cardboard cutouts their own supermarkets had placed on the shelves. "Tesco Express in Cambridge," a user named @GoatSarah wrote, along with pictures of cardboard dishwashing liquid. "Look carefully. The middle three rows are photographs." 

 "Yum tasty cardboard carrots," another added. "Fakenham Tesco last week." (Yes, Fakenham is actually the Norfolk town's name.) And a picture taken at a Sainsbury's showed shelves that were lined with cardboard cutouts decorated with the shapes of the items that could've been on sale.

Some insiders believe that having photos of temporarily unavailable items is still a better option than just leaving bare shelves throughout the store. "No one wants empty shelves as it's a negative perception of availability and that can impact sales and leave customers thinking that the store is poorly presented," Steve Dresser, a director at Grocery Insight, told The Telegraph. "Blocking the shelves with cardboard 'fillers' is preferable as it's a nice halfway house, reflecting that gaps are longer term but not forcing the store itself to change layouts."

A representative from Tesco supermarkets told the Daily Mail that supply issues weren't the reason for the cardboard displays. "For the images that contain fresh food, we have these available for selected large stores to use when there is additional space," the spokesperson said. "These have been in use for many months now and are not connected to the recent supply chain challenges. Overall availability remains strong." 

And a Sainsbury's spokesperson said that its suppliers were "working hard" to ensure that customers could find all the items they went into the store for. "Availability in some product categories may vary but alternatives are available and stores continue to receive deliveries daily," they said.