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UK shoppers could face tea shortages due to trade route disruptions

Shoppers in Britain could face shortages of tea supplies in some stores due to disruption on trade routes and delays.

Retail giant Sainsbury’s told consumers there were problems that could affect the availability of black tea, although it is expected to be for a short period.

A sign in one Sainsbury’s store read: “We are experiencing supply issues affecting the nationwide supply of black tea. We apologise for any inconvenience and hope to be back in full supply soon.”

But retail bosses have said the problems are temporary and stressed that the impact on consumers is expected to be minimal.

Sainsbury’s did not provide a comment.

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It is understood that the disruption is linked to Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, as well as supply and demand delays with one supermarket tea supplier.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “There is temporary disruption to some black tea lines, but the impact on consumers will be minimal as retailers are not expecting significant challenges.”

Other supermarkets contacted by the Guardian did not report issues. Waitrose said it was not experiencing any shortages.

Asia and east Africa, with China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya produce about three-quarters of tea globally. Freight shipments from these regions have faced significant disruption over the past two months due to attacks in the Red Sea.

Violence by Houthi rebels in the region caused most shipping firms using the vital trade route, which heads towards the Suez canal, to redirect shipments around the Cape of Good Hope at the foot of Africa. This adds roughly 10 to 14 days on to shipment times, as well as increased costs for shipping firms.

Sparsh Agarwal, owner of several tea gardens in Darjeeling in India and founder of Dorje Teas, told the i newspaper in December that tea shipments were being stalled due to the disruption.

“We sent shipments to the US and Europe two weeks ago, but they are still in Mumbai port and have not been picked up yet,” he said at the time.

Joint strikes from the US and UK have been launched on the Yemen-based Houthis in recent weeks in a bid to stop the recent wave of attacks.