Waitrose has apologised for several instances of poor stock availability across its stores in London and the South East after a busy Christmas and New Year.

Shoppers took to social networks to complain about empty shelves across the retailer’s estate in the region, with branches in Hove, Beckenham and central London particularly affected by stock shortages. Customers at Waitrose’s Fulham Broadway, Clerkenwell and Canary Wharf stores bemoaned the retailer’s lack of essentials such as fruit & veg, bread and milk on Twitter, while the recently opened Hove store struggled to fill its produce shelves at the start of January.

A shopper at the Beckenham store told The Grocer the lack of basic fresh produce stock such as tomatoes, limes and fresh herbs was ­”surprising for a retailer of such supposed quality”, with staff described as “embarrassed” when challenged over the empty shelves. Another complained about a lack of ready meals.

Waitrose reported a strong Christmas period, with sales excluding fuel climbing 7% to £728m year-on-year for the five weeks ending 3 January.

A spokeswoman said stock levels over Christmas had been “very good”, but conceded “huge demand” for half-price offers beginning on New Year’s Eve meant a small number of products had been ­temporarily unavailable in some shops.

The Beckenham branch had been “phenomenally busy” over the Christmas period, she added, but New Year availability for some fresh fruit and vegetables had fallen “short of our normal standards”.

The retailer was “working very hard to keep up with demand” and “looking into our forecasting and taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” she added.