Coronavirus: Grocery retailers work on initiatives to deal with new challenges

Britain’s supermarket retailers are working on contingency measures to ease demand pressures, as panic buying across the country escalates due to coronavirus fears. 

Collectively, UK supermarkets have called on consumers to stop panic buying in order to prevent others from having to do without. Meanwhile, the government is believed to be considering axing Sunday trading restrictions to ease the pressure on supermarkets.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents supermarket groups, said retailers had come together to write to their customers, calling on them to be considerate in the way they shop.

The letter, signed by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi, Coop, Waitrose, M&S, Iceland, Costcutter and Ocado, was published in adverts in national newspapers yesterday (Sunday 15 March).

The statement said: “We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without. There is enough for everyone if we all work together.”

Supermarkets are also meeting with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today to consider how they can work with the latest updates from the government about coronavirus plans. They will also consider measures they might take if the government decides to close schools and colleges, which would have an impact on the availability of their staff. 

Meanwhile, the government is planning to get rid of Sunday trading restrictions as part of its emergency response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to reports.

At present the Sunday trading rules restricts stores over 3,000 square foot in England and Wales to a maximum of six consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm.

Reports indicate these laws may be relaxed for a period of time, in order to minimise crowds to aid social distancing, and to help people who are self-isolating to have access to essential groceries. It could also help with deliveries.

The government is also said to be planning to scrap carrier bag charges, following fears used bags are spreading the virus. Supermarkets are also being asked to increase their click & collect services, to allow neighbours and friends to collect for those who might be self-isolating. There are also reports the army could help to deliver food and drinks to supermarkets if there is a shortage of drivers.

The news comes as supermarkets are reporting unprecedented demand for certain items, with alcohol now listed as one of the harder-to-find items in some stores.

Over the weekend Tesco stores around the country were reported to have low levels of beer, as consumers continue to stockpile groceries.

Meanwhile, Iceland is one of the first grocery retailers to announce it is setting aside an hour to open just for elderly customers. It is trialling this initative in its West Belfast store, with the hour between 8am and 9am each day reserved solely for elderly shoppers.

And an independent store in Padstow, Cornwall, is also reaching out to elderly shoppers.

The store – Constantine Bay Stores – said it wants older people to be able to shop “exclusively and with confidence”, and so it is offering early-morning shopping slots for people born in 1950 or before from 8am to 8.30am.  The store also said it will sanitise surfaces and door handles each day before it opened to the public. 

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