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How supermarkets are responding to the first effects of coronavirus

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UK supermarkets are responding as what seem to be the first effects of coronavirus on retail make themselves felt. 

Ocado has warned its customers to book their delivery slots well ahead at a time when they are filling up fast. 

In an email to customers, the online grocer says it is “experiencing exceptionally high demand” as “more people than usual seem to be placing particularly large orders”. As a result, delivery slots are selling out faster than expected – especially over the weekends.

It advises customers to book their delivery slots around two or three days earlier than they might usually have, and to choose weekday deliveries between Monday and Thursday if they can be more flexible. 

Shoppers are likely to be stocking up ahead of potentially having to follow government guidance by self-isolating in coming weeks, should they find they have come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the Covid 19 coronavirus. Already there are reports that items such as hand sanitiser is running low. 

Elsewhere, former Tesco supply chain director Bruno Monteyne, now a food retail analyst at Alliance Bernstein, has outlined how the supermarkets are likely to prepare for empty shelves in the face of stockpiling by shifting to ‘feed the nation’ status when that becomes necessary. He said that in a pandemic scenario both parents and those caring for the sick would be unable to work, as well as those directly affected. 

“Yes, it will be chaotic (and expect pictures of empty shelves) but the industry will reduce complexity to keep the country fed,” he wrote in a broker’s note, reported by The Guardian

In it he said supermarkets and their suppliers would work together to reduce ranges but that prices were not expected to rise because “food retailers cannot be seen to be profiteering at a moment of crisis”. Profits would be hit, he predicted, to a tune of £2.1bn across the sector. 

Speaking from today’s government press conference on the coronavirus outbreak, UK chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance suggested, however, that there should be no reason for people to stockpile. He said that there was a government sub-group looking at food provision and that measures to provide food to those who were self-isolating would need to be put into effect. 

Image courtesy of Ocado

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