Supermarkets urge customers not to panic buy

The UK’s biggest grocers have reassured customers that there is no need to change their shopping habits, and any shortages are temporary.

Josie Clarke
Thursday 22 July 2021 14:17
Shoppers have been urged not to panic buy (@HapG86/PA)
Shoppers have been urged not to panic buy (@HapG86/PA)

Supermarkets have urged customers not to panic buy in response to reports of emptying shelves, saying they are continuing to receive regular deliveries.

The UK’s biggest supermarkets described any shortages as “patchy” across stores but said there was no need for customers to change their shopping habits.

They said any gaps on the shelves were temporary as they awaited deliveries, and were occurring in pockets rather than across supply chains.

The “pingdemic”, the shortage of HGV drivers and the hot weather were all contributing to delivery glitches, grocers said, while stressing to consumers that panic buying would create a problem that did not exist.

Like many retailers, we are impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations but we are working closely with our suppliers to get re-stocked quickly

Co-op

A Co-op spokesman said: “We are sorry that we are running low on some products. Like many retailers, we are impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations but we are working closely with our suppliers to get re-stocked quickly.”

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need.

“While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them on to the shelves as quickly as they can.”

Tesco confirmed that it had plenty of food and deliveries arriving across the UK every day.

However sporadic disruption from the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers and an increase in staff self-isolating on a precautionary basis was leading to pockets of temporary low availability across a small number of products.

Iceland managing director Richard Walker has said staff absence rates are now double the usual number, with the figure rising 50% “week on week” due to people being told to self-isolate by the NHS app.

Mr Walker told the Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve now got over 1,000 staff off, who’ve been pinged. That’s double the normal rates, and it’s rising at 50% week on week.

“Our big concern is that we’ve kept all of our shops open throughout the pandemic, but now we have had to close one or two shops and reduce hours in others.

“But that could get a lot worse a lot quicker, unless the country’s system is sorted out.”

Mr Walker urged shoppers not to panic buy, saying: “There is certainly no problem with supply of stock.

“Panic-buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without.”

Elsewhere, sandwich chain Pret A Manger has temporarily closed 17 shops due to staff being forced to self-isolate.

... large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them on to the shelves as quickly as they can

Sainsbury's

The head of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson has suggested rules around self-isolation could be amended for people working in food supply chains following rising levels of staff absence.

Ms Dickinson suggested to BBC Breakfast that bringing forward the date double-vaccinated people will not need to self-isolate if they come into contact with a Covid-19 case could be one solution.

“There are some pilots for tested release for businesses and people who get paid to test themselves and then released back into their workplace, those pilots could be extended or that could be a new system,” Ms Dickinson said.

Fuel retailer BP said it had closed several sites temporarily because of a shortage of fuel.

But it stressed the main reason was a lack of qualified lorry drivers, although a fuel distribution terminal has been closed for a few days because of the number of people self-isolating.

In a statement, BP said: “We are experiencing some fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades. However, the vast majority of these temporary issues are being resolved within a day.”

The AA said it did not “anticipate a major problem with temporary fuel shortages at BP”.

Spokesperson Luke Bosden told PA: “With all the other fuel retailers still available, drivers who might normally go to a BP fuel station can get their fuel from another forecourt nearby.

“The fuel delivery system has faced much bigger threats in the past, such as strikes, and managed to keep motorists supplied.”

It is also understood the fuel shortages are not affecting everyone as pumps at supermarket chain Tesco have a good availability of fuel and are not experiencing any shortages.

The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which represents 5,500 independent fuel retailers, said the Government announcement to exclude critical workers from self-isolation requirements if they have been double vaccinated should be extended to forecourt workers.

PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said: “We are well aware of supply issues in shops, primarily as a result of workers who are part of the supply chain including terminal staff, tanker drivers and forecourt staff who have contracted Covid-19 or, more often, pinged to self-isolate.

“The PRA have been working with their fuel suppliers to ensure that fuel supplies remain resilient and have been collaborating with government officials to ensure further steps are taken to prevent any shortages.”

Mr Balmer added: “It is important that forecourts are able to be properly staffed given the crucial role they play in keeping the country moving and ensuring that emergency services are kept refuelled.

“During previous lockdowns, filling stations were identified as essential services. We are now requesting that officials at BEIS and DHSC confirm this same status for our members in the list of exemptions.”

The PRA also said that petrol stations are also experiencing increased demand for fuel due to holidaymakers “staycationing” around the country.

The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) warned it was “more than likely” that smaller shops would be forced to close if staff were told to isolate.

Bira chief executive Andrew Goodacre told PA: “If small independent retailers – or their staff – are ‘pinged’ it is more than likely the business will have to shut.

“In a small shop, if one member of staff tests positive it is likely that nearly all that team will be deemed to be in close contact, including the owner.

“And this comes at a time when they are in a process of rebuilding their business after many months of closure, with little or no income.”

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