Coronavirus: Supermarkets to join forces to feed the nation amid pandemic

19 March 2020, 18:33

A board displays shopping restrictions at Tescos supermarket on March 19, 2020 in Warrington
A board displays shopping restrictions at Tescos supermarket on March 19, 2020 in Warrington. Picture: Getty

By Megan White

The Government is allowing supermarkets to join forces to help feed the nation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Elements of competition law will be relaxed in a bid to help get groceries to those who need them, with a raft of measures including working together to keep shops open and sharing stock levels.

The move will also allow stores to share distribution depots and delivery vans and pool staff with one another to help meet demand.

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The announcement came as Boris Johnson told the country he believed we could "turn the tide" of coronavirus within 12 weeks.

Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed elements of the law would be temporarily waived in a meeting this afternoon with chief executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives.

Shoppers queue outside a Sainsbury's supermarket prior to opening in Plymouth
Shoppers queue outside a Sainsbury's supermarket prior to opening in Plymouth. Picture: Getty

The government has also temporarily relaxed rules around drivers’ hours, so retailers can deliver more food to stores, and is waiving the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases to speed up deliveries.

The support for supermarkets comes as the government and retailers continue to urge people to shop considerately and look out for their friends, family and neighbours.

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Mr Eustice said: “We’ve listened to the powerful arguments of our leading supermarkets and will do whatever it takes to help them feed the nation.

“By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances.

A woman gets the last pack of toilet rolls at Sainsbury's Supermarket on March 19, 2020 in Northwich
A woman gets the last pack of toilet rolls at Sainsbury's Supermarket on March 19, 2020 in Northwich. Picture: Getty

“We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus.”

Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “We welcome this important decision by the Government to give retailers greater flexibility to work together to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus.

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“Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by Government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by widescale absences across the supply chain.

“This is a short term measure, in the spirit of working together, and will allow retailers to agree common specifications for products to bolster food production, and co-ordinate certain operations to ensure customers anywhere in the UK have access to the essential items they need.”

The legislation will be a specific, temporary relaxation laid shortly to amend elements of the Competition Act 1998, which prevents certain types of anti-competitive behaviour.

On his call with retailers today, the Environment Secretary also confirmed the government will temporarily relax the single-use carrier bag charge for online deliveries, to speed up deliveries and minimise any cross-contamination from reusing crates.

This will come into force on Saturday 21 March. The charge remains in-place for in-store purchases.

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