Supermarkets shortages to last for months due to Covid-19

Supermarket chiefs said the UK needs to get used to this type of shopping (Picture: Splash News)

Supermarkets are set to introduce dramatic measures to cope with the nation’s panic buying and stockpiling amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Shops across the country have been struggling to meet the surge in demand, with food suppliers concerned that sickness and staff shortages could have a major impact on the availability of groceries in just weeks. Shoppers have been queuing around supermarket buildings before 6am, stripping shelves bare and leaving next to nothing for NHS workers and the elderly.

As a result, supermarkets are set to hire thousands of temporary staff, offer much more limited item choice and work with rival chains to make sure the nation has enough supplies, found an explosive Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Will Our Supermarkets Cope? 

According to presenter Harry Wallop, the usually enviable UK supermarket industry has been relying on a method dubbed ‘just in time delivery’. Supermarkets no longer utilise huge stock rooms but rely on suppliers to directly send items to their distribution centres, before being put straight on the shelves.

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However, the system, which has generated billions of pounds, means if there is any issue with delivery, there is no back-up stock – which is what shoppers are currently experiencing across the country.

Former Sainsbury’s CEO, Justin King, said supermarkets and customers will need to adapt to new ways of shopping and accept they often won’t be able to buy everything they could before while such restrictions are in place.

He said: ‘We will see less choice. One of the things that the supermarkets can do with their suppliers is make what they buy less varied and less complex to ensure that manufacturers are much more efficient, because they will have their own challenges in terms of their own recourses.

‘What we are experiencing today is the new normal for many months.’

Presenter Harry Wallop investigated how supermarkets will cope amid the outbreak over the next few months (Picture: Channel 4)

One of the main items Brits have been panic buying is toilet roll. Sales of this item alone have shot up by £17 million compared with the same week last year, a rise of almost 75 per cent.

The investigation found that the dramatic increase in demand has caused homeless shelters and schools to appeal directly to toilet paper factories for help.

Factory boss Khurram Iqbal said: ‘People who can’t find toilet paper on shop shelves are ringing here saying “Can you help us?”. 

‘Homeless shelters are ringing here asking if we can help them. A school rung up and asked if we can help them. It’s a really desperate situation at the moment’.

During the episode, Mr Wallop visits a toilet paper factory which has a weekly production of 130,000 rolls a week, but has had to ramp up efforts to produce 170,000 – the maximum they can make at a time.

Shoppers have been queuing since before 6am to get their essentials (Picture: Getty)

A Bestway warehouse in west London has been receiving stock three times a day but products on display were selling out within hours.

UK officials have said restrictive measures will be in place for months, rather than weeks, in a bid to slow the virus, which has infected nearly 6,000 people in the country.

Boris Johnson has warned such restrictions will have to become tougher if the public does not start better following social distancing advice, after thousands were seen flocking to parks and markets over the weekend.

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