UK supermarkets draw up plan to 'feed the nation' as coronavirus spreads

Plans would help with panic-buying brought on by escalation of coronavirus outbreak.

British supermarkets have drawn up “feed the nation” contingency plans that would help the country cope with any panic-buying brought on by a sudden escalation of the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the plans, supermarkets would work with suppliers to scale back the variety of foods and groceries available, and instead focus on maintaining supplies of staple products.

Details of the strategy in place to ensure uninterrupted food supplies came as Boris Johnson is set to unveil “battle plans” today for tackling a potential outbreak, expected to include steps to limit the spread within crowds and to older, more vulnerable people.

“The most important thing now is that we prepare against a possible very significant expansion of coronavirus in the UK population and that is clearly on the cards,” the prime minister told the BBC on Monday.

Matthew Hancock, the health secretary, said that Britain may follow the lead of “European countries at more advanced stages of an outbreak,” adding: “All options are on the table.”

  • Three new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK on Monday, including a music teacher, bringing the total number to 39.

  • Next week’s budget will be redrawn to focus on shoring up the economy against the impact of coronavirus, the Treasury confirmed.

  • British Airways and Ryanair cancelled hundreds of flights between Heathrow and parts of Italy, France, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland as well as New York’s JFK airport.

  • The Scottish government said up to 250,000 Scots could be hospitalised under a worst-case scenario.

  • The level of risk of contracting coronavirus within Europe was raised to “moderate to high” as deaths in Italy jumped from 18 to 52 and the outbreak reached more than 60 countries worldwide.

  • Further details emerged of emergency legislation the government intends to introduce, including plans to empower it to curtail public events and draw up no-go areas.

The supermarket contingency plans were detailed by a City analyst, Bruno Monteyne, of investment firm Alliance Bernstein. Monteyne was previously a supply chain director at Tesco.

Monteyne said a major outbreak of the virus could result in “panic buying, empty shelves and food riots.” However, he added that retailers have “ready-made plans” to deal with disruption and move to “feed-the-nation” status.

“Yes, it will be chaotic (and expect pictures of empty shelves),” he wrote in a note to investors, “but the industry will reduce complexity to keep the country fed.”

Monteyne’s note said Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, has practised “multiday simulation” exercises, including mocked-up news coverage, with different teams preparing responses to a flu pandemic. Tesco confirmed it carried out such preparations and said they were part of being a “responsible retailer.”

Monteyne said supermarkets and their suppliers would work together to agree “a major reduction in ranges” so that suppliers can run their plants more efficiently. He added the big grocers were likely “to be drawing up lists right now of which products will be prioritised”.

He said he did not expect prices to rise because “food retailers cannot be seen to be profiteering at a moment of crisis”. However, he warned the disruption could cost the sector £1.2bn in lost profits.

Monteyne added that in the event of acute food shortages he expected the army to be called in “to protect depots, food trucks and stores” and that all grocers and suppliers would start working together.

Source: The Guardian