Customers complain over empty shelves but are urged not to panic-buy

In recent weeks, UK customers have been concerned by empty shelves in supermarkets across the country with images being shared on social media of basic supplies running low. Tesco announced it had run out of bottled water in its warehouses, with the Co-op stating it faced disruption to supplies.

The recent heatwave has also led to a shift in products consumers are purchasing, with fruit, salad and other products seeing unusually high demand straining supply chains. Stores in holiday destinations have faced particularly high disruption.

However, retail bosses have urged consumers not to panic-buy. Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, has argued stock supplies are under control and that panic buying is not necessary and will only benefit those who can afford to do so leaving others vulnerable.

A more pressing issue for the food retail sector is increasing levels of workers being told to isolate by the NHS test and trace app.

Iceland reportedly has 4% of its staff currently isolating and has had to restrict trading hours whilst Marks & Spencer has claimed it may have to temporarily close stores due to staff shortages.

With the UK lifting coronavirus restrictions despite rising cases, it seems that the number of people told to isolate will only increase leaving supermarkets vulnerable. If the government wants to avoid causing disruption, then alternative measures need to be put in place for the sector to avoid shop closures.

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Isolation measures causing supply chain disruption

Despite claims from supermarket bosses that empty shelves are not a concern there has certainly been some supply chain disruption. Further down the supply chain staff are also being forced to isolate with farmers, lorry drivers and other suppliers all affected.

The British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) has claimed that 5% to 10% of staff in some plants have been forced to isolate which is on top of reported staff shortages of 16% prior to this.

The Road Haulage Association stated that there is a shortage of 100,000 HGV drivers due to Brexit and the pandemic leading to drivers returning to Europe. This has been exacerbated by the ‘pingdemic’, with Tesco saying that 48 tons of fresh food are being wasted as a result.

The government has responded with new rules which allow drivers to increase their daily driving limit twice a week from nine to 11 hours. However, whether this is enough to stem the increasing shortage of workers is unclear.

Calls for retail workers to be exempt from isolation

The government has already allowed small numbers of double vaccinated key healthcare workers to be exempt from isolation in a testing pilot scheme.

The BRC has argued that no action with retail will lead to staff shortages continuing to increase, damaging businesses but also disrupting consumers. Retail bosses have urged for some action whether it be allowing fully vaccinated workers to return or daily testing.

Currently, the government seems set on keeping its isolation rules until August 16 in order to prevent cases rising steeply.

However, with cases already rising, it leads to questions over whether lifting all Covid-19 restrictions in July was the right decision. The effects are evidently damaging rather than benefiting several sectors and businesses.