// Government plans to temporarily extend hours for grocers to do supply chain deliveries
// This means grocers can increase deliveries from warehouses to their stores to replenish shelves
// Current rules mean deliveries are prohibited overnight
The government plans to extend the hours that supply chain deliveries can be made to supermarkets to help the food industry respond to the coronavirus.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said allowing night-time deliveries will allow stocks to be moved “more quickly” from supermarket warehouses to the shelves.
The move follows a “productive” second call between Eustice and leading supermarkets and representatives from across the food supply chain.
The government said it would work with local authorities to extend delivery hours for grocers and other food retailers.
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It comes as shoppers concerned about having to self-isolate amid the spread of coronavirus in the UK have sparked Christmas-level demand for some items.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned against stockpiling, urging people to “behave responsibly and think about others” when purchasing supplies.
He added that the government is “certainly confident that we have fantastic supply chains”.
Last week leading members of the grocery and food sectors told Eustice that a relaxation of curfews would help retailers to respond to increased consumer demand.
The measures would mean food retailers can increase the frequency of deliveries to their stores and move stocks from warehouses across the country to replenish shelves.
The current rules, which mean deliveries are prohibited overnight, would be temporarily relaxed under the plans.
The government added that it is “looking closely” at measures to ensure supply chains continue to function as normal, and that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps “stands ready” to implement existing rules that allow for drivers’ hours to be extended to help respond to emergency situations.
Under the rules, drivers will still require 45-minute breaks after four-and-a-half hours of driving to make sure drivers are properly rested.
“We have listened to our leading supermarkets and representatives from across the industry, and we are taking action to support their preparations,” Eustice said.
“By allowing night-time deliveries to our supermarkets and food retailers, we can free them up to move their stocks more quickly from their warehouses to their shelves.
“Our retailers have well-established contingency plans in place and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.
“I will continue to work closely with them over the coming days and weeks on this.”
BRC food and sustainability director Andrew Opie said: “We welcome all efforts by government to provide supermarkets with greater flexibility in the way they supply their stores.
“While there is plenty of stock available, the challenge for retailers has been to make sure all of it reaches shelves at the earliest opportunity.
“It is essential that government continues to engage on other ways to alleviate the challenges for retailers.”
Asked whether the government can keep shelves stocked, the PM said: “Well, we’re certainly confident that we have fantastic supply chains and I know that both George Eustice and Matt Hancock have been talking to the supermarkets, making sure we keep things moving.
“Just, in terms of preparations and where the public is, I think it is very, very important that everybody should behave responsibly and think about others.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that food supplies will continue even in the “reasonable worst-case scenario”.
Speaking in the Commons, he said: “We are confident that food supply will continue even in our reasonable worst-case scenario.
“We have been talking to the supermarkets for some time about this scenario.”
A number of supermarkets have taken measures in response to the crisis:
Tesco: Five-item limit on a number of items including pasta, anti-bacterial wipes, gels and sprays, and long-life milk. Started online on Sunday and in stores on Saturday.
According to PA Wires, the limits are not linked to any wider supply issues, but rather to ensure all customers have access to the products they need.
Waitrose: Only online at the moment, and only includes restrictions on certain anti-bacterial soaps and wipes.
A spokeswoman for Waitrose said: “In-store, we are currently not putting a cap on any products. We have introduced a temporary cap on certain products on Waitrose.com, including some anti-bacterial soaps and wipes, to ensure our customers have access to the products they need. We continue to work with suppliers to help meet demand.”
Morrisons: Did not confirm any restrictions.
Aldi: Limiting the sale of hand sanitiser to two per customer. The product is only sold in-store.
Asda: Hand sanitiser restricted to two per person both in-store and online. No food restrictions.
Sainsbury’s: No limits on any purchases.
Lidl: Did not confirm any restrictions.
Ocado: Customers are restricted to two bottles of hand sanitiser each and two packets of toilet roll.
with PA Wires