Shelves will not be empty for long, say supermarkets

Retailers have said they are "confident" limited availability of long-life products and hand sanitiser in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak will be short-lived.

Friday, 6th March 2020, 2:44 pm
Updated Friday, 6th March 2020, 2:46 pm

It comes as consumers reported a spike in demand that left some shelves barren.

Shops reported a spike in sales of cleaning products and store cupboard essentials as fears over the virus drove some to panic-buying.

Supermarkets also signalled a surge in online deliveries, with increasing numbers of those displaying symptoms of infection opting to self-isolate, while some companies have also advised staff to work from home.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Long-life products and hand sanitiser have been in short supply

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously reassured the public there "won't be a problem" with food supplies.

It came as an older patient, reported to be a woman in her 70s, became the first person in the UK to die after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) on behalf of supermarkets, said it was "working constructively with Government officials to ensure that supermarkets remain stocked and supply chains continue to function as normal for the foreseeable future".

She added: "While coronavirus has increased the demand of certain products in the short-term, we are confident that any disruption will remain limited and consumers will continue to be able to choose from a wide selection of foods and other products in stores across the country."

Andrew Opie, the BRC's director of food and sustainability, said retailers were "taking necessary steps to meet the rise in demand" for some hygiene and long-life products.

He said: "Our members are working as hard as they can to ensure all consumers have access to the products they need.

"Even where there are challenges, retailers are well-versed in providing effective measures to keep retail sites running smoothly and we are working with suppliers to ensure this continues."

He said retailers reported "an uptick in online deliveries" and are consequently "taking all necessary steps to meet this rise in demand so that all consumers continue to have access to the products they need".

High street health and beauty shops Superdrug and Boots have both reported customers clamouring for hand santisers, prompting limits of two per person.

A spokesman for PZ Cussons, which manufactures hygiene product Carex, told the PA news agency: "We have significantly increased the production of Carex hand gel and hand wash products, with our manufacturing facilities working at full capacity in response to the exceptional demand being experienced."

A Waitrose spokesman said: "We are seeing more demand for some products such as cleaning products and hand sanitisers.

"We are working closely with our suppliers to ensure that we have stock available."

Mr Hancock sought to reassure the public during an appearance on BBC Question Time on Thursday when he said the Government had "supplies of the key things that are needed" and urged people not to panic-buy.

Trade groups have said they are slowly starting to see the impact of coronavirus on businesses outside the retail sector.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, told PA: "We're hearing from increasing numbers of businesses who are having to manage the knock-on effects of coronavirus, from shipping and travel restrictions to increased freight costs and supply chain disruption.

"Companies of all sizes need to stay up to date with official guidance, consider potential impacts on their day-to-day operations and act where possible to mitigate risks.

"Our global chamber network and business communities across the UK mean we are well-placed to monitor its evolving impact and are working to ensure firms are aware of the latest advice from Governments."