UK supermarkets given permission to join forces, merge supply chains

Published on
March 23, 2020

U.K. supermarket chains can for the first time work together and will be allowed to share distribution networks, stock level data, staff, and other important resources after the government temporarily relaxed elements of competition law to enable food to reach stores during the coronavirus crisis.

Drivers’ hours have also been relaxed to enable retailers to get more food to outlets, while plastic bag charges for online purchases have been stopped to speed up deliveries.

With U.K. shoppers historically buying more than 300,000 metric tons (MT) of seafood products annually through retail channels and spending well over GBP 3 billion (USD 3.5 billion, EUR 3.3 billion) in the process, this new package of measures will help support seafood companies and the fishing industry.

Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed the retail rule changes following a meeting with chief executives from the country’s leading supermarkets and food industry representatives.

“We’ve listened to the powerful arguments of our leading supermarkets and will do whatever it takes to help them feed the nation,” Eustice said. “By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances.”

Eustice also recognized the efforts supermarkets and retailers have made to keep supplies moving during the ongoing outbreak.

“We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus,” Eustice said.

The British Retail Consortium’s Director of Food & Sustainability, Andrew Opie, also welcomed the government’s decision.

“Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by widescale absences across the supply chain,” Opie said. “This is a short-term measure, in the spirit of working together, and will allow retailers to agree common specifications for products to bolster food production, and co-ordinate certain operations to ensure customers anywhere in the U.K. have access to the essential items they need.”

All U.K. restaurants, pubs and cafes were forced to close on Friday, 20 March, but takeaways – including fish and chip shops – have been allowed to remain open.

Photo courtesy of Edinburghcitymom/Shutterstock 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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