And the trouble is, there is no alternative

The message from Brian White, who runs St Erth Post Office & Stores in Cornwall, couldn’t have been clearer: “I want to talk about this farce with Booker/Tesco,” he said. “The stock situation at both Hayle and Cambourne branches is only around 50%.”

He says things that you wouldn’t dream would be out-of-stock, including toothbrushes and toothpaste, are just not there. Brian used to be a supplier/importer so he spoke to a couple of his contacts in manufacturing and says they told him that they had been told Tesco comes first. That, he says, is monopolising the trade. (And this was on the very day that Tesco announced it was fulfilling one million delivery slots a week.)

He says: “We rely on Booker for 90% of the stock and are lucky to get 30%.”

I sent the complaint to Booker and a spokesperson roundly refuted the charge.

They replied: “Although we do not discuss individual customers, it is important to understand that Tesco and Booker supply chains are operated separately of one another, and in no instance is stock that would usually be provided to Booker retail customers being redirected to Tesco stores.

“Our Booker colleagues are working tirelessly to do everything they can to support all of the local shops that we supply and appreciate the vital work that community shops are doing during this challenging time.

“The reality is that we have experienced a substantial increase in demand for a number of products, with independent retailers we serve experiencing significant uplifts and subsequently increasing their orders with us. Demand has increased by 300% on some product lines. We have had some localised challenges with availability, but we are working to restock our branches as quickly as possible. We are in constant contact with our supply chain, and we have written to our suppliers of our most in demand categories to again ensure they are aware of the challenge and requesting that they prioritise this stock.

“We have introduced a range of measures to try and ensure availability for our existing customers. This includes restricting the quantities customers can purchase on some of the most in-demand lines to try to ensure availability for more customers, suspending our delivery service to new customers and to try and ease the flow, customers who operate a retail or catering business will be the only customer groups that have access to our branches from opening until 11am.

“This is an extraordinary time for our business, but product availability does continue to improve, and we are doing everything possible to continue to supply all of our retailers who are doing an amazing job of serving their communities. We will happily pick up with the retailer directly to see if there’s anything further we can help with.”