The tremendous work done by the convenience sector was recently recognised by an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its report, COVID-19 and food supply, published this week.
In the report which analysed how the entire UK food supply chain performed during the early days of lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the sector was singled out for praise for continuing to serve their communities while under significant pressure.
It said: “We commend the efforts of supermarkets and convenience stores in ramping up their capacity to offer online shopping throughout the pandemic
“Smaller retailers played a vital role in providing food to people during the pandemic, particularly where they were unable to get to supermarkets, and we suggest that in future, the Government must ensure that small retailers are well supplied and supported.”
This recommendation of support came on the same day that the government announced further local lockdowns in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire, on top of the previously announced local lockdown in Leicester. While the recommendations may be too late for these areas, the prospect of further local lockdowns means the convenience sector is bracing itself for further pressure and cannot have the same availability issues it experienced the first time around.
Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman urged action on these recommendations. “The committee’s recommendations on improving the resilience of the food supply chain should be heeded, and convenience stores must be at the heart of efforts to ensure food remains available and accessible, especially in times of crisis. Through our reach into communities and our ability to innovate to serve those locations, our sector has shown how important it is in feeding the nation in all circumstances.
“The report also referenced the problems we highlighted about maintaining supply into a broad range of retailers, which was the biggest single challenge facing our members during the height of the crisis, and remains an issue today.
Speaking to ConvenienceStore.co.uk, Simply Fresh COO Kash Khera warned that while lockdown may have been relaxed, it doesn’t mean the virus has disappeared and that retailers need to be prepared. “The pandemic hasn’t gone away, it’s eased but there could be regional lockdowns or a second spike so the demand could rise again as quickly as the first time and we’ll need to be ready.”
Susan Connolly of Spar Connolly in Wiltshire said that they were forced to ration products during the first wave of coronavirus due to demand issues and has had to develop a strategy to ensure availability for her stores in case her area goes into a second lockdown.
One area that was highlighted by the report was the growth in delivery. Findings from Association of Convenience Stores’ Covid-19 Impact Survey revealed that local shops have provided over 600,000 home deliveries per week in their communities since the start of the pandemic.
“The development of new services like home delivery of food made a critical difference to many vulnerable people, and we’re pleased this has been acknowledged in the report,” said Lowman.
Khera adds that hopefully retailers used the time during the lockdown relaxation to plan for adding services such as home delivery. “For retailers that hadn’t considered delivery, they may have the headspace to do so now that things have calmed down a bit as it represents a huge opportunity.”