The news comes as the confirmed UK death toll from COVID-19 rose to 35, with more than 1,300 confirmed affected. Latest figures show that 169,000 are infected globally and more than 6,500 have died
Manufacturers have been taking action to protect employees and ensure there is business continuity.
Unilever has already told all its office staff to work from home from 17 March. It has revealed that its sourcing units and distribution centres would apply “specialist tiered protocols” to protect workers while supporting business continuity.
It has also implemented strict site protocols and social distancing. All field sales employees have been told to communicate with customers “virtually” wherever possible.
Unilever chief executive officer Alan Jope said: “I am acutely aware that these changes to our working arrangements will have a big impact.”
Associated British Foods indicated that its food chain was not currently seeing an impact. However, its fashion chain Primark had been impacted in part by developments in Italy, France, Spain and Austria.
In a statement it said: “Importantly, in aggregate we have not seen a material impact in our sugar, grocery, ingredients and agriculture businesses.”
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, said: “There is increased demand driven by increased consumer buying. There is no evidence of stock shortages at this stage within the supply chain as a whole.
“Our members are working at pace and preparing for a number of scenarios in a changing situation. The key thing to remember is that we have a world class supply chain in the UK and we will be doing all we can to maintain availability in coming weeks.”
British food retailers have written a joint letter to their customers in the wake of COVID-19.
It was designed to reassure customers about the extra steps being taken by retailers and calls on them to be considerate in the way they shop. It said they were working closely with their suppliers to make sure there were more deliveries to stores.
Speaking on behalf of the retailers, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are working incredibly hard to keep shops well stocked and deliveries running as smoothly as possible. In the face of unprecedented demand as a result of coronavirus, food retailers have come together to ask their customers to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the products they need.”
Morrisons has already revealed that it is supporting its suppliers. It said it would move to immediate payments for its smaller goods for resale suppliers, with the aim of releasing payment to banks within 48 hours to help support cashflow during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The supermarket chain also said that it would not be taking back carrier bags from delivery customers as a “temporary measure” and has asked customers to update their isolation status on delivery instructions. If self-isolating delivery drivers will place orders on the doorstep and contact via telephone to make sure it is received.
Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe has also written to customers to reassure them that it is working with suppliers and putting more capacity into its warehouses.
“I wanted to personally reassure you that we have more food and other essential items coming to us from manufacturers and into our warehouses and distribution centres. If we all shop just for the food that we and our families need, there will be enough for everyone,” he said.
Tesco has revealed that it has delayed the implementation of the Loop platform in the UK due to the coronavirus outbreak. It said it was still committed to the implementation of the recycling scheme and would confirm a new date in July.
Meanwhile, restaurants across the UK are also working to provide food while increasing numbers of people work from home.
National office space provider Offices.co.uk requested last week for all restaurants surrounding its buildings get in touch to provide takeaway food for those looking to minimise contact outside of their workplace
“Now that lots of people are working from home and staying at home, local restaurants are providing deliver-to-home meals as well. They are facing this crisis head-on! They are very entrepreneurial – this isn’t Deliveroo, it’s real restaurants run by local people making deliveries themselves,” said Jonathan Ratcliffe from Offices.co.uk.