Coronavirus: update on food industry jobs and services

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Coronavirus has sparked panic buying, prompting wholesalers such as Bidfood to launch direct-to-consumer services to help shoppers find what they need
Coronavirus has sparked panic buying, prompting wholesalers such as Bidfood to launch direct-to-consumer services to help shoppers find what they need

Related tags: coronavirus, Training & recruitment, Supply chain

The coronavirus has prompted the food industry to unite in efforts to ensure essential services are maintained to keep consumers fed.

Staffing and recruitment 

Noble Foods said the company was looking to recruit to cover any potential staff illnesses and drivers. 

Louisa Hogarty, group HR director, said the business was unique in that hens could only lay a finite number of eggs. 

“As a consequence, simply recruiting more staff will not materially increase our output. However, we are recruiting to build a bank of cover staff should any of our existing team become unwell and unable to work​,” she said.  

“Additionally, we have seen an increased demand for drivers as deliveries are taking longer at some locations, which we are also looking to cover through recruitment.” ​ 

The wider industry united to offer jobs and services​ to address supply chain issues faced by other businesses and consumers last week.

Tesco is the latest retailer to issue a mass recruitment drive, with 20,000 new jobs being created in its stores for the next 12 weeks.

The supermarket chain said it would continue to monitor the situation, but there might be further recruitment in the next few weeks. 

Tesco’s chief people officer, Natasha Adams said: “I’m so proud to be welcoming thousands of new colleagues to Tesco. Thank you to everyone offering to help as we work day and night to keep our shelves full for customers. The community spirit at Tesco is fantastic and, together, we can do this.”​ 

It also revealed that it would pay 500 smaller suppliers within five working days. This is applicable to all all suppliers with purchases up to £250,000.

A Tesco Spokesperson said: “We continue to work through our response to the Covid-19 outbreak and are committed to working together with our suppliers to serve our customers. We recognise this is a particularly challenging time for our smaller suppliers, and have therefore shortened their payment terms from 14 days to five days with immediate effect. We expect this change to remain in place for three months.”

Supporting the NHS

Morrisons is to introduce an NHS hour between 7am to 8am at the beginning of every day (apart from Sunday) so that NHS workers can stock up on the products they need. Staff will only let in members of the NHS with a badge. 

Many NHS staff have said that they cannot buy the products they need at the beginning or the end of their shift as supermarkets have seen unprecedented demand. 

Opening hours for other customers will move to 8am-8pm from Monday to Saturday. Sundays will continue to have six hours of trading in line with Sunday trading rules. 

David Potts, chief executive of Morrisons, said: "Staff in the NHS are facing into an unprecedented challenge and we're doing our bit to help them buy their groceries. 

"We've seen some nurses and doctors struggling to find what they need and so we're responding with dedicated time for them to shop. The core purpose of our organisation, all 96,537 of us, is to play our full part in feeding the nation, it's more than our job.”

Meanwhile, drinks company Diageo has pledged more than eight million bottles of sanitiser for frontline health workers​. 

The maker of Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff, has today said it would enable the creation of more than eight million bottles of hand sanitiser, by donating up to two million litres of alcohol to manufacturing partners, to help protect frontline healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19.

The world’s leading distiller will provide grain neutral spirit (GNS) – a 96%-strength ethyl alcohol used primarily in the production of vodka and gin – and make it available at no cost to hand sanitiser producers in multiple countries, to help overcome shortages in healthcare systems. This donation will enable the production of more than eight million 250ml bottles of hand sanitiser. 

The plan included providing the UK and the Republic of Ireland with 500,000 litres of GNS to be made available for national healthcare systems and workers across the UK and Ireland.

“Healthcare workers are at the forefront of fighting this pandemic and we are determined to do what we can to help protect them,” s​aid ​Ivan Menezes, chief executive of Diageo. 

This is the quickest and most effective way for us to meet the surging demand for hand sanitiser around the world.”​ 

Help for the industry ​ 

The Butchers' and Drovers' Charitable Institution (BDCI) chairman Ian Kelly has reassured the meat industry that the organisation will give financial help to anyone in the industry who needs it.

In a letter, he said:We find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances as we face the effects of the influence of the coronavirus pandemic, which will impact on every person both in the UK and Republic of Ireland​.” 

The support is available subject to eligibility by completing a straightforward application form; we have staff available to assist with this.

In an effort to help independent food and drink businesses survive the coronavirus lockdown, an online marketplace and marketing platform dedicated to Welsh produce is waiving all commission until at least 1 May.

DiscoverDelicious.Wales ​curates and celebrates the best food and drink products and experiences available throughout Wales. It gives independent Welsh brands a way to market themselves and sell directly to customers all over the UK

Usually, a small commission fee of 10% is deducted from all sales via the Discover Delicious website. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, however, founder Laura Pickup has decided to waive all commission until at least 1 May 2020.

Pickup said: “We are entering a time when producers are facing a wave of cancelled food festivals and farmers’ markets due to the coronavirus outbreak, and being able to sell their products online and still get them into customers’ hands may make all of the difference.” ​ 

Help for consumers

Food charity FareShare is urgently appealing for donations from the food industry to help support vulnerable people during the coronavirus crisis, plus volunteers to deliver the food​. 

FareShare is the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors, made up of 17 independent organisations. It takes good-quality surplus food from right across the food industry and gets it to almost 11,000 frontline charities and community groups.

The organisation said it was clear that the coronavirus would have a devastating impact on the poorest communities. 

FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell said: “As a result of the very sharp increase in consumer demand, we’ve seen a decline in the amount of surplus food coming into our network manufacturers and processors. So, at this time where charities on the front line are facing unimaginable strain, we’re urgently calling on the industry to donate ambient food, as well as fresh surplus, so we can continue our vital mission of getting food on the plates of vulnerable people​.”  

Food suppliers go direct to consumer 

Fresh food suppliers have launched direct sales to consumers following the closure of hospitality businesses in the UK. 

Fresh food supplier Bidfresh has added direct-to-consumer home delivery services from its depots around the UK, in response to the national measures introduced to address the coronavirus outbreak.

The public will be able to order meat, fish and seafood, fruit and veg, dairy and a range of other products. The free delivery service will operate in selected postcodes around the depots, and will run alongside Bidfresh's established business with chefs and caterers.

Home delivery has already been launched this week from Oliver Kay in Bolton, R Noone in Manchester, Knight Meats in Essex and Henson in London, and is being rapidly added at other sites within the Bidfresh group.

Jane Aukim, marketing manager of Bidfresh, said: "We are continuing to take orders from customers in the foodservice sector, but the current situation means many of them need less produce or are closing altogether, resulting in cancelled orders.

"At the same time, there's clearly a need for consumers to be able to access fresh food.”

National wholesaler JJ Foodservice has launched a new home delivery service, offering key household essentials. The company’s chief operating officer Mushtaque Ahmed said: “With schools closing and many of us required to work from home, having essential products like bottled water, fresh and frozen foods have never been more important. We are here to help.”   

Local demand across JJ branches has more than doubled in recent weeks. The wholesaler has responded by extending night shift hours to fulfil orders and increasing the capacity for stock-holding at all warehouses.  

Meanwhile, not-for-profit game company Wild and Game has released a special self-isolation pack of frozen game meals, delivered straight to consumers’ doors and designed to get people through self-isolation. Each £25 pack provides 14 days of dinners. 

Steven Frampton, co-founder of Wild and Game, said: “The UK has found itself in an unprecedented situation and we recognise that, as a retailer of frozen food, we are able to offer something for the many people who are self-isolating. We’ve put together this cut-price pack with the aim of helping people to avoid supermarkets by having Wild and Game products delivered straight to the door. We hope we will be making self-isolation less of an ordeal by making mealtimes enjoyable.”

In addition, The Sausage Man, a UK-based German sausage and hot dog wholesaler, has opened its online shop to the public. 

“In times like these we need to help our fellow businesses and the general public,”​said Michael Juska, managing director of The Sausage Man UK.

“After seeing the empty shelves in the big supermarkets and watching online retailers forced to close due to the demand, we knew we needed to do something for the local businesses and for the members of the public.”

The wholesaler has completely removed its minimum order requirement and is doing free next-day delivery for orders over £65. 

  • Food Manufacture ​and The Grocer ​are offering central email contact for HR professionals within the businesses engaged in food processing and the wider supply chain to target readers seeking employment. If you need staff contact zoe.cooper@wrbm.com 
  • Meanwhile, the dedicated Food Manufacture ​display advertising team is fielding enquiries from those in the industry wanting to advertise services supporting processors. Email Tanya.Baugham@wrbm.com or call on 01293 610268.

Related topics: People & Skills, COVID-19

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