Ensuring food supply would have been much more difficult had it not been for the support from the local stores, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) told the MPs.
Participating in an evidence session today (5 June) on COVID-19 and the food supply held by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, James Lowman of the ACS said the diversity of food supply chain served the county well during the virus outbreak.
“As the pandemic developed, consumers increasingly turned to the convenience sector to get their groceries, and we have seen sustained demand right through to now with spend in stores significantly up on pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
“This situation has shown that one of the strengths of the food supply chain is its diversity, and that’s something we need to emphasise more.
“Without the convenience sector there to support communities, there would have been far more significant issues with people getting access to groceries.”
Commenting on the robustness of the supply chain throughout the pandemic, Lowman said convenience retailers did face supply issues, but worked with local suppliers to source products elsewhere.
“There have been understandable availability issues throughout the supply chain that are still live today, but retailers have adapted extremely well,” he said.
“At a local level, a lot of our members have done an amazing job at getting in touch with local suppliers and suppliers that usually work with event and hospitality businesses to source products where they can’t get them from their usual deliveries.”
Replying to a question from Derek Thomas MP, Lowman said there has been an “extraordinary change” in the number of stores that offer home delivery services.
“There are now at least 600,000 deliveries going out from convenience stores every week, often supported by local volunteers in the community. This is in addition to stores working with local authorities and groups representing vulnerable people to highlight the services that they offer,” he said.
In response to the safety concerns, particularly in smaller stores where keeping people apart can be more challenging, Lowman said the stores have taken various measures to mitigate the space constraint.
“People working in our sector are extremely aware of the risks of operating stores during COVID-19, but these have been mitigated through the widespread introduction of screens, maximum numbers of customers allowed in at any time, social distancing and other measures to keep colleagues as safe as possible,” he said.
“As a result, we have not seen significant levels of colleague absence during the pandemic.”
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), has also participated in the session chaired by Neil Parish MP.