Supermarket ’empty shelves’ as Iceland forced to shut some stores


Iceland has been forced to close some shops and reduce hours at others – because so many staff are self-isolating.

And shoppers say they are being confronted by empty shelves at other supermarkets which is being blamed on the pandemic, the heatwave, and Brexit.

WalesOnline reports Iceland boss Richard Walker says there are issues with the supply chain because of a lack of HGV drivers.

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The managing director says the challenges are making it “increasingly very challenging” to keep shops open.

It comes as The Mirror has previously reported how there have been complaints of empty shelves on social media from customers who shop at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – as well as discounters like Aldi and Lidl.

Now the British Retail Consortium – the trade association for all UK retailers – is urging shoppers not to panic buy and says supermarkets are working closely with suppliers to keep shelves stocked.



Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods.
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods. Photo by Ian Cooper (Image: IAN COOPER/NORTH WALES LIVE)

Mr Walker has lifted the lid on the current issues around numbers of people being notified to self-isolate.

He has revealed 1,000 employees – four per cent of its workforce – have had to stay at home after being notified by the NHS app and that they have had to close two shops as a result.

The chain has confirmed in the next few days it will start to draft in another 2,000 people to fill temporary roles across its shops following an advertising blitz.

WalesOnline say Iceland are not the only supermarket to be affected. A combination of the heatwave, Brexit, a shortage of lorry drivers and the coronavirus pandemic are being blamed for the growing number of empty supermarket shelves.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain on Thursday, Mr Walker said: “Issues around supply chain have been building for quite some time. We have a structural issue with HGV drivers for a variety of different reasons. The pingdemic has made it even worse. The double pronged problem is that our store workers are now getting pinged as well.

“We have over 1,000 who have been pinged and are having to self isolate at home. The result of these two issues combined means that we are starting to see some availability issues and it is increasingly very challenging to keep our shops open, to keep lorries travelling to our shops, to keep food on our shelves and to keep staff in our shops to serve the customers.”

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One food distribution company struggling with staff shortages is advising workers who are pinged by the app to follow a testing regime and continue working, in breach of the Government advice.

Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We know that they’re critical workers as part of the food supply chain, so if people are obviously positive or contacted by Test and Trace then they will have to isolate.

“If they are pinged we ask them to take a PCR test, if that’s positive then clearly they’ll isolate, but if it’s negative we ask them to come back to work and we have a process of doing lateral flow tests daily away from their workplace, and if that’s negative they can proceed with their work.”

Told the Government advice is otherwise, he said: “We think that’s appropriate and safe. The ping is advisory. We operate in Covid-safe workplaces and we’re absolutely key workers in terms of the supply chain to hospitals, care homes, prisons, and therefore it’s important for us to be able to keep offering that service to our customers.”

The Iceland boss described it as “ironic” that they had been able to keep stores opening during the worst of the pandemic, only to have issues now.



Customers are being urged not to panic buy despite empty sights
Customers are being urged not to panic buy despite empty sights

He said: “We worked so hard as a nation. As a business, our staff have been nothing short of heroic to keep this show on the road and we kept every single shop open throughout the pandemic, and now we are being forced to limit our service because of the system we have created around the virus.”

He called on the government to include retail workers in the list of key workers, adding that they are “the unsung heroes who keep our economy turning.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are aware of a fall in HGV driver numbers, resulting in minor disruption to some supply chains.

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“This has been exacerbated by the rising case numbers resulting in drivers being forced to self-isolate. Supermarkets are working closely with their suppliers to ensure that consumers still have access to the same great selection of goods.

“Government must rapidly increase the number of HGV driving tests taking place, fill gaps by providing visas for EU HGV drivers, and also look for a longer-term solution to this issue.”





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