World News

Stretched British supermarkets step up hiring to weather coronavirus epidemic

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – With food flying off the shelves as fast as exhausted shop assistants can replenish them, British supermarkets have stepped up their hiring to see them through the coronavirus crisis.

Panic buying by people fearing they need to stockpile in anticipation of possible prolonged isolation or social distancing has led to unprecedented demand on supermarkets and their ability to restock with in-demand items.

Supermarkets are advertising online and on television for new employees as existing staff are rushed off their feet.

Market leader Tesco <TSCO.L> said on Friday it was recruiting 20,000 temporary workers to help it meet customer demand over at least the next 12 weeks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented increase in demand for food and household products,” it said.

German discounter Aldi’s [ALDIEI.UL] British arm said it was seeking to hire 9,000 new workers, 5,000 of which would be temporary, while rival discounter Lidl GB said it was recruiting up to 2,500 additional temporary workers.

Asda, the British supermarket arm of Walmart <WMT.N>, said it plans to hire more than 5,000 temporary workers who have lost their jobs elsewhere due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has triggered almost overnight changes in shopping habits.

The third biggest supermarket group in Britain said it is working with more than 20 national companies in industries like food services and travel to bring in people in need of work.

Britain’s fourth-largest player Morrisons <MRW.L> said on Tuesday it plans to create 3,500 new jobs.

The British government is closing pubs, cafes and restaurants and has shut schools in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

But with the coronavirus forecast to be around for months, large supermarkets are set to gain considerable share of Britain’s overall UK food market.

Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital, estimates some 20-25% of Britain’s calorific intake will switch from the food and beverage sector such as cafes, restaurants and bars to the grocery retail sector as people adapt to the new way of living.

Britain said on Friday it would take the unprecedented step of pumping money into companies in order to pay workers’ wages and cushion an expected surge in unemployment as much of the economy goes into a near shutdown due to the outbreak.

(Reporting by James Davey, Editing by Paul Sandle, Kirsten Donovan and Gareth Jones)