Collaboration between food manufacturers and retailers enabled the industry to increase food production by 50% to counter Covid-19 panic buying, a Parliamentary committee was told.
Environment secretary George Eustice told MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that the UK government had “dusted off” it’s no-deal Brexit plans in response to panic buying at supermarkets.
Eustice said the government had “moved quickly” to lift delivery curfews so lorries could deliver food to retailers at any time of day or night and relaxed drivers hours to ensure food supply.
He added easing competition laws to allow supermarkets to work with food manufacturers to streamline product lines was “critical”.
“For instance, it enabled the retailers to sit with the three big bread manufacturers and say, ‘Rather than have 16 different types of bread, let’s streamline it down to six lines’. That sort of streamlining of lines was critical to being able to substantially increase the output of loaves of bread and other such items,” Eustice explained.
“It was an extraordinary response right through the supply chain. Particularly the relationship between the big manufacturers and the retailers was phenomenal and enabled them to very quickly increase production by about 50% from a standing start.”
In March, consumers in the UK made almost 80m extra grocery shopping trips, spending £2bn more on food and drink than in the same period in 2019. Many supermarkets put restrictions in place for goods such as pasta, canned foods and toilet roll in order to curb panic buying.
The Agriculture Bill that is currently making its way through Parliament would help to assess potential food security issues such as coronavirus, Eustice added.
“Every five years there will be a food security assessment that will look at self-sufficiency, international food security but also household food security in the UK. We’ve committed through that clause in the Agriculture Bill to regularly review and monitor this situation.
“The Bill’s got provisions to enable us to support farmers to invest, produce more and reduce costs. It’s got provisions to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain and provisions to give us crisis powers to intervene when things go wrong.”
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