UK relaxes competition rules to help supermarkets meet demand

20 March 2020

The UK government is temporarily relaxing competition rules to allow supermarkets to work together to meet customer demand as coronavirus panic buying ramps up. 

The move will allow retailers to share data on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, and share distribution depots and delivery vans. It will also allow supermarkets to pool staff to help meet demand.

The temporary relaxation will enable retailers to “work together for the sole purpose of feeding the nation during these unprecedented circumstances” and any activity that does not support this aim “will not be allowed”, the government said.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “By relaxing elements of competition laws temporarily, our retailers can work together on their contingency plans and share the resources they need with each other during these unprecedented circumstances.

“We welcome the measures supermarkets are already taking to keep shelves stocked and supply chains resilient, and will continue to support them with their response to coronavirus.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, added: “We welcome this important decision by the government to give retailers greater flexibility to work together to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus. 

“Retailers have been working hard to ensure shelves are stocked and this is an exceptional step taken by government to help retailers and their suppliers cope with problems that might be caused by widescale absences across the supply chain.

“This is a short-term measure, in the spirit of working together, and will allow retailers to agree common specifications for products to bolster food production and coordinate certain operations to ensure customers anywhere in the UK have access to the essential items they need.”

Earlier this week, the government relaxed driver restrictions to help supermarket’s fulfil demand for food, cleaning products and medicines.

The moves come as online retailer Ocado suspended orders as it faced “more demand for products and deliveries” than it could meet.

Retailers including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s have limited customers from buying any more than three of any particular products lines in a bid to help keep food on the shelves.

Meanwhile, BBC reported supermarkets are “drastically reducing” the product lines available in store and have called on manufacturers to ignore making some products to focus on those for which there is greatest demand.

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