IGD Coronavirus (COVID-19) food and consumer goods industry update 02 June

Date : 02 June 2020

Following the global outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), IGD is working closely with the UK Government and the food industry. Here is a summary of some of the key developments we have picked up.

Test and Trace

Defra is working with the food industry, Public Health England and NHSX to ensure that the tracking and tracing process will not have an impact on absence rates.

It is understood that the test and trace process will take into account the use of perspex screens where two-metre social distancing is not always possible. Discussions are ongoing regarding other preventative measures such as the use of PPE. Further guidance is expected.

Concerns have been raised about the impact on business where it is common for employees to car share, or live together.

Defra is encouraging businesses to play a key part in supporting employees, encouraging them to self-isolate if required. It is also encouraging employers to support those who are self-isolating.

Defra is keen for the food industry to continue to provide input, particularly concerning impacts on absence rates, to manage any potential disruption to the food supply.

Defra and the Department of Health are working on providing guidance where multiple cases are found in a single workplace, or where several employees are contacted by contact tracers. It is expected that more complex support will be provided by the government and local authorities to those businesses.

See this LINK for full details of how the Test and Trace will work

See this LINK for guidance for NHS test and trace: workplace guidance

Tracing App

A tracing app, which has been trialled in the Isle of Wight, is not expected to be launched until next week at the earliest. It is being described as a supportive tool to the main test and trace programme. The app tracks when its users come into contact with each other, including those people who users may not be aware of e.g. coming into contact with people on public transport.

It has been confirmed that individuals will only be alerted by the app once users have tested positive for COVID-19.

Defra is working with the food industry and is providing answers to key questions raised about test, track, and trace.  Defra is developing different personas to test how the app can work in various work settings. The intention is to ensure that protective measures in place are considered and that use of the app does not inadvertently impact workplace absence.

Staff absence

Most companies are now reporting absence rates of less than 10% compared to levels of 20% or more at their peak. Absence rates in manufacturing and logistics are reported to be lower than for retailers.

Some businesses have higher absence rates due to a higher proportion of employees who are self-isolating for health reasons, and this represents a significant proportion of absences in the food industry. Concerns have been raised about how to plan for this group to return to work and that further clarity is required on how this group is defined.

It is expected that the current 12-week period during which those who are being "shielded" from coronavirus must stay at home will be extended beyond the end of June. An announcement is expected in the next few days.

It is also understood that further clarification about this “shielded” group will be provided by Public Health England in the next week. The government is understood to be looking at the criteria used to define this group.

Concerns have been raised about ensuring that seasonal workers from overseas can obtain visas. Defra is looking into this and to ensure the seasonal workers pilot scheme functions well. (see LINK).

Trading conditions and supply chain

There continue to be reports of elevated demand and supply issues for a number of ambient products, including home baking and eggs. There are also reports of increased demand for alcohol, particularly beers and ciders.

Trading patterns are now beginning to resemble the pre-COVID-19 environment with Thursdays to Sundays busier than the rest of the week.

The recent good weather has led to increased demand for non-food products including BBQs and related products.

There are continued reports that shoppers are becoming more relaxed about observing social distancing rules in stores.

Transport

Ports and borders are reported to be functioning well.

It is reported that the food network is running at up to 130% capacity. At the same time, the non-food network is running at about 75% capacity. This is not expected to increase before July with the planned reopening of other parts of the retail sector.

Concerns have been raised about the reduction in capacity for tippers and the impact that would have on the harvesting of crops. It is understood that these concerns are being addressed by the government. An announcement on this is expected.

EU exit

The fourth round of talks is due to start today. It is understood that scenario planning is taking place assuming there is no free trade agreement with the EU by the end of the transition period. This scenario would assume this new tariff scheme will come into operation from 1 January 2021 (i.e. when the EU exit “transition period” ends). See this LINK

The government is increasing its focus on planning for the end of the transition period following the UK’s exit from the EU. The government has announced that the transition period will end by 31st December 2020.

Defra is planning to start formal industry engagement from early July to help plan for EU exit.

The government has provided new details on the management of the Northern Ireland protocol. See this LINK