Stretched British supermarkets step-up hiring to ride out health crisis


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 on television for employees as existing staff are rushed off their feet and German discounter Aldi’s British arm said on Friday it was seeking to hire 9,000 new workers, 5,000 of which would be temporary.

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 has advised people to avoid pubs, cafes and restaurants and has closed 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.

Reporting by James Davey, Editing by Paul Sandle, Kirsten Donovan and Alexander Smith