March 26, 2020 / 3:07 PM / 2 months ago

Nobody will starve in coronavirus crisis, says chairman of Britain's Ocado

LONDON (Reuters) - There is no shortage of food in Britain and nobody will starve during the coronavirus emergency, said the chairman of online supermarket Ocado who believes he himself has been infected.

FILE PHOTO: Stuart Rose, the chairman of Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, poses for a portrait at their offices in central London, Britain February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

Britain’s supermarket sector is dealing with unprecedented demand during the outbreak as consumers stock-up, fearing a prolonged period of isolation, while schools, pubs, cafes and restaurants have been forced to close.

“The first thing is ‘don’t panic’. There isn’t going to be no food tomorrow,” Stuart Rose told BBC radio on Thursday. “Nobody will starve.”

Rose, 71, who is also a former chairman and chief executive of clothing and food retailer Marks & Spencer, has been in self-isolation after suspecting he had contracted the virus. He ventured out for the first time in two weeks on Wednesday.

He said Britons should avoid going to supermarkets at peak hours and only buy what they need.

Rose also called on people in the country to “make your meals work”.

“If you buy a chicken, roast the chicken, have the roast chicken dinner, the following day turn it into a stir fry, the following day make it into soup,” he said.

“You can make a relatively small amount of food go a long way and I think we live in a very profligate society today - we buy too much, we eat too much, we consume too much and we have to learn new ways.”

SURGING DEMAND

Ocado has been operating at full capacity during the crisis. It said on Tuesday it had around ten times more demand for its services than it did before the outbreak began.

During the crisis, elderly and vulnerable shoppers have complained they have been unable to get delivery slots for online shopping from Britain’s supermarkets.

That has prompted market leader Tesco to ask Britons who are able to safely come to stores to do so, instead of shopping online, so it can free up more slots for the more vulnerable.

Rose stopped short of telling young and able Ocado shoppers to go elsewhere.

“If you’ve had customers who’ve been regular customers for you for 10, 15 years, we can’t just dump those customers,” he said.

Rose also noted that after the government relaxed competition rules there was “enormous” co-operation between all retailers at present.

“If you see an unprecedented increase in demand, it’s incredibly difficult to make the adjustments. But we are all trying, and we are working and co-operating together.”

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Paul Sandle and Pravin Char

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