Deliveries to prioritise vulnerable shoppers
Supermarkets are being given access to a government database to help prioritise food deliveries for elderly and vulnerable shoppers who have been ordered to stay at home under the government’s coronavirus crackdown.
With all the big grocers’ online delivery slots booked up weeks in advance, getting food to those self-isolating was top priority in a call between industry bosses and the environment secretary, George Eustice, on Tuesday.
Supermarket bosses discussed ways to ramp up deliveries and prioritise orders from those in need, including working on new ways to extend delivery networks such as teaming up with local taxi companies and takeaway delivery firms.
Sainsbury’s and Waitrose said that next week they would begin writing to existing online customers who were also on the government database to offer them a delivery slot.
Sainsbury’s said it was also working on ways to secure details for vulnerable people living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The supermarket has already used information from its Nectar loyalty scheme to try to prioritise elderly shoppers online, proactively contacting 270,000 people. It also has a helpline that vulnerable shoppers can ring for help in booking delivery slots. However, shoppers told the Guardian that accessing the helpline was difficult because of high demand.
Sainsbury’s admitted that its customer careline had been inundated with requests from elderly and vulnerable customers, with one year’s worth of contacts in two weeks.
It said it had already booked delivery slots for 115,000 elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers this week.
While many supermarkets have set aside special shopping periods for the vulnerable and elderly, the latest advice to stay at home has increased the need for delivery services.
The government is also teaming up with food service providers Brakes and Bidfood to put together an emergency food parcel scheme that could provide essentials to 300,000 of the most vulnerable of 1.5 million people identified as needing assistance.
The scheme, which could launch next week, is expected to link up the delivery networks of the food service companies – which usually supply catering businesses and restaurants – with local volunteers and charities.
One industry source said it had quickly become apparent that food service firms had more capacity to cope than supermarkets because of lost orders from their usual clients, most of which have been forced to close under the virus control measures.