By temporarily relaxing laws, retailers will be allowed to share data with each other on stock levels, cooperate to keep shops open, or share distribution depots and delivery vans.
The move will also see retailers ‘pool staff’ with one another to help meet boosted demand amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The government has stressed this will be a ‘specific, temporary relaxation’ to enable retailers to work together for the ‘sole purpose of feeding the nation’ during unprecedented circumstances.
“We’ve listened to the powerful arguments of our leading supermarkets and will do whatever it takes to help them feed the nation,” said Environmental Secretary George Eustice.
“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.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma similarly voiced his support of the extraordinary measures in ‘challenging times’, stressing the importance of removing ‘barriers to our supermarkets’ and supporting consumers in need.
“The temporary relaxation of competition law for the food sector will allow supermarkets to cooperate with each other to keep their shops staffed, their shelves stocked, and the nation fed.
“I am clear that we will continue to do whatever it takes to support business through this extremely difficult period.”
The British Retail Consortium’s Food & Sustainability Director, Andrew Opie, has commended the government’s ‘important decision’ in giving retailers ‘greater flexibility’.
“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 co-ordinate certain operations to ensure customers anywhere in the UK have access to the essential items they need.”
The announcement comes as the government says it will temporarily relax retail drivers’ hours. This means that drivers will be able to work for slightly longer periods and offer additional delivery slots. It will also provide extra capacity if drivers are unwell.
“We know supermarkets have seen unprecedented demand in light of COVID-19. We’re relaxing the GB drivers’ hours rules so that supermarkets can complete more home deliveries – which is especially important for vulnerable people at this time,” noted Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
“But driver welfare is of course key and we will be working closely with employers to make sure the safety of their drivers and other people on the road is protected.”
At the same time, the government is waiving the 5p plastic bag charge for online purchases, in an effort to speed up deliveries and minimise any cross-contamination from reusing crates. The charge will remain in-place for in-store purchases.