Virus-hit Tesco recruits 45,000 UK supermarket staff

LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s biggest retailer Tesco has recruited more than 45,000 staff in two weeks, largely to cover supermarket workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, it said yesterday.

In its annual earnings update, Tesco said costs were forecast to increase by between GBP650 million and GBP925 million (USD787 million and USD1.12 billion) on “significant… increases in payroll, distribution and store expenses”.

Chief Executive Dave Lewis said “COVID-19 has shown how critical the food supply chain is to the UK” but he noted that “initial panic buying has subsided and service levels are returning to normal”.

Tesco said that “more than 45,000 new colleagues” joined since March 20, including drivers helping to meet soaring demand for home deliveries.

Sales surged by nearly one third during the short-lived panic-buying, Tesco said.

Shoppers queue using social distancing outside a Tesco supermarket on the outskirts of Manchester. PHOTO: AFP

It added that “the size and nature of our workforce means we have experienced a significant absence of colleagues”.

However the surge in new jobs meant that Tesco has been able to increase home deliveries by more than 20 per cent, or 145,000 extra drops.

“While we have already stepped up our capacity on grocery home shopping… and will continue to increase this, there is simply not enough capacity to supply the whole market.

“Between 85 per cent and 90 per cent of all food bought will require a visit to a store,” it noted.

“We will continue to try and prioritise home delivery for the most vulnerable in society,” Tesco added.

Coronavirus has infected more than 55,000 people and killed almost 6,200 across the United Kingdom (UK).

Among those battling COVID-19 is Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was spending a third day in intensive care at a London hospital. Britain has been on lockdown for almost three weeks, a situation that is expected to last a while longer. The government has urged Britons to keep supermarket visits to shopping for essential items.

Tesco yesterday also announced a solid rise in underlying annual profits.

“Tesco’s financial year… ended on February 29 and does not therefore reflect the month of March when supermarkets generally were at full throttle,” noted Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.

Ahead, “there will of course be a boost to sales – an uplift of 30 per cent was seen during the initial panic buying phase”, he added.