MP Grant Shapps recently met with senior bosses from both Tesco and Ocado in order to discuss supply-chain issues during Coronavirus.

The two supermarket chains – both headquartered in his Welwyn Hatfield constituency – revealed the challenges of dealing with last March’s sudden surge in demand, as well as the subsequent change in grocery shopping habits during the COVID-19 crisis.

The meetings, both held via video conferencing, followed representations Mr Shapps received from worried constituents, some of whom have found themselves needing to use delivery services or click-and-collect for the first time, due to quarantining rules.

Welwyn Hatfield is home to both companies’ HQs with Tesco based at the Shire Park business park in Welwyn Garden City and Ocado based on the former aerospace Hatfield Business Park.

The local MP, who is also Transport Secretary, was reassured to hear that freight and supply lines had held up well throughout the crisis. Beyond the initial rush, some people may have found they couldn’t get hold of their usual brand, but for the most part the shelves had been fully restocked, according to the supermarket chain leaders.

Mr Shapps was also interested to hear about how supermarkets had physically altered the layout of their stores, amended queuing procedures and helped protect their staff. Both supermarket chains have employed large numbers of additional staff in order to deal with the massive uplift in demand.

Grant said of the meetings: “It was very helpful to speak with the bosses of both Tesco and Ocado. Tesco explained what they are doing to increase their online delivery slot capacity, whilst Ocado were able to fill me in on how they have been prioritising their existing customers whilst demand has been so high.

“Both supermarket chains explained measures put in place to try to assist vulnerable members of the community by offering them priority delivery slots.

Tesco CEO Dave Lewis said, “As our local MP and Secretary of State for Transport, I welcome the discussions with Grant, and the fast decisions around the transport network that have allowed the food supply chain to operate effectively in these challenging times. The whole Tesco team – including those who live and work in Welwyn and Hatfield – are working around the clock to support our customers and colleagues. In addition, through our community donations programme, we are providing food and other essentials to some of the most vulnerable people in the area.”

Ocado Director Neill Abrams said, “We have had an excellent, long standing relationship with Grant, so being able to discuss with him some of the challenges being faced by our business, our customers and those locally, was really helpful. We were also able to raise some wider transport points too, which we found very helpful and timely.”