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Food and drink supply chain 'robust' enough for challenges ahead

The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) has said the local food and drink manufacturing sector is well placed to continue to deliver high quality food to its customers despite the challenges set to arise over the next few months following the coronavirus outbreak.

NIFDA executive director Michael Bell said: "We have a world class food and drink sector with robust, responsive supply chains.

"The industry can increase capacity to cope with increased demand, and we have stepped up supply to supermarkets to meet surges in demand due to changing consumer purchasing habits.

"Many local companies are already looking at recruiting additional staff over the next few weeks to ensure that labour shortages due to illness will not impact on food production.

"We are also working closely with government to ensure this essential industry can continue to operate and meet customer needs during these challenging times."

His words come after Northern Ireland retail outlets received an unprecedented number of shoppers bulk buying products for a potential lock down scenario.

And they follow on from the British Retail Consortium's plea with the public to halt any excessive shopping to ensure supply remains for those who need it most.

Retailers have reported a rise in abuse of staff amid coronavirus panic-buying, despite supermarkets calling for calm from shoppers.

Last weekend retailers, who saw their shelves emptied of essential items after the virus outbreak was classified as a pandemic, suffered from huge surges in orders, with some key items being rationed per customer.

The British Retail Consortium also said staff have been the victims of abuse in recent days, but retailers are working with the police to keep stores "running as smoothly as possible".

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said: "Even when circumstances are difficult, retailers are well versed in providing effective security measures."

On Sunday, the UK's largest supermarkets wrote to customers calling on them to be "considerate" and stop stockpiling, amid frantic scenes in stores.

Panic-buying by customers has resulted in some supermarkets rationing sales of certain products in a bid to ensure supply is available to more shoppers.

Some supermarkets have seen delivery slots fill up rapidly, with some shoppers saying on social media they have been unable to book home deliveries until April.

Environment Secretary George Eustice has continued to hold daily phone calls with supermarket chief executives to ensure customers will have the necessary supply of provisions.

A government spokesman said: "We are in regular contact with the food industry to ensure it is well-prepared to deal with a range of scenarios.

"Retailers are continuing to monitor their supply chains and taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.

"We've introduced new measures to make sure businesses can continue to keep supply flowing."

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