elderly woman on laptop computer online

Source: Getty

  • A universal script will be posted on all supermarket websites

  • Local authority ‘food hubs’ will put vulnerable customers in touch with volunteers who will shop in-store for them

  • Delays in launching the plan have caused friction between supermarkets and the government


Millions of vulnerable people at risk of going hungry are to be re-directed from supermarket websites to an army of local volunteers who will do their shopping.

The move marks a major change of direction by the government and comes after supermarkets warned delivery networks and click & collect services could not cope with the demand from households in isolation, despite ramping them up in the past few weeks.

Under the new plan, a universal script will be posted on all supermarket websites. Customers entering their postcodes will be linked to one of 300 local authority ‘food hubs’, putting them in touch with local volunteers who will shop in-store for them.

The help is aimed at those self-isolating because they are over 70, people who are pregnant, or suffer from existing health conditions.

Sources say there are estimates of between five to 19 million people in the category but The Grocer has learnt delays in launching the plan have caused friction between supermarkets and the government, with previous plans to rely on dotcom resulting in sites crashing and slots being booked out.

“We are hoping this strategy will help this group get the support they need,” said BRC head of food policy Andrew Opie. “We raised this as an issue in March, so it is frustrating it’s taken so long. We have always said it will be through community operations that people will get the help they need, not online.”

A senior industry source added: “The frustrating thing is there are loads of volunteers out there. There are plenty of people to do the job but there has been this inability to signpost it and co-ordination from the government

“It’s taken the government weeks to get this sorted.”

Another source added: “I think there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of the grocery market. Too many ministers live in a Westminister bubble and I genuinely think they do all their shopping online and don’t realise that’s not the way the vast majority operate.”

The list is separate to the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ instructed to stay at home for 12 weeks.

A Defra spokesman told The Grocer: “We are working to support people who do not fall into the category of being clinically extremely vulnerable, but still need help getting essential food supplies.”