There is still confusion among suppliers despite food workers being classified as key workers

  • Manufacturers are struggling to decide how to limit staff while still meeting increased demand for food

  • Food leaders in Scotland have urged companies to reduce staffing levels to the “lowest possible number”

  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, key workers have been defined as including those involved in the production, delivery and sale of food


Food and drink businesses are seeking urgent clarity from the government after suppliers were told to reduce staffing to the “bare essentials”.

The instruction has sparked fears that a staffing crisis will make it even harder for companies to meet demand.

The Food & Drink Federation told The Grocer its understanding was the guidance applied to all manufacturers, despite food workers being classified by the UK government as key workers.

“Both [the UK and Scottish] governments have said that people should not be going out unless it is absolutely necessary,” said an FDF spokeswoman.

A source said it had put companies in a “very hard situation” to decide how to limit staff and at the same time meet increased demand for food - an over 50% increase from supermarkets.

In Scotland a joint message has been sent out from food leaders urging companies to reduce staffing levels to the “lowest possible number” to maintain production of essential goods.

“All the organisations recognise the huge efforts of ministers in the face of issues of incredible complexity and gravity. It is hugely challenging to strike a balance between protecting public health and maintaining essential services, with very difficult decisions required,” said a joint statement signed by organisations including Scotland Food & Drink, FDF Scotland, NFU Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Association.

The letter from food leaders urged companies not to contact local authorities to make the case for key worker designation unless it was a “measure of last resort”.

“All other measures must be explored first. For example, shift changes, halting some production lines, alternative childcare arrangements.”

However, there is concern that Scotland’s 32 local authorities are making different decisions on who they should define as key workers, to support the supply of food across the country. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, national advice has been issued defining key workers as including those involved in the production, delivery and sale of food.

“Despite enormous pressure, the food supply chain is keeping products moving across the country,” said the message. “Issuing further guidance to councils, in line with the rest of the UK on food supply, will support that effort.

“We commit to do all we can to support that effort, to take tough decisions ourselves. We will be working further in the coming hours and days to help define specific roles with food and drink production. That way, the essential balance between public health and ongoing food supply can be found.”