Grocery Roundup: In The UK, Labor Shortage Compromises Christmas Dinner

UK Tesco truck

Good news for Ebenezer Scrooge and only Ebenezer Scrooge: Christmas in the United Kingdom is under threat. At least, its food supply is. Major grocery executives are warning that the truck driver shortage could threaten the availability of popular Christmas products.

John Allan, chairman of Tesco, the region’s largest grocery chain, told BBC’s Radio 4, “Normally the supermarket industry would start building stocks from now in readiness for Christmas … At the moment we’re running very hard just to keep on top of the existing demand and there isn’t the capacity to build stocks that we’d like to see.”

Similarly, Richard Walker, managing director of the country’s Iceland chain of supermarkets, which operates over 1,000 locations in the region, warned that 2021’s Christmas could be a repeat of 2020’s. He told BBC Radio 4, “We’ve got a lot of goods to transport between now and Christmas, and a strong supply chain is vital for everyone. The reason for sounding the alarm now is that we’ve already had one Christmas cancelled at the last minute, and I’d hate this one to be problematic as well.”

While the United States and other comparable markets face shortage as well, the United Kingdom’s labor issues are especially pronounced, exacerbated by Brexit red tape making it harder to access the European Union’s workforce.

Along with grocers, restaurants have also been feeling the brunt of these shortages. McDonald’s United Kingdom locations are temporarily discontinuing milkshakes, KFC UK is facing major out-of-stocks and Nando’s is closing almost 50 of its locations.

Read more: McDonald’s UK Out Of Milkshakes As Nationwide Shortages Frustrate Consumers

Schnuck Markets To Roll Out Robots Chainwide

After four years of testing, St. Louis-based grocery chain Schnuck Markets announced Thursday (Aug. 26) that it is bringing retail management robots to all 111 of its stores. These Tally robots, created by Simbe Robotics, provide insight into inventory, pricing, shelf placement and more. The grocer is the first in the world to roll out artificial intelligence (AI) robots chainwide.

“We are facing a ‘new normal’ in the grocery industry, and Tally has been instrumental to ensuring we continue to provide an exceptional store experience while rising to meet new operational challenges,” Dave Steck, vice president of IT infrastructure and application development at Schnuck Markets, said in a statement. “By deploying Tally to all stores, we are fully operationalizing these insights into our supply chain and expanding our ability to leverage real-time data to make revenue impacting decisions.”

The chain began its pilot test of Simbe’s AI solutions in the summer of 2017, adding additional locations in 2018 and 2020. Now, with the labor challenges that grocers are facing, the need for solutions such as these has grown even more acute.

“This expansion is a momentous occasion for Simbe, Schnucks, and the broader retail technology industry,” said Brad Bogolea, founder and CEO of Simbe Robotics. “It demonstrates that robots that are thoughtfully deployed are a critically important tool for retailers to improve bottom lines, support teams, and maintain an exceptional shopping experience, both in stores and online.”

The Fresh Market Incentivizes Curbside With Freebies

Online grocery may be growing quickly, but adoption remains significantly lower than in other retail categories. To encourage shoppers to get familiar with its online ordering for curbside pickup channel, The Fresh Market, a North Carolina-based gourmet grocery chain with 159 locations across 22 states, is adding free chocolate samples to curbside orders.

The orders are fulfilled in partnership with Instacart, reports Supermarket News, and curbside orders are up 28 percent since the channel’s launch in December. Now, the freebie will apply to all curbside orders placed for Mondays starting Aug. 30. Each of these “Chocolate Lovers Monday” purchases will include a square of the grocer’s private-label Himalayan Pink Sea Salt Dark Chocolate.

“We’re thrilled that our guests appreciate the level of customer service and extra touches our friendly curbside provides, so adding a chocolate treat to Monday orders is just a small gesture of gratitude that we know they’ll enjoy,” Brian Johnson, the grocer’s SVP of operations, commented in a statement.

Perishables Initiative Boosts Dollar General Margins

DG Fresh, discount retailer Dollar General’s move to self-distribute frozen and refrigerated foods, is rolling out ahead of schedule. The initiative has now launched in 17,500 locations, Chief Operating Officer Jeff Owen told analysts on a call Thursday (Aug. 26), delivered from 12 facilities. The company completed this rollout six months ahead of its initial plan.

See also: Dollar General To Open Over 1K New Stores

“As a reminder, the primary objective of DG Fresh is to reduce product costs on our frozen and refrigerated items and we continue to be very pleased with the savings we are seeing,” Owen said. “In fact, DG Fresh continues to be the largest contributor to the gross margin benefit we are realizing from higher inventory markups, and we expect additional benefits going forward, as we continue to optimize our network and further leverage our scale.”

Additionally, the has now launched fresh produce in 1,500 of its stores, with 500 more on the way before the end of the year.