Coronavirus: Morrisons vows to 'feed the nation' as it recruits 25,000 extra staff

Oscar Williams-GrutSenior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Yahoo Finance UK
Morrisons supermarket in Bradford, England. (George Wood/Getty Images)
Morrisons supermarket in Bradford, England. (George Wood/Getty Images)

Supermarket Morrisons (MRW.L) has pledged to “feed the nation” during the COVID-19 pandemic, recruiting tens of thousands of extra staff and expanding online delivery as more people stay at home.

Morrisons said on Tuesday it had put in place a range of new measures to get help Brits shop during the crisis, including expanding an online delivery partnership with Amazon, launching a new quick delivery service with Deliveroo, and introducing food boxes of essentials for those self-isolating.

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“We are facing into the unprecedented current challenges and are playing our full part to help feed the nation: working with determination, creativity and pace to serve customers as well as we possibly can,” chief executive Dave Potts said in a statement.

Read more: Morrisons promises staff Covid-19 pay and expands Amazon home delivery

It came as Morrisons reported a 5.7% rise in first quarter sales, excluding fuel. Sales have surged by 10.8% in the weeks since the lockdown was introduced.

Morrisons has recruited 25,000 extra staff to deal with the surge and has also put in place extra measures to protect them while at work. These include protective screens at checkouts, social distancing measure in-store, and hand sanitiser, masks, and gloves for staff.

Employees are also being given a guaranteed 6% annual bonus, paid quarterly, to say thank you and are entitled to access a hardship fund if needed. No staff have been furloughed and Morrisons is offering enhanced sick pay for those affected by the virus.

“I'd like to thank every single colleague: you are Morrisons most important and most valued assets and are making a vital difference to so many people and communities across Britain,” Potts said.

While in-store sales have risen over the last three months, Morrisons said the pandemic had caused “highlight volatile” trading.

Fuel sales have collapsed by 70% since the lockdown and the impact meant group revenue fell 4% in the first quarter. The slump is having a “temporary impact on working capital and net debt”, Morrisons warned. This week the supermarket cut petrol prices to below £1 a litre for the first time since 2016.

Read more: Morrisons slashes fuel prices to under £1 a litre

Morrisons also had a weak Easter and said it staff absence rates were running at up to 20,000 due to the virus. New COVID-19-linked initiatives are also costly.

The supermarket said it expects the impact of the pandemic to be “broadly offset” by cost savings, but warned this was “highly dependent on the length of the crisis and how customers respond as lockdown eases.”

Bruno Monteyne, a retail analyst at Bernstein, said Morrisons was in a “solid position to weather the COVID-19 storms.”

Shares in Morrisons rose 1% in early trade in London.

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