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Supermarkets use cardboard cutouts to hide gaps on shelves

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Supermarket shelf - Twitter
Supermarket shelf - Twitter

Supermarkets are using cardboard cutouts of groceries to fill shelves amid supply chain chaos across the country.

Tesco and Sainsbury's have been spotted placing images of food and other supermarket staples on shelves, including cardboard cutouts of asparagus, carrots and laundry detergent.

Customers posted pictures of the cutouts on Twitter this week, with captions including: "Yum tasty cardboard carrots. Fakenham Tesco last week."

"Look carefully," another Twitter user wrote alongside a picture of an aisle of laundry detergents. "The middle three rows are photographs."

Sources said Tesco was not using the cardboard cutouts due to supply issues, but instead used them in some larger stores where there was additional space. The washing liquid image was a temporary measure to try to deter shoplifting.

A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: "Our colleagues and suppliers are working hard to make sure customers can find everything they need when they shop with us. Availability in some product categories may vary but alternatives are available and stores continue to receive deliveries daily."

Steve Dresser, a director at Grocery Insight, said: "No one wants empty shelves as it’s a negative perception of availability and that can impact sales and leave customers thinking that the store is poorly presented.

"Blocking the shelves with cardboard ‘fillers’ is preferable as it’s a nice halfway house, reflecting that gaps are longer term but not forcing the store itself to change layouts."

The move comes amid wider supply chain turmoil across the UK, which has prompted retailers to warn over troubles ferrying goods around the country.

Morrisons said last month that it was having to load up its lorries with more stock, due to severe HGV driver shortages in Britain, as well as picking up stock from its suppliers directly, rather than having it delivered in an attempt to avoid empty shelves.

Chief executive David Potts said: "We are now leasing and buying double decker vehicles, and so you double the capacity on the vehicle trip you make."

It comes ahead of the busiest period of the year for supermarkets, known as the "golden quarter".

Shane Brennan, the chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents businesses that run the temperature-controlled supply chain in the UK, recently issued a warning that the issues meant that supermarkets would have to work together to avoid "a survival of the fittest Christmas".

He told the Grocer: "The problem with the crisis is everyone fights to protect their own. So what you are finding is businesses fighting to protect the certainty of their own deliveries and that pushes against collaboration and co-ordination of efficiencies."

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