Asda charters cargo ship with festive items amid supply chain crisis

Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Ship carrying 350 containers with toys, clothing and decorations is supermarket’s first ever private charter

Asda has revealed it chartered its own cargo ship to ensure key festive items such as toys, clothing and decorations reach its stores, in the latest example of the extreme measures retailers are taking to mitigate pre-Christmas supply chain problems.

The supermarket, which revealed in a trading update on Monday that sales fell 0.7% in the three months to 31 October, said the ship carrying 350 containers of items from east Asia was its first ever private charter.

Asda said it had also stocked up on extra turkeys and pigs in blankets in stores and was building supplies of mince pies, confectionery and puddings to head off problems in the final weeks before Christmas Day.

It said sales in the summer quarter were down in comparison with the same period a year before, when spending on homes and gardens was very strong as families adapted to lockdown life.

With rising concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which has raised fears about more high street lockdowns, Asda also said it had increased the capacity of its grocery home delivery service to 1m slots in the final week before Christmas, up from 765,000 in the same period last year.

The measures come as retailers pull out the stops to keep shelves stocked amid concerns about Christmas deliveries. A shortage of qualified lorry drivers, disruption in the distribution of containers during the pandemic and hold-ups in production in east Asia because of Covid restrictions have all held up delivery of products to the UK.

The global supply problems have combined with shortages of labour in the UK partly driven by changes to immigration rules after Brexit.

The problems have affected availability of a range of goods, from kitchen appliances and computers to turkeys and pigs in blankets.

The shortages have forced retailers to come up with inventive solutions. John Lewis teamed up with other retailers to charter container ships to deliver products and also flew in items such as Christmas lights. Tesco, meanwhile, has scaled up its use of rail freight and offered lorry drivers £1,000 signing on fees in order to secure deliveries.

Mohsin Issa and Zuber Issa, the billionaire brothers who bought a majority stake in Asda this year in partnership with the private equity firm TDR Capital, said: “We know how much Christmas means to our customers, especially after some missed out on celebrations with friends and family last year.

“Our colleagues have pulled out all the stops during the last few months to make sure customers can get their favourite festive products at Asda and enjoy the Christmas they deserve.”

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