Paris (AFP)

Rice, pasta and canned products out of stock in some supermarket shelves, increasing supply needs in hospitals: the food industry and distribution, shaken by the coronavirus crisis, went into combat mode to avoid shortages in France.

While bosses of the large distribution say in chorus that "there will be no shortage in the stores", images of grain shelves emptied as in wartime have been around the internet for a week.

"Saturday afternoon, there were some ruptures on sweet and savory preserves, on pasta and rice. This is the old French reflex of storage, we feel a clear desire of consumers to store", admits Richard Girardot , President of the Association of Agri-Food Industries (Ania) in an interview with AFP.

Over the week of March 2 to 8, sales of mass consumer products soared: + 5.6%, while the weekly average growth on these products was 2% in 2019, according to the benchmark indicator Nielsen .

Grocery products exceed all ceilings: sales of rice, pasta and canned goods jumped 21% over the week, after + 13% the week before.

Usually, apart from a few occasional peaks in consumption of + 5% due to calendar effects (Easter chocolates, etc.), the average growth of this department is very stable. According to Nielsen, it has been between 1.5 and 2% in value each month for 10 years.

"These are families who say to themselves + if I have to stay at home for 15 days and not go shopping, I prefer to have my stock +" tried to justify the president of the giant Leclerc, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, on RMC. The CEO of Système U, Dominique Schelcher, whose network has some 1,600 sales outlets, also questioned the "over-storage".

But the two bosses assured that there would be "no shortage". "We have food in France until the summer," even launched Mr. Leclerc.

This week, the food industry, distributors and transporters, however, gathered around the Minister of Agriculture and Food, Didier Guillaume, and the Secretary of State to the Minister of Economy, Agnes Pannier-Runacher.

- unheard of since "May 68" -

The goal was "to anticipate" the problems of the food supply chain if "the shopping spree continues in the coming months," said Mr. Girardot, who does not remember similar raids, "except perhaps in May 68 ". And establish a plan for the continuation of manufacturing.

"In the event of confinements, we have obtained from the State that there is a uniform response throughout the territory for transport authorizations," he said.

The fire at the Lubrizol factory in September in Rouen left bad memories, with the prefect of a department who "blocked the transport of milk", while that of the neighboring department "let it circulate", underlines- he.

Ania asked its members to focus on the production of basic necessities, the 20% which make up 80% of the volume, and to drop the promotional lots.

She wants to avoid rationing as in Great Britain, where the number one Tesco has been limiting purchases to five products since this weekend for pasta, antibacterial wipes, gels and long-life milk.

For some canned vegetables, some rationing could nevertheless occur if they are out of season, warned Mr. Girardot.

The sector is also considering how to increase deliveries to hospitals where there will be more activity in the coming weeks. A reorientation of supply chains which could be facilitated if at the same time schools are closed.

Finally, "we have obtained from the Ministry of the Economy that the agrifood sector is considered a priority for the allocation of protective masks to employees", said Mr. Girardot.

On production lines for fresh products or pastries, anti-spray sanitary masks are already used by operators. But this sector must protect its employees to ensure the continuity of manufacturing, crucial for the rest of the population.

In the meantime, the coronavirus effect supports short distribution channels: Aurore Market, a company of organic and French products on the internet, born in 2018 and based in Aveyron, says it has seen its number of members soar from 38 % in ten days. "Never seen".

© 2020 AFP