"It is a daily act of bravery and it will be long remembered" - Morrisons CEO pays tribute to colleagues

Morrisons has reported an 11 per cent jump in like-for-like sales over the past three weeks as shoppers flock to its stores amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Morrisons has offered all NHS staff 10 per cent off their shopping

The Bradford-based grocer said first quarter trading was highly volatile, with initial stocking up, then the impact of the lockdown and weak Easter trading, followed by a significant improvement in recent weeks.

The firm said Covid-19 has created unprecedented challenges and changed both its near-term priorities and how it operates.

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It said all of its efforts are focussed on protecting colleagues and customers, and working with its own food makers and other suppliers to ensure food is available to all across Britain, especially to the vulnerable and most in need.

Morrisons' chief executive, David Potts, said: "This is an extremely difficult time for the whole nation.

"We're currently guided by a purpose to play our full part in feeding the nation. It's more than our job and we're doing this because customers need us.

"We've heard so many individual stories - particularly from the elderly, the vulnerable, and those people who are self-isolating. Some have said they didn't know where their next meal was coming from. Some told us they haven't been able to speak to anybody for weeks. Another told us he was living off the last bits of food in his store cupboard, which happened to be baked beans and tinned sardines.

"That's why we have put the assets of the company at the disposal of the country. We've stepped up to do our bit."

He also paid tribute to the hard work of his colleagues.

"Our colleagues have been exceptional," he said.

"They've remained positive and professional throughout this crisis and they are making a big contribution to the lives of so many, many people. I want to say thank you to all of them for everything they're doing to feed the nation.

"It is a daily act of bravery and it will be long remembered."

To support those most in need, Morrisons has opened a telesales service for customers who don't use the internet, but need their shopping delivered.

"Many have told us that this service is their lifeline," said Mr Potts.

"They don't have family around them and their carers have not been able to support them since the lockdown started.

"There have been tears from relieved customers and from some of our telesales staff too."

Whilst Morrisons saw surging retail sales over a volatile first quarter, it has taken a hit from plunging fuel demand as people stay at home and don't use their cars.

The group reported a 6 per cent rise in group like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, in the 14 weeks to May 10. This jumped to 11 per cent over the last three weeks of the quarter.

However, when tumbling sales on its forecourts were included, group like-for-like sales fell 4 per cent.

Morrisons said fuel like-for-like sales have crashed around 70 per cent since the UK went into lockdown in late March as Britons have been forced to stay at home.

It said the fuel hit and temporary move to close its in-store cafes, as well as surging costs of protecting staff and adapting its business, are likely to weigh on profits over the first half.

The firm cautioned the outlook of the impact of coronavirus remains uncertain.

It added that higher costs from coronavirus are likely to be offset by £228m in savings from the business rates relief, while it expects fuel sales to bounce back strongly once lockdown begins to end.

The group is meeting soaring demand for home deliveries and has more than doubled its online slots.

Analyst Clive Black at Shore Capital said: "Learning has been rapid. The group has been agile in the face of volatility but also exceptionally innovative and purposeful, so meeting the demands of a nation coming to terms with coronavirus. Indeed, we believe that the wholehearted effort of Morrisons is resonating well with all stakeholders.

"Britain's supermarkets have been a shining light in this coronavirus crisis through their collective actions and no more so than Morrisons.

"The group has seriously considered its responsibilities to its stakeholders - customers, employees and suppliers - and shown great agility, capability and innovation to deliver a strong first quarter trading performance from which we believe shareholders will benefit too."