Recruitment and Training – Co-op Food
Case Study Key Features: Urgent Response, Skills Matching, Demand Management, Fast-track Induction
Co-op company overview - Staffing Types = Retail Assistants Geographical Footprint = London

Company Background

Co-op Food is the sixth largest retailer and the UK’s largest convenience store operator, employing 70,000 people across more than 2,500 local, convenience and medium-sized outlets.

A socially conscious organisation, Co-op Food believes in working together to create a better society with the emphasis on community, health and wellbeing, and the environment. 

As a society, its members play a key role in determining how benefits are distributed to members and the type of support delivered within their neighbourhood.

A strategic national labour partner to Co-op Food since 2012 for warehousing and logistics, Blue Arrow was asked to support the company with a recruitment drive for frontline retail workers in over 60 London stores. This was driven by the need to keep stores open and shelves stocked during the Covid-19 pandemic, when faced with staff unavailability due to sickness, increased demand, and variable supply patterns. 


We are proud to have been able to assist Co-op in keeping food stores open and local communities fed, as well as creating new job opportunities for Londoners in an extremely challenging operating environment.

Woman in supermarket looking at empty shelves

The Challenge

At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, food retailers faced a series of complex challenges. 

Firstly, uncertainty on how the virus would spread, with ambiguity around isolation procedures for staff and their families and rapidly rising sickness levels. Secondly, the potential shrinking of the available workforce, to fill any temporary gaps between supply and demand. 

The need for immediate changes in business operations to ensure staff and customer safety through distancing, further complicated resourcing requirements. This was compounded by a sharp rise in demand sparked by customer hoarding, leading to panic buying with a resultant rise in deliveries and shelf-stocking requirements.

Co-op Food realised that their existing approach to recruiting and moving labour resources between stores would be unable to bridge the gap to meet volatile demand within the necessary timescales and to the extent required. 

The Solution

Key to keeping stores open was the rapid recruitment and induction of new staff and redeployment of lockdown-displaced talent communities with the necessary customer service skills. 

Blue Arrow employed a targeted strategy using skill-matching to bridge the capability gap quickly. This was achieved by identifying and attracting those with the right experience and behaviours that could deliver a great customer experience.

The institution of a fast-track induction programme, designed to bring recruits up to the required competence levels quickly, enabled new starters to blend seamlessly with existing staff, ensuring continuity of service levels.


Male store assistant stack fruit shelves
Laptop with a browser open saying Candidate Search

The Journey

Our first objective was to identify ‘hot spots’ to allow us to focus on locations with the highest need. We also simplified the skillset requirements to enable us to speed-up the recruitment process. By Day 2 we had completed the initial scoping of requirements for shelf stackers, agreed pay rates and uniform requirements, plus induction process.

With the help of our talent and shift matching technology, we were able to match suitable candidates to assignments requirements very quickly, reducing the time to fill staffing gaps. 

This process was managed by a Blue Arrow specialist with extensive knowledge of the retail and catering sectors who was able to draw on existing Blue Arrow talent pools in events and catering, currently not in work due to the lockdown. In total, nine Blue Arrow branches across London were involved in helping pull on their local talent communities to fulfill weekly orders.


Quote from co-op operational lead: The new starters blended seamlessly with existing staff. The induction programme designed to fast-track competence ensured we were able to keep our local communities safe and well-served throughout the crisis
The Results

Time was of the essence with this project. Blue Arrow was able to supply the right quality staff within a truly short timescale to sustain service continuity in-line with Co-op Food’s core values. Following our appointment in March, we had workers in 21 stores by day three and had filled 636 shifts across 46 stores by the end of the first week, supplying 85% of the entire need in the London area. By the end of the second week, we had achieved a headcount of 150 in-store assistants, placed across 65 stores. Working to unprecedented time pressures, close cooperation with Co-op Food was critical. Blue Arrow helped the operational team navigate new ways of working so as to get the right people in place very quickly.

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