Supermarket sales soar as consumers stockpile household essentials
Sales across British supermarkets hit record levels in the last four weeks, industry data published on Tuesday showed, as shoppers rushing to stock up on food and other household staples spent an extra £1.9bn at the tills.
According to the latest Nielsen Total Till data, British consumers made over 79m extra grocery shopping trips in the four weeks to 21 March, pushing total till sales at supermarkets up 20.5%.
The last week of the four was the busiest, with a 43% spike in weekly sales. The government announced more severe lockdown-style measures the following Monday, on 23 March.
So-called stockpiling of necessities occurred in the first two weeks of the four-week period. In the last week, attention turned to frozen food, sales of which surged by 84% against the same week a year earlier, and alcohol, with sales of beer, wine and spirits spiking 67%.
The data were mirrored by research by rival firm Kantar, also published on Tuesday, which reported a 20.6% surge in grocery sales in the four weeks to 22 March - a record.
Kantar found that the busiest period was between 16 and 19 March, when 88% of households visited a grocer, adding up to a 42m extra trips.
It said a total of £10.8bn was spent during the four weeks, which was higher than that normally seen at Christmas, traditionally the busiest time of year for grocers.
Mike Watkins, UK head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, said: "With households making almost three extra shopping trips in the last four weeks, this small change in individual shopping behaviour has led to a seismic shift in overall shopping patterns.
"As well as increased store visits, consumers opted to shop online, many for the first time. However unlike stores there is a finite capacity for online grocery shopping, due to warehouse capacity and available delivery slots, and this will have limited the growth of online sales."
Nielsen found that shoppers typically added just one extra item to their basket during each shopping trip, with the average shopping basket increasing to 11 items. Average basket spend rose to £16 from £15. However, shoppers made three additional shopping trips during the period.
Combined, the surge in sales over the four-week period added up to an extra £1.9bn spent on groceries, Nielsen said.
Kantar also found people were shopping more frequently and buying slightly more, with the average household spending an extra £62.92 over the four weeks.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: "It’s inevitable that shoppers will add extra items to their baskets when faced with restrictions on the movement. With restaurants and cafes now closed, none of us can eat meals on the go any longer, an extra 503m meals - mainly lunches and snacks - will be prepared and eaten at home every week for the foreseeable future."
All UK supermarkets experienced "significant growth" in sales over the four-week period, while two in 10 households shopped online, which Nielsen said represented 600,000 new households shopping online compared to the same period a year earlier. An additional 1.2m online grocery orders were placed over the last four weeks.
Looking ahead, however, and local shops were expected to benefit from the quarantine conditions.
Said Watkins: "As British shoppers become more accustomed to what the quarantine means for their daily lives, and restricted living becomes the new norm, we expect to see shopping behaviour evolve to become more local as shoppers are unable, or unwilling, to ravel further than is necessary for immediate needs such as fresh food."
The data come as three supermarkets groups – Aldi, Wm Morrison and the John Lewis Partnership-owned Waitrose – announced they were easing restrictions on certain products.
Supermarkets had introduced limits as customers rushed to stock up on household items in recent weeks, leaving them struggling to keep pace with the sudden spike in demand.
Aldi is scrapping limits on most items. Shoppers will, however, continue to be restricted to buying four packs each of hand wash and soap, toilet roll, certain canned goods, and alcohol, and two packs only of antibacterial hand sanitiser, long-life milk and baby formula.
At Morrisons, it is upping the limits on some items and removing them altogether on others, while Waitrose has removed a cap on all fresh food.
Tesco, J Sainsbury and Walmart-owned Asda are currently not changing restriction policies.