Stockpiling drives grocery sales up 22%

Grocery sales in the UK for the week to 14 March increased by 22 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, as consumers stockpiled items during the Coronavirus self isolation measures.

The figures are from Nielsen data, which showed household and pet care items saw the biggest year-on-year sales increase (65 per cent), followed by ambient groceries (62 per cent), while health, beauty, toiletries and babycare sales rose by 46 per cent, and frozen food was up by a third year-on-year.

Consumers spent an additional £467 million over the course of the week, compared to last year, which the data measurement firm attributed to panic buying in response to restrictions on key items like toilet roll, nappies, tampons and food staples like rice and pasta.

The 22 per cent rise last week compares to an eight per cent year-on-year increase the previous week, with the government’s COVID-19 advice becoming progressively stricter as time has gone on.

Looking at specific items, children's medicine sales were up by 228 per cent versus the same period last year, while toilet paper sales were up by 140 per cent.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, commented: “The week ending 14 March was the first week we witnessed retailers come under significant pressure to serve consumers, as supply chains were stretched in order to keep up with the unprecedented demand from shoppers.”

“The announcement on 20 March that retailers are now allowed to collaborate on supply chain planning, as well as share distribution and logistics, is likely to be a welcome development, as manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers work together to reduce the impact of stockpiling.”

Meanwhile, Kantar analysis of 100,000 UK consumers suggested that it was only a minority of people engaging in what might traditionally be thought of as stockpiling. For example, six per cent of liquid soap buyers took home extraordinary quantities, along with just three per cent of dry pasta shoppers.

The research indicated that a significant number of consumers are adding only a few extra products each time they visit a store, but are visiting more often. The average spend per supermarket trip rose by 16 per cent year-on-year to £22.13 for the week ending 17 March.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, explained: “Most of us have seen images circulating online of people bulk buying products like toilet rolls and pasta, but our data gives us a different, if counterintuitive, diagnosis of what’s happening.

“Ultimately we need to look at the empirical evidence and it tells us that temporary shortages are being caused by people adding just a few extra items and shopping more often – behaviour that consumers wouldn’t necessarily think of as stockpiling.”

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