Covid-19: Grocers experience 22% hike in sales as result of stockpiling

Grocery sales in the UK for the week to 14 March increased by over 22% compared to the same period in 2019, as consumers stockpiled items such as toilet roll and stocked up on food and essentials in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus crisis.

Nielsen data shows household and pet care items saw the biggest year-on-year increase (65%) in sales, while ambient groceries experienced a 62% hike. Sales of health, beauty, toiletries and babycare items rose by 46%, while frozen food (33%) and beer, wine and spirits (11%) were categories also up significantly on last year.

According to the data company, consumers spent an additional £467 million over the course of the week versus the same seven days in 2019.

Nielsen attributed the grocery sales spike to increasing stockpiling, amid health fears related to Covid-19, which has already led to the UK government calling on people to stay at home except for essential trips to halt the spread of the disease.

The 22% rise compares to an 8% year-on-year increase in the previous week, confirming anecdotal evidence that some supermarkets across UK had experienced unprecedented traffic levels. All grocers have been tweaking operations to adapt to the growing demand, including placing limits on the number of products individuals can buy, and ringfencing time in stores for key workers and the vulnerable to purchase goods.

Illustrating consumer sentiment at this unique time in UK history, children's medicine sales were up by 228% versus the same period last year. Toilet tissue sales were up by 140%, and facial tissues trading was up by 154%.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer & 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.”

He added: “Our data shows that stockpiling has intensified as consumers continuously purchase more of the same items, leading to a noticeable rise in ‘out of stocks’.”

Data released earlier this week by market intelligence company, Kantar, showed the extra demand in supermarkets is largely being driven by people adding “a few extra items to baskets and making more trips, rather than shoppers buying large amounts of the same item in one go”.

In its analysis of 100,000 UK consumers, Kantar claimed it was just a minority of people engaging in what might traditionally be thought of as stockpiling. For example, 6% of liquid soap buyers have taken home extraordinary quantities, and only 3% of dry pasta shoppers. 

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

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail & consumer insight at Kantar, noted: “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.”

He added: It’s not just how much people are buying but what. We’re seeing customers shop beyond their normal, regular product choice, putting pressure on supplies of items that aren’t usually bought as often.”

Meanwhile, online grocery sites have also experienced hikes in traffic and sales activity, prompting retailers to change their digital tactics.

Sainsbury’s is now prioritising the elderly and vulnerable online, directing other online customers to use click & collect wherever possible, while new registrants at Ocado are being told existing registered customers are being prioritised.

Essential Retail’s rolling news story, includes details of many of the other retailers that have already closed their doors temporarily in light of the escalating health crisis.