Covid-19: Panic buying led to 48% peak in sales for Sainsbury’s

A surge in sales up to lockdown led to five days that were busier than peak Christmas trading, according to Sainsbury's.

Demand for groceries at Sainsbury’s peaked at 48% sales growth in the week running up to lockdown as customers ensured they had enough food to keep them fed through quarantine. 

Speaking on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, CEO Mike Coupe described peak sales in March 2020 as “crazy”.

“We sold more, for five days running, than we would normally sell in our busiest day at Christmas, that's why you saw the gaps on the shelf.”

The retailer forecasted disruption caused by coronavirus to impact its business until the mid-September, with a predicted £500 million of costs associated with paying sick leave and keeping staff safe.

Sainsbury’s revealed the initial impact of coronavirus in its preliminary results for the 52 weeks to March 7 2020 released today. Underlying full-year profits before tax dropped by 2% to £586 million, while statutory profit before tax hit £255 million, up 26% from £202 million.

Online grocery sales grew 7.6% over the full-year period, while convenience grew 1.3% and supermarket sales declined 0.1% due to a decline in general merchandise.

Meanwhile, for the seven weeks to April 25, Sainsbury’s noted a 12% increase in grocery sales and a 3% increase in general merchandise, while clothing dropped a staggering 53%. Overall total sales increased 8%.

“The last few weeks have been an extraordinary time for our business. First and foremost, I want to say thank you to all of our colleagues. They have shown outstanding commitment and resilience over the past few weeks and I am in awe of their adaptability and the efforts they have made to continue to serve our customers,” Coupe said in the financial results statement. 

“Across every part of the business, colleagues have played their part as we have done everything possible to feed the nation and to prioritise those who are least able to access food and other essential services. This is an unsettling time for everyone, but I am incredibly proud of the way the business has responded, continually adapting and responding to customer feedback. We will continue to work hard to provide food and other essential products to households across the UK and Ireland who are adapting to a new way of living.”