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Stockpiling spree hit £1.9bn ahead of virus lockdown

UK shoppers spent an extra £1.9bn stockpiling groceries in the run-up to the coronavirus lockdown, according to figures for the industry.

The data from Nielsen follows a brutal week for the wider retail sector that has seen high street operations all but shut down, with hundreds of thousands of staff given a leave of absence pending wage support from the government.

Supermarkets handled an additional 79 million shopping trips in the four weeks to 21 March, the report said, as consumers rushed to get essentials as COVID-19 spread

Shoppers queue outside a Sainsbury's supermarket in Leamington Spa
Saturday shoppers descend on supermarkets

Separate data from Kantar Worldpanel showed the month of March was the biggest on record for UK grocery sales, with households spending an average of almost £63 extra over the four weeks to 22 March.

Nielsen charted an 84% surge in frozen food sales last week alone, compared to the same period last year, saying there was a clear trend showing that households had already picked up other necessities including medicines.

As the government announced the closure of pubs and restaurants, in-store sales of beer, wine and spirits were 67% up – meaning that around £200m extra was spent on booze.

The report said “finite” capacity limited sales growth for online grocery operations.

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Image: Sainsbury’s recorded the best sales growth over the past 12 weeks, according to Kantar Worldpanel

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “Retailers and their staff have been on the front line as households prepare for an extended stay at home, with grocery sales amounting to £10.8bn during the past four weeks alone – that’s even higher than levels seen at Christmas, the busiest time of year under normal circumstances.”

Its figures showed Sainsbury’s recording the biggest jump in sales growth among the ‘big four’ chains.

Kantar said its sales were 7.4% up in the 12 weeks to 22 March – with Tesco 5.5% higher.

Environment Secretary George Eustice has urged people to “be responsible when you shop” and urged them to think of NHS workers as he outlined measures to bolster the food supply chain amid the coronavirus crisis.
‘Think of others when you shop’

Asda and Morrisons saw growth of 4.9% and 4.6% respectively.

Online-only Ocado, which was forced to take a days-long time-out as its website struggled, saw its sales rise 12.5%.

Supermarket chains have largely been spared the cull in stock market values of recent weeks because of their central position as an essential service to keep the nation fed during the virus crisis.

The sales data was credited for bolstering the market values of the listed groups on Tuesday – with Sainsbury’s share price leading the way – surging by 3%.

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