COVID-19 latest: UK shoppers spend additional £467m in grocery purchases

Grocery sales at UK supermarkets during the week ending 14th March increased by over 22% compared to the same period in 2019. This is equal to an additional £467m more in purchases than this time last year, reveals new data released from Nielsen

This significant rise in grocery sales is attributed to increasing stockpiling, amid health fears around the worldwide spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, which has already led to the UK implementing stricter measures around social distancing in order to combat the spread of the virus.

In the week ending 14 March, Nielsen data shows that UK consumers have continued to increase their stockpiling of grocery, health and personal care items. The consequential 22% increase in sales across UK supermarkets is a significant rise compared to the 8% increase in the previous week (w/e 7th March).

Nielsen data shows that in the week ending 14 March, household and pet care items saw the biggest increase (65%) in sales compared to the same period last year. This was closely followed by ambient groceries – shelf stable food – in which sales increased by 62%, whilst health, beauty, toiletries and babycare items rose by 46%. There was also a significant increase in sales of frozen food (33%) and for the first time during the COVID-19 outbreak sales have surged for beer, wine and spirits (11%) as well as impulse snacking items (18%). 

In terms of individual product categories, there has been further growth in ‘pandemic pantry’ items, as shoppers stocked up on medicine, with sales of children’s medicine growing by 228% versus the same period last week. However, the biggest weekly growth was in UHT milk which increased sales by 181%. 

Shoppers have also continued to stockpile toilet tissue (140%) and facial tissues (154%), which experienced significantly faster growth compared to the previous week, despite rationing sanctions implemented by retailers. Other items that saw a surge in sales included pasta (168%), bath and shower items (152%), canned pasta (148%), canned meat (147%), household cleaners (141%), and ambient (canned or packet) soup (118%).

Categories which were negatively impacted include deli and produce items such as sandwiches (-1%), fresh prep fruit (-5%) and salad (-3%), whilst sushi ranked the worst impacted category overall, seeing weekly sales decline by -16%.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, said: “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.”

Watkins continues: “The announcement on 20th 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. 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’. During this particular week we also saw sales of frozen food accelerate. Shoppers have stocked up their cupboards and now they’re stocking up their freezers. We anticipate we’ll see a further surge in sales as retailers continue to work hard and put various measures in place to keep the shelves full over the next few weeks.”