Nielsen’s Covid-19 latest: grocery sales slow, but home bakers put pressure on supplies

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UK consumers spent an additional £83m on groceries in the week ending 4th April 2020 compared to the previous week, but sales are down by -2.6% compared to the same period in 2019, reveals new data released today from Nielsen. Bucking the trend, however, sales of baking ingredients such as fresh dough and pastry (69%), and home baking sundries such as cake, cookie and brownie mixes, flour and dried fruit (50%) have soared.

Grocery sales in the UK have increased significantly over the past weeks, as a result of stockpiling, amid health fears around the worldwide spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, in which British consumers have been instructed by the government to remain at home in a ‘lockdown’ to control the spread. However, this stockpiling appears to have cooled off, as weekly sales begin to decline, which was most prominent in the week prior (w/e 28th March), where weekly sales declined by 12.2%.

In the week ending 4th April 2020, the second week of the UK’s ‘lockdown’, Nielsen data shows that popular ‘stockpiling’ categories continue to be in high demand, with sales increasing for ambient groceries – shelf stable food (23%) and frozen foods (17%). However, the second week has also seen a significant surge in demand for alcohol, with sales for beers, wines and spirits increasing by 15% compared to the same time last year, as pubs and bars remain shut across the UK. 

Nielsen data also shows that UK shoppers are now starting to purchase more items related to entertainment and other activities, with sales of games and computer software up almost 191% versus the same week last year. Moreover, sales of DIY accessories that can be purchased at some supermarkets, such as paint, wallpaper and tools, surged by 51%, as consumers turn their hands to DIY. 

The second week of lockdown also coincided with the week before Easter – typically the second biggest FMCG retail event in the calendar, which would have seen major in-store activations and promotions in a normal year. However, this will likely be a remarkably different year for retailers, who are focusing on essentials – along with their customers. 

In a survey, Nielsen found that just 31% of households were planning to celebrate Easter with those they were in lockdown with – versus 44% of households who had planned to celebrate before the quarantine rules were set. What’s more, while 77% of consumers said they usually would purchase Easter Eggs, almost half (46%) now say they do not intend to purchase an Easter Egg this year. This is double the figure who usually do not purchase Easter Eggs – 23%.  The reduction may be partially explained by the fact that 44% of people usually buy Easter Eggs for people outside of their household.  Of the households who had planned to celebrate Easter before the COVID-19 restrictions (44% of households), 20% are now not going to celebrate at all, while 12% do not know. A further 14% are postponing their plans till after restrictions have lifted – leaving just 56% still planning to celebrate. 

Of those planning to buy, or who have already bought, Easter Eggs and other Easter chocolate, 33% of households say they are planning to buy less than they usually would. With fewer households buying Easter Eggs, and those still purchasing them planning to reduce the number they would usually buy, 2020 is set to bring a significant hit for Easter Egg sales overall. 

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, said: “With restricted living now the new norm in the UK, the second week of lockdown has also brought a new shopping experience for many consumers. Sales have started to slow, and this can be attributed to the many social distancing measures, such as queues outside, routes through the store, and people shopping alone – reducing the impulse buys ‘pester power’ encourages. This has meant that weekly shops are now more planned. Shoppers want to get in and out as quickly as possible, with less time spent browsing. Availability is also still a challenge as the supply chain continues to play catch up in some areas. 

Watkins concludes: “With 56% of UK shoppers believing that the impact of COVID-19 will continue for four to 12 months, weekly sales and shopper behaviour will remain very unpredictable for some time. We can expect this pattern to continue for at least the next three to four weeks, and then start to stabilise when the country begins to slowly recover from the lockdown situation.”