UK supermarkets plead for calm as virus fears trigger panic buying

Nearly empty supermarket shelves in Ashford, south-east England, today. (AP pic)

LONDON: British supermarkets have called on consumers to be more considerate and reiterated they have adequate supplies, as the coronavirus saw shelves plundered and a surge in online orders.

The country’s leading groceries retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, penned a joint letter to customers, which ran in newspapers Sunday and Monday appealing for calm.

“We need your help,” they wrote. “We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop. There is enough for everyone if we all work together.”

British stores have been inundated with shoppers for more than a week, with people panic buying toilet paper, and long-life items such as pasta and canned goods.

Online shopping, a popular choice in Britain, has been disrupted, with long waiting times for scheduled deliveries and some supermarkets’ websites crashing due to demand.

Morrisons said on Monday it would introduce “temporary purchase limits” on certain high-demand products, while increasing store cleaning, food manufacturing and stock levels.

Waitrose will reinforce its staff by redirecting 500 employees from John Lewis department stores, which are part of the same parent group.

“It’s not unusual for us to ask partners in head office to volunteer help in our shops where they can during busy trading times,” the company said in a statement.

“It’s the right thing to do to ensure we continue to deliver a good service for our customers.”

Helen Dickinson, head of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said supermarkets were “working incredibly hard to keep shops well-stocked and deliveries running as smoothly as possible”.

She noted this was happening “in the face of unprecedented demand as a result of coronavirus”.

Sales figures for March are not yet available but all indications are that supermarkets will see record numbers.

The BRC said it had already observed a spike in late February retail sales, especially in food, as the health crisis began to have an impact across Europe.

Non-food stores were expected to sink even further into a crisis that was already affecting the sector even before the Covid-19 crisis began, as many Britons change their consumer behaviour.

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