UK supermarkets chart record sales from virus panic shopping

Panic shopping cleared shelves in the fruit and vegetable section of an Asda store in London last month. (AP pic)

LONDON: Britain’s supermarkets experienced their busiest month on record in March as the coronavirus outbreak saw shoppers empty shelves, industry data showed on Tuesday.

Total grocery sales, including in-stores and online, rocketed by a record 20.6 percent to a new high of £10.8 billion in the four weeks to March 22 compared with a year earlier, said retail research firm Kantar.

Alcohol sales jumped 22%, while cupboard ingredients and frozen foods combined surged 28%, Kantar said in a statement.

The figures do not include the impact of the nationwide lockdown – that had been widely expected and the UK government implemented it on March 23 in a bid to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Retailers and their staff have been on the front line as households prepare for an extended stay at home,” said Fraser McKevitt, Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight.

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

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

“Government advice may have been to get groceries delivered if possible but limited delivery slots meant that only 14.6% of households received an online delivery in the past four weeks, up from 13.8% in March 2019 but probably well below actual demand,” McKevitt noted.