Brits just spent a record amount on groceries, due to coronavirus stockpiling

Queuing up.
Queuing up.
Image: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
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Grocery sales in the UK are now at an all-time high, as millions of Brits stockpile during the coronavirus pandemic. In the four weeks ending March 22, some £10.82 billion ($13.24 billion) was spent at supermarkets across the country, 20% more than the previous period

The rise is partly because people have been simply buying more food and household items when they visit the local store. The average family spent £62.92 more than they would have normally, according to data released today by market research firm Kantar.

“With restaurants and cafés now closed, none of us can eat meals on the go any longer and an extra 503 million meals, mainly lunches and snacks, will be prepared and eaten at home every week for the foreseeable future,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at the organization, in a press release today.

The other big contributing factor is that Brits are going to the supermarket more often these days. Separate data today from market research firm Nielsen showed that an extra 79 million shopping trips were made during that four-week period, which equates to about three additional trips per family.

On the grocery delivery front, demand has soared to such a level that businesses like Ocado had been unable to fulfill customer needs. On March 18, the company suspended all access to its website until March 21, though that’s up and running again and wait times are only a few minutes as of writing. (Only existing customers are able to make purchases, however.)

That same level of in-store shopping growth might not last into the next four-week period. That’s because grocery stores have imposed restrictions on certain items—like pasta and hand soap—to prevent panic shopping that had made bare shelves an all-too-common sight across the UK. On top of that, the motivation to stockpile might wane in the future, as people grow more confident in the country’s ability to maintain food supplies and other necessities.

There is already some evidence of that happening. Starling Bank said yesterday that purchases at supermarkets have been falling, after peaking two weekends earlier. And Brits appear to be doing more shopping generally from home: Starling reported that online transactions surpassed in-store ones last week for the first time ever.