A third of shoppers say they are stockpiling over coronavirus fears

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A long line of shoppers queue to buy groceries at a supermarket in Chingford, London, Britain, March 9, 2020, as panic buying arises amid heightening coronavirus fears, in photo obtained from social media. Ashraf Karim Eddin/via REUTERS

More than a third of respondents (34%) told a survey that they are already stockpiling food, anticipating a major coronavirus outbreak.

The consumer survey held by HIM & MCA Insight this month has also found that two in three shoppers (67%) are concerned about stores running out of groceries due to the virus disruptions.

“The perceived growing threat of coronavirus is becoming more of a concern for UK grocery shoppers and this is being reflected in their beliefs and actions,” said Blonnie Walsh, head of insight at HIM and MCA Insight.

The survey reveals that tinned foods (17%), frozen foods (14%), toiletries (14%) and dried goods (14%) are the most popular categories that shoppers are already stocking up on.

The impact of stockpiling is already visible with several supermarkets imposing limits on the purchase of certain goods after shelves were emptied.

The survey predicts a serious stress on supply chain as 88 percent of shoppers say they will stockpile food if there is a major coronavirus outbreak.

Tinned foods (59%), frozen foods (52%), dried goods (50%), household goods (47%) and wipes/hand gels (35%) top the list of items shoppers plan to top up.

Signage advising customers about shortages of hand wash is seen on a shelf inside a Tesco supermarket in Manchester, Britain, March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The government and industry have reiterated that all measures are in place to ensure the continued supply of food in response to the virus outbreak.

“Our retailers have well-established contingency plans in place and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement.

“I will continue to work closely with them over the coming days and weeks on this.”

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, has also confirmed that the stock levels are good.

“The challenge for retailers has been to make sure all of it reaches shelves at the earliest opportunity. It is essential that government continues to engage on other ways to alleviate the challenges for retailers,” he said.

The government on Monday said it will temporarily relax the enforcement of restrictions on night time deliveries to food retailers to support industry’s response to the coronavirus.

Sales have more than tripled in recent weeks in Britain, which as of Monday had 319 confirmed cases of the virus, including five deaths.

According to Kantar data, liquid soap sales increased by seven percent and household cleaning products by 10 percent in the four weeks to February 23 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Tesco last weekend introduced measures to limit purchases to a maximum five items for products including pasta, anti-bacterial hand-wipes and gels, and long-life milk.

The supermarket giant, which has nearly 3,500 stores in Britain, is so far the only supermarket chain to have imposed restrictions on food items.

Others such as Waitrose have limited the online sale of some wipes and soaps, while Asda is only allowing the purchase of two anti-bacterial gels in stores and online.

“There is no doubt that retailers, suppliers and wholesalers are monitoring the situation closely and doing as much as they can. Advice and communication is critical in these situations to help manage shopper needs and mitigate panic,” Walsh commented.