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    Record grocery sales in March as coronavirus sparked panic buying

    Shoppers queue at a supermarket, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in London, Britain March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

    Grocery sales leapt more than a fifth to a record £10.8 billion in the four weeks to March 22, as Britons stocked up on everything from pasta to pet food ahead of a countrywide lockdown to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

    Market researchers Kantar said on Tuesday the average household spent an extra £62.92 over the four weeks, equivalent to adding five days worth of groceries.

    “That’s even higher than levels seen at Christmas, the busiest time of year under normal circumstances,” said Fraser McKevitt, Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight.

    Sales jumped 20.6 percent year-on-year, while online grocery spending was up 13 percent. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put Britain into coronavirus lockdown on March 23.

    Rival researcher Nielsen found Britons made over 79 million extra grocery shopping trips in the four week period.

    Its data showed that in the last week of February and the first week of March, shoppers focused on stockpiling necessities, such as medicines, cleaning supplies, pet care items and ambient groceries, such as pasta and rice. This continued through to the third week, with a consistent rise in sales of these “pandemic pantry” items.

    In the fourth week, many shoppers started to fill their freezers too, with sales of frozen food leaping 84 perecent on the same period last year.

    This was also the week in which the government announced the closure of pubs and restaurants, resulting in a 67 percent surge in beer, wine and spirits sales.

    Convenience stores appeared to benefit from people shopping more often and following guidance to stay closer to home.  Collectively, smaller branches of the major retailers and independently-owned outlets increased their share of spend to 13.3 percent, growing sales by 30 percent compared with the same four weeks a year ago, according to Kantar Data.

    McKevitt expects restrictions on movement and relatively full grocery cupboards will mean the frequency of shopping trips will drop off over the coming weeks.

    He reckons regular trips to smaller local stores are likely to continue, as people avoid travelling and social distancing queues at larger stores with one-in-one-out policies in place.

    “While much-reported panic buying has been concentrated to a relatively low number of individuals so far, we anticipate that this too will subside as consumers gain confidence in the retailers’ abilities to maintain grocery supplies,” McKevitt added.

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