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Record grocery sales as Britons stockpiled ahead of coronavirus lockdown

LONDON (Reuters) - Grocery sales leapt more than a fifth to a record 10.8 billion pounds ($13.3 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 pounds ($77.36) 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% year-on-year, while online grocery spending was up 13%. 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% 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% surge in beer, wine and spirits sales.

DROP OFF

Kantar’s 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.

Over the 12 weeks to March 22, Sainsbury’s SBRY.L, Britain's No. 2 supermarket group was the fastest growing of the traditional big four players, with growth of 7.4%, followed by market leader Tesco TSCO.L at 5.5%, Walmart WMT.N owned Asda at 4.9% and Morrisons MRW.L at 4.6%," Kantar said.

Iceland benefited from shoppers stocking up on frozen items, with sales up by 11.7%.

Reporting by James Davey; editing by Paul Sandle and Mark Potter

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