Coronavirus: Food sales soar at fastest rate in 26 years - but what are we eating?

May 27, 2020

Supermarket food shops soared faster during the coronavirus pandemic than at any time in at least 26 years as households stockpiled and hunkered down, fresh data shows.

With families in COVID-19 lockdown, online grocery shopping rocketed by 75% over the past three months, compared with the same period last year, according to market researchers at Kantar.

With people unable to go to restaurants, takeaway deliveries have also experienced a boom, up by 250% year-on-year.

The warm sunny weather has seen more people enjoying picnics, helping boost sales of chilled dips by 22%, crisps by 28% and fizzy drinks by 25%, during the past four weeks.

Ice cream sales were up 40% over the period, and with pubs still shut alcohol sales were 50% higher than last year.

Barbecue weather for many may have encouraged shoppers to spend £17m more on burgers and £24m more on sausages year-on-year.

The VE Day bank holiday on 8 May helped make the previous day the biggest shopping day of the month with £488m spent on groceries.

Kantar found supermarket sales leapt 14.3% in the 12 weeks to 17 May, the fastest rate since 1994.

Over the same period online shopping hit a new peak, accounting for 11.5% of all grocery sales as families were encouraged to get home deliveries.

And in more recent weeks, customers are heading back into stores but are sticking with bigger weekly shops.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: "People have been working their way through their store cupboards over the past couple of months and some will now be spending a bit more on each visit to the supermarket to replenish supplies."

He added: "While these are bumper figures, it remains true that the overall picture for some grocers will be less positive, as supermarkets continue to feel the impact of a considerable reduction in on-the-go spend on meals, drinks and snacks.

"Those categories usually add up to £1bn over the course of 12 weeks and they aren't included in these numbers."

He also said with shoppers visiting supermarkets 3.5 times a week on average, 100 million fewer trips were made - although spending per trip increased 50% to £27.41 on average.

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Families with adult children have seen the greatest increase in spending, with an average monthly spend of £618 compared with £545 last May.

Mr McKevitt added: "While the gains made by online shopping are unlikely to be sustained at these levels, the crisis has certainly accelerated the move towards online.

"The grocers have attracted a new group of customers, in particular older demographics, and we expect some of them may continue using online services and enjoying the convenience that home delivery provides."

All 10 major supermarkets and the combined group of independent retailers increased sales in the 12 weeks to 17 May.

However, some of these gains will have been offset by a decline in so-called "on-the-go" purchasing, including breakfasts, lunches and snacks as well as any sales to businesses or schools.

Online food retailer Ocado saw sales rise by 32.5%, with its market share increasing to a new high of 1.6%, up from 1.3% last year.

Shoppers staying closer to home and avoiding queues at large supermarkets benefited both Co-op, up by 30.8%, and independent retailers, up by 63.1%.

Co-op reached 7.0% market share, a level last achieved in 2011.

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