Accidental stockpilers driving shelf shortages

New data from Kantar shows extra demand in supermarkets is largely being driven by people adding a few extra items to baskets and making more trips, rather than shoppers buying large amounts of the same item in one go. 

Analysing the shopping habits of over 100,000 UK consumers, Kantar found that just a minority of people are engaging in what might traditionally be thought of as stockpiling.  For example, 6% of liquid soap buyers have taken home extraordinary quantities, and only 3% of dry pasta shoppers.  

Instead a significant number of consumers are adding a few extra products each time they visit a store.  The average spend per supermarket trip rose by 16% in the week ending 17 March to £22.13 compared to the same week a month ago.  As consumers reallocated spend to groceries, supermarkets took 51% of all retail sales, an increase of 7 percentage points on mid-February.  

Customers are also choosing to shop more often, exacerbating the impact of slightly larger baskets.  An additional 15 million supermarket visits were made in the week ending 17 March, compared to the week ending 17 February.      

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “Most of us have seen images circulating online of people bulk buying but our data gives us a different, if counterintuitive, diagnosis of what’s happening.  

“Ultimately we need to look at the empirical evidence and it tells us that temporary shortages are being caused by people adding just a few extra items and shopping more often – behaviour that consumers wouldn’t necessarily think of as stockpiling.  People will also be eating in more as a result of social distancing and increased working from home.  Consumers spend more than £4 billion each month on food and drink out of the home, a significant proportion of which will now be channelled through the supermarkets.”

McKevitt said: “It’s not just how much people are buying but what.  We’re seeing customers shop beyond their normal, regular product choice, putting pressure on supplies of items that aren’t usually bought as often.  Purchasing typically made over a couple of weeks or longer is being concentrated into a few days.

“Retailers have adapted to make sure everyone can access the products they need, with many restricting the number of any one good each customer can buy.  However, the cumulative impact of a little extra, a little bit more often means these measures may have limited effect in the short term.” 

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