‘No need to panic buy’: supermarkets urge shoppers to stay calm

Retailers speak out as customers strip shelves amid second lockdown fears

Empty shelves at a Manchester supermarket in March
Retailers speak out as customers strip shelves amid second lockdown fears
(Image credit: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

UK supermarket chains are trying to prevent a fresh spate of panic buying amid growing fears of a second national lockdown.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Boris Johnson warned that the government could not rule out another UK-wide shutdown if his latest social distancing measures fail to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Supermarket bosses are now calling for calm in a bid to avoid a repeat of the chaos seen in aisles when the first lockdown was implemented back in March, with panicked customers across the country bulk-buying toilet paper, tinned goods and other household staples.

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‘Panic buying has begun’

Despite reassurances from retailers that stock is plentiful, shop shelves are already “being stripped of bleach, toilet paper and other hygiene products”, The Mirror reports.

Shopper Amit Karia shared a picture on Twitter showing another customer bulk-buying toilet rolls at a Farmfoods in Ilford.

He told the newspaper: “The woman had eight packs and will come back in later and buy eight more. The reason why she [is] carrying [them] is because there are no trolleys left. People were buying big as everyone [is] afraid of lockdown.”

Another shopper told GrimsbyLive: “People have definitely started to panic buy again. It’s ridiculous. The only reason why we had these issues last time is because people were buying too much for themselves and not leaving enough for the rest of us.

“If we just get our heads together and buy only what we need, we won’t have to worry about it, no matter whether we have a second lockdown or not.”

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Customers reassured

While some shoppers are busy filling their trolleys, supermarket bosses have called for calm and insist that supply chains are operating as usual.

Dave Lewis, the outgoing chief executive of Tesco, has pleaded for customers to shop normally, adding that stockpiling was “unnecessary”.

In an interview with Ian King Live on Sky News, Lewis said: “The message would be one of reassurance. I think the UK saw how well the food industry managed last time, so there’s very good supplies of food.

“We just don’t want to see a return to unnecessary panic buying because that creates a tension in the supply chain that’s not necessary. And therefore we would just encourage customers to continue to buy as normal.”

The UK boss of Aldi, Giles Hurley, has also told customers that there is “no need to buy more than you usually would”, The Guardian reports.

In a letter to shoppers, Hurley said: “I would like to reassure you that our stores remain fully stocked and ask that you continue to shop considerately.

“We have remained open for our customers throughout the pandemic and will continue to have daily deliveries, often multiple times a day, across all of our products.”

Online is new normal

Online grocery delivery has become the norm for millions of people in the UK since the first lockdown.

Ocado’s chief executive Tim Steiner has said that the switch to internet shopping has “permanently redrawn” the retail landscape.

That claim has been backed by the findings of a survey of 2,000 people by Waitrose in August, which showed that 77% did at least some of their grocery shopping online, compared with 61% a year ago. And 60% said they shopped for groceries online more frequently since the pandemic.

The online shopping boom has seen supermarket chains scrambling to increase their delivery operations.

The Independent reports that Tesco’s online capacity had almost doubled from 600,000 weekly delivery slots in March to 1.5 million in September. The supermarket giant last month announced the creation of 16,000 new permanent roles to bolster its delivery capabilities.

As stores now prepare to face even greater demand for deliveries, Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), has urged customers to be “considerate of others”.

“Supply chains are stronger than ever and we do not anticipate any issues in the availability of food or other goods under a future lockdown,” he said.

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.