Two of the Britain’s biggest supermarkets have reintroduced purchasing limits on household staples as they try to discourage stockpiling and avoid a repeat of the spike in demand that preceded the March lockdown.
Tesco, the market leader with more than 2,000 UK stores, put a three-item buying limit on flour, dried pasta, toilet roll, baby wipes and anti-bacterial wipes from Friday morning.
“To ensure that everyone can keep buying what they need, we have introduced bulk-buy limits on a small number of products,” the company said. “We would encourage our customers to shop as normal”.
Its move follows a similar decision by smaller rival Wm Morrison, which on Thursday introduced limits on products including toilet roll and bleach.
The decisions come against a backdrop of sharply rising coronavirus infections and growing restrictions on social gatherings across much of the UK.
Other supermarkets have so far declined to follow, but most said they were monitoring sales and footfall closely.
Giles Hurley, UK chief executive of discounter Aldi, wrote to customers this week to reassure them “that our stores remain fully stocked” and to request that they “continue to shop considerately”. “There is no need to buy more than you usually would,” he added.
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods, tweeted that customers could “buy all the toilet roll you like — there’s no product shortages and certainly no need for panic buying.”
There had been a “small uplift” in shopping trips and average spend in the week to September 20, according to market research group Kantar. There was also a 14 per cent increase in sales of oral painkillers and 19 per cent in toilet rolls.
But Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, cautioned against reading too much into a single week’s data and said the increased spend was “not dramatic, and certainly nothing like the changes seen in March”.
In the week to March 22, just before lockdown began, households spent more than £10bn on groceries — more than they usually would in the run-up to Christmas — according to Kantar.
That increase was caused by shoppers making additional trips and buying a few more items each time, according to Mr McKevitt, rather than piling trolleys high.
Boris Johnson, prime minister, introduced new coronavirus restrictions in England this week and warned the government could implement stricter rules if coronavirus cases continued to increase. In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon went further, banning households from visiting each others’ homes.
The measures are nowhere near the draconian shutdown imposed six months ago, when all but essential shops closed along with schools, universities and the entire hospitality industry.
Mr McKevitt pointed out that supermarkets had also had time to adjust to higher levels of demand and had significantly expanded online delivery capability.