UK lockdown boosted Brits’ supermarket spend in March

All personal care categories save cosmetics saw a sales uptick due to consumer stockpiling

Anyone who’s attempted to visit their local supermarket in recent weeks will be unsurprised to hear of new data confirming that UK residents made 79 million extra grocery shops last month.

Findings published by market analyst Nielsen showed UK supermarket takings surged 20.5% during the four-week period from 24 February to 21 March, compared with the same period of 2019.

This was especially pronounced in the week ending 21 March, which leapt 43% prior to the implementation of restricted shopper numbers to ensure social distancing.

“With households making almost three extra shopping trips in the last four weeks, this small change in individual shopping behaviour has led to a seismic shift in overall shopping patterns,” commented Mike Watkins, UK Head of Retail and Business Insight at Nielsen.

In terms of category performance, Nielsen data shows that in the last week of February and the first week of March, shoppers focused on stockpiling necessities, such as medicines, cleaning supplies, household and pet care items and ambient groceries (shelf stable food).

Supermarket personal care goods, including bathroom products, hair care, oral care and deodorants, fit into this category of ‘pandemic pantry’ items.

However, Nielsen data shows that in the week ending 21st March, many shoppers switched their spend to items for lockdown, such as frozen food, as well as beers, wines and spirits in the wake of the UK government’s closure of pubs and restaurants.

“Among the best performing non-food items was bath and shower products at 167% growth versus the same time last year,” Nick Sumner, Nielsen Client Team Lead, told Cosmetics Business.

“This placed the category at the top of key beauty and personal care categories, although we do see an uptick in value growth from other key areas such as hair care (+41%) and oral care (+61%).

“All personal care categories saw growth, with only cosmetics in the beauty category seeing decline,” Sumner added.

Grocery retail giant Tesco, while unable to comment on specific product sectors due to the speed at which the current situation is evolving, told Cosmetics Business that it had curbed stockpiling among consumers by introducing a limit of three items per product and by removing some of its promotions, including multibuy, in order to manage stock levels. Likewise, the flow of essentials was said to be at a “record level”.

With such measures in place to ensure that shelves are full and aisles are, well, rather less full, it is unlikely the UK’s grocers will witness another spike in sales as dramatic as March’s, as Nielsen predicts.

“As British shoppers become more accustomed to what the quarantine means for their daily lives, and restricted living becomes the new norm, we expect to see shopping behaviour evolve to become more local as shoppers are unable, or unwilling, to travel further than is necessary for immediate needs such as fresh foods,” noted Watkins.

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