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Stockpiling and on-trade closure send off-trade BWS sales through the roof

Published:  31 March, 2020

Off-trade sales of beer, wine and spirits (BWS) surged 67% in the week to 21 March - the week the government announced the closure of the on-trade. 

Fuelled by consumers stockpiling in a bid to prepare for the inevitable coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown, the surge in alcohol sales marked a shift from consumers stockpiling on essential items to focussing on “stocking on items to maintain their lifestyles”, said Nielsen as part of research released today. 

Overall supermarket sales in the week were up 43%, while sales in the full four weeks to 21 March increased 20.5% compared to the same period last year.  

While stockpiling continued across the four-week period, Nielsen said shoppers typically added just one extra item to their basket during each shopping trip, with the average shopping basket increasing from 10 items to 11 items, and average basket spend rising from £15 to £16 during this period. 

Shoppers made three additional shopping trips during the four weeks, which in total equates to a whopping 79 million more shopping trips than the same time last year, all of which adds up to an extra £1.9bn spent on groceries. 

Moreover, online grocery sales began to pick up and increased by 14% in the four week period, with two in 10 households shopping online, representing 600 thousand new households shopping online compared to the same period last year, with an additional 1.2 million online grocery orders placed over the four weeks. 

“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. As well as increased store visits, consumers opted to shop online - many for the first time. However, unlike stores there is a finite capacity for online grocery shopping, due to warehouse capacity and available delivery slots, and this will have limited the growth of online sales,” said Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight. 

In terms of category performance, the Nielsen data shows that in the last week of February and the first week of March, shoppers focused on ‘stockpiling’ necessities, such as medicines for the family, cleaning supplies, household and pet care items and ambient groceries (shelf stable food). This continued through to the third week, with a consistent rise in these ‘pandemic pantry’ items, followed in the fourth week by consumers stocking up their freezers and alcohol cupboards.

Looking forward, Nielsen expected 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”, added Watkins.