Stockpiling among British shoppers causes beer, wine and spirits sales to spike dramatically

31 March, 2020

Sales of beer, wine and spirits grew by a remarkable 67% in the UK off-trade during the week to March 21.

That week saw the British government close all bars, pubs and restaurants in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Brits responded by piling into supermarkets, convenience stores and independent merchants to fill their houses with alcoholic drinks.

Total store sales grew 43.1% in the week to March 21, making it the largest sales spike of the year so far, according to Nielsen. Beers, wines and spirits significantly outperformed the retail market, while frozen food sales also skyrocketed.

In the four weeks to March 21, British shoppers made 79 million shopping trips, and the average size of their shopping baskets has grown 10% year-on-year.

“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,” said Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retailer and business insight.

“In any case, the increased base level of sales that we’ve seen over the last several weeks won't suddenly evaporate, growths won’t suddenly plummet to the levels we saw back in January and February before the crisis took hold.

“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.”

Some independent stores have closed their doors in an effort to protect staff from the virus, but others are enjoying a roaring trade while practicing safe social distancing. Online retailers like Laithwaite’s have also seen a huge increase in demand, but The Wine Society decided to stop trading.

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