UK supermarkets limit purchases as shoppers step up panic buying
LONDON: Panic buying by British shoppers escalated yesterday with shelves stripped bare by customers hoarding for coronavirus isolation, prompting supermarkets Tesco and Sainsbury's to restrict purchases.
There have been at least 1,950 confirmed cases and more than 70 deaths in Britain so far.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has faced criticism for acting too slowly and too cautiously, said on Tuesday there was no reason to stockpile and that food supplies were safe.
But shoppers are spooked.
Aisle after aisle were left empty, with just ice cream and chocolate Easter eggs remaining at many major stores.
Huge queues snaked around some supermarkets yesterday.
"It is getting worse," said a source at one of Britain's major supermarket groups.
Sainsbury's is to restrict purchases. Tesco is allowing shoppers to buy just two packs of certain items such as dried pasta, toilet roll and long-life milk.
Britain's big grocers, including market leader Tesco , Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons, along with discounters Aldi and Lidl, have struggled for over a week to keep shelves stocked.
"We have enough food coming into the system but are limiting sales so it stays on shelves longer and can be bought by (more) customers," Sainsbury's chief executive Mike Coupe said in a letter to customers.
Aldi on Monday became the first British grocer to introduce rationing, limiting customers to buying four items of any one product during each visit.
Morrisons cautioned it was facing extraordinary times.
"We are currently facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty dealing with Covid-19," said the company's chairman Andrew Higginson and CEO David Potts.
The supermarket industry says it is working closely with suppliers to keep food moving and is making more deliveries to stores to get shelves restocked.
It says supplies are still coming in from other parts of Europe, despite lockdowns.
One executive said the government was only just starting to understand the enormity of the crisis for the industry. - REUTERS