Stockpiling and Panic Buying Gives U.K. Grocers a Bumper Month


&copy Bloomberg. Shoppers wait on the street for the general opening of the store, during a time set aside for elderly and vulnerable members of the community to shop, at an Iceland Foods Ltd. store in London, U.K. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) —

Britons stockpiling in anticipation of the coronavirus lockdown gave U.K. grocers their strongest month in more than a decade, even as they shunned other types of shopping, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

An index of grocery sales surged to the highest since 2009, and specialist food and drink stores also posted a strong increase.

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But retailers’ expectations overall plummeted to the lowest for 11 years, as consumers postponed discretionary purchases in the face of uncertainty about their jobs and health. Clothing and furniture are being especially hard hit, while car sales fell for the first time since November. Even online sales , which has boomed in recent years, slowed to below average.

The pandemic comes as a fresh blow to the U.K. sector. Stores had been hoping to enjoy a boost from an upswing in confidence after months of political deadlock and delays abated at the start of the year.

That boost has come to an abrupt end though, with households in lockdown, non-essential stores forced to shutter themselves and workers experiencing mass layoffs and reductions in hours. Even those food stores that have so far benefited anticipate orders to decline in April.

“These are extraordinary times for the retail sector,” said CBI Principal Economist Ben Jones. “Grocers are seeing a temporary increase in demand. But many other retailers are seriously suffering as households put off non-essential purchases and social distancing keeps people away.”

The CBI survey was conducted from Feb. 26 to March 13.

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