Surge in shopper demand driving swing to big stores

Date : 20 March 2020

Patrick Mitchell-Fox

Senior Retail Analyst

Commentary from around the UK food and grocery industry, acknowledging the massive sales spikes seen in the sector in the last two weeks, have flagged how demand is driving footfall to big stores above all.  While online has seen unprecedented levels of ordering, big stores remain substantially the largest channel in the UK market by volume, and are proving the key destination for meeting shoppers’ urgent needs in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency.

Market update from Greencore notes ‘pronounced change’ in channel mix

Commenting on his own business’ experience of the emergency, and the leap in shopper demand, Patrick Coveney, Chief Executive of Greencore, the UK’s leading manufacturer of fresh sandwiches said: ‘Currently from a demand perspective Group volumes are holding up well, albeit there is a pronounced change in mix across the different parts of the product portfolio and across customers’ (retailers’) store formats.’

Upturned dynamics for a slow-growing channel

While supermarkets and hypermarkets have been amongst the slower growing channels in the UK market in recent years, the recent unprecedented demand has seen shoppers focused in the first place on maximizing the scale of their baskets and stocking up with big packs.  Smaller stores, though also impacted by the surge, show a less pronounced spike owing, at least partly, to their predominance of foot-borne shoppers.

Other emergency impacts likely to drive core food retailing for the immediate future

Furthermore, food and grocery shopping will retain priority for consumers in the coming months.  This will be not only due to the de-prioritisation of other aspects of retail spending (with clothing sales for example down sharply, as recent comments from Next have confirmed), but also due to the major shift away from out-of-home spend on food and drink as, driven by government advice, consumers avoid pubs, cafes and restaurants.

For further information on global industry responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19) see: