COVID-19 – shopper research focusing on availability and stockpiling - 23-25 July 2021

Date : 27 July 2021

Rising COVID-19 cases and self-isolation

The Delta variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly in recent weeks. Businesses have been raising concerns about the increased number of employees being advised to self-isolate for up to 10 days, following notification from the Test and Trace App that they had been in close contact with someone reporting a positive COVID-19 test result.

This has created operational challenges for businesses as a result of the number of workers absent due to self-isolation requirements. Although there are sufficient food supplies within the system and the impact on availability has been limited to date, there are concerns that any further increase in retail demand, as schools break up and more people opt for staycations, will exacerbate the challenges.

Government response

To ensure food supply is protected the government has announced that daily contact testing will be rolled out to critical workplaces at supermarket depots and food manufacturers’ sites. It will mean that workers who are alerted by the app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace will be able to continue working if they test negative, whether or not they are vaccinated.

In addition, a critical worker scheme applies to a number of roles in the food supply chain. Employers are already in contact with Defra and approvals will follow shortly for named critical workers who if identified as a contact can continue to attend their workplaces if they are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

While shoppers wait for these measures to take effect, what are food and grocery shoppers experiencing in-store and online?

Availability concerns

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Although there are not thought to be overall shortages, shoppers are experiencing availability issues for some food and grocery categories (in shopper research conducted for IGD over this last weekend 23-25 July 2021).

  • Half (50%) of adults claim to have experienced shortages of some food and groceries in-store or online recently
  • Claimed shortages are significantly higher in the north east and southern England compared to other regions
  • Claimed shortages are highest for fresh produce (20%). This is double the level compared to any other category. Other higher-ranking categories include soft drinks (12%), dairy, bakery (both 11%), frozen, fresh meat or fish and alcohol (all 10%)

Limited stockpiling

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Claimed shortages of some product lines does not appear to be leading to stockpiling. Only around a quarter of adults (28%) claimed to have stockpiled or bought extra recently due to COVID-19. This has declined from 50% in January during the last lockdown and a high of 64% in April last year.

A third (34%) say they will or might stock up. While this is higher than current claimed stockpiling, it is lower than in Jan’21 (45%) and a high of 60% in March’20

Stockpiling is highest among 18-24s (43%), those with children at home (37%) and those living in London (36%).

Category differences

Click table to enlarge

The table above shows that top categories that have been stocked up (toilet paper (9%), tins and packaged foods (8%), breakfast cereals and hand sanitiser (both 7%)) are mainly different to the categories that shoppers claim to be in short supply.

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