Supermarkets including Tesco, Aldi and Morrisons have reintroduced a limit on the number of items customers can buy over fears of a repeat of the stockpiling panic seen in stores at the start of the pandemic.
Bosses at Morrisons have introduced curbs on toilet roll and hand gel with shortages already being reported in stores up and down the country as Britain braces itself for a second wave of coronavirus.
Shelves have been emptied following Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Tuesday night, in which he outlined a new raft of restrictions which could last for up to six months.
Tesco supermarkets have started rationing toilet roll, with a notice on the shelf at a store in Ely, Cambridgeshire, today limiting it to just one pack per customer.
Shelves had also been emptied of rice, pasta and baked beans at the supermarket. The notice said: ‘Due to availability issues toilet roll is currently restricted to one per customer.’
Meanwhile an Aldi store appears to have once again set limits on the amount customers can buy, with a notice appearing at a store in Sydenham, South East London, forbidding shoppers from bulk buying essential items.
As concerns have grown, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) urged customers to be considerate of others and ‘shop as you normally would’.
Some of the supermarket giants have insisted they are well stocked and will not need to cap how much of a certain product shoppers can purchase.
However, Morrisons is taking steps to avoid the chaotic scenes earlier this year when shoppers stacked trolleys full of precious commodities in case leaving the house became difficult, depriving many others of essentials.
MORRISONS: A Leicester supermarket’s shelves are pictured empty today as fears grow Britain faces a second national lockdown with the prospect of food shortages
TESCO: Sign spotted on shelves in a store in Ely, Cambridgeshire, today telling customers they are limited to buying just one pack of rolls each
TESCO: Tesco supermarkets, including this one in Ely, have started rationing toilet roll
The graphic above shows the break down of what Britons spent their cash on in the supermarkets when panic buying started back in March
A man leaves a Costco store in Manchester with a trolley full of toilet paper on Tuesday
A spokesman told The Grocer: ‘We are introducing a limit on a small number of key products, such as toilet roll and disinfectant. Our stock levels of these products are good, but we want to ensure that they are available for everyone.’
Sainsbury’s introduced a purchasing cap on certain items this year but told MailOnline today no such restrictions were currently in place.
Similarly, a Waitrose spokeswoman said: ‘It’s not something we are doing at the moment. We are holding good levels in all key product areas and we have also looked at the items people bought early in lockdown and planned ahead.’
Meanwhile, Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis told Sky News earlier this week that the grocer has ‘very good supplies of food’.
He said: ‘We just don’t want to see a return to unnecessary panic buying because that creates a tension in the supply chain that’s not necessary. And therefore we would just encourage customers to continue to buy as normal.’
The UK’s largest grocery chains introduced health and safety measures to cope with the pandemic earlier this year as stores remained open due to their essential status, although some restrictions have been relaxed in recent months.
The stores were among the main beneficiaries when lockdown restrictions were first introduced, and demand for online shopping surged in March as customers were told to stay at home, with grocers rapidly growing their online operations as a result.
The supermarkets have said the expansion has allowed them to cope with higher demand as restrictions tighten again.
Shares in online retailer Ocado have jumped over the past week due increasing demand, as industry analysts have reported high booking figures for online shopping slots.
Wholesale shop Costco has this week been inundated with customers with stores in Leeds, London and Manchester seeing a surge in visitors.
Many stores had to erect barriers to regulate the growing queues, and shoppers were seen leaving with overflowing trollies as they stocked up on supplies.
As customers flooded social media with pictures of empty aisles, one shopper declared: ‘It’s happening again.’
More empty spaces inside the Tesco supermarket in Ely, Cambridgeshire where loo rolls have been limited to one pack per customer amid rise in demand over lockdown fears
Products have been flying off the shelves at this Sainsbury’s store in Taplow, Buckinghamshire
However, Giles Hurley, the CEO of Aldi UK, Britain’s fifth-largest supermarket group, emailed customers on Tuesday to reassure them following Mr Johnson’s address.
‘Our stores remain fully stocked and ask that you continue to shop considerately. There is no need to buy more than you usually would,’ he said.
Analysts are sceptical that another round of panic buying will materialise and also believe supermarkets are much better prepared for any possible spike in demand.
‘We believe that the public has more confidence in its food system,’ said Shore Capital analyst Clive Black.
Analysts do, however, expect a boon to supermarkets’ trading from the new restrictions on Britain’s hospitality industry.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘We urge consumers to be considerate of others and shop as they normally would.’
He played down the presence of panic-buying and paid tribute to the ‘excellent job’ of retailers to provide food during the pandemic.
Reassuring the public, he added: ‘Supply chains are stronger than ever before and we do not anticipate any issues in the availability of food or other goods under any future lockdown.’
But supermarkets are bolstering security at their doors and have doubled the number of delivery slots.
Meanwhile, Asda has announced 1,000 new safety marshals to help enforce the Government’s advice to wear and face mask and will give sanitised baskets and trolleys to customer as they enter the store.
Morrisons also said it has reinstated wardens to store entrances to ensure rules are enforced.
However, most health and safety measures have stayed the same at supermarkets despite the new announcement.
Measures at Sainsbury’s and Tesco are understood to be broadly unchanged from recent months, with staff ensuring shopper numbers are limited in stores, with people queuing outside in line with distancing rules.
Long snaking queues also formed at Costco in Chingford, north London earlier this week, with specialist barriers set up in a zig zag formation to control the growing crowds
Costco wholesale stores across the UK saw a surge in shoppers this week, leading to long queues (pictured: Costco store, Leeds)
On Monday, the Prime Minister also introduced a 10pm curfew for bars, pubs and restaurants.
The curfew will not affect supermarkets or convenience stores.
However, some analysts have suggested the move – and another potential decline in commuter numbers after people were told to work from home – could boost supermarket demand as eating out habits are impacted by the measures.
Clive Black and Darren Shirley at Shore Capital said the new guidance could result in a ‘step back’ in the recovery of food-to-go specialists, which would prove a ‘hammer-blow’ to the likes of Greggs and Pret A Manger.
They said ‘demand for grocery retail is likely to be boosted once again’ as more meals are eaten at home.
Tesco and Asda have been approached for comment on purchasing limits.