Coronavirus: Panic buying ‘is like Christmas but not in a good way’ say retailers

The UK government has pledged the public will continue to have “the food and supplies they need” during the Covid-19 outbreak amid fears of panic buying and empty shelves.

While the Sainsbury’s Craigleith store in Edinburgh saw shelves almost stripped bare of kitchen roll, retailers nationally were confident that supermarkets would not run short of food and other essentials.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice held talks with supermarket and trade body bosses over food supply contingencies yesterday and said he was reassured retailers were taking “all the necessary steps” to keep shelves well-stocked.

He said: “Today I spoke with chief executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets to discuss their response to coronavirus.

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“The retailers reassured me they have well-established contingency plans and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.

“Retailers are continuing to monitor their supply chains and have robust plans in place to minimise disruption.

“I was particularly keen to hear how government could support their preparations and we’ve agreed to work closely together over the coming days and weeks.”

He added that there will be a further meeting with “industry, retailers and public sector organisations early next week” to discuss support for vulnerable groups who may be in isolation

The Environment Secretary said government and industry will remain in regular contact on the issue.

A retail source said that “all the major supermarket CEOs” were on the call and told Defra that sales have “picked up” over the past week.

“Sales demand for certain products, particularly hygiene, has been high,” the source said.

“They said it is like Christmas but not in a good way. It is the same level of demand.”

Prior to the talks, Tesco chairman John Allan told ITV that criticism over the how the government has dealt with the incident was “a little unfair”.

He said: “It is walking a difficult tightrope between and over-reacting and being accused of creating panic and under-reacting and being accused of complacency. I think it’s walking that tightrope quite well.

“There may be a few lines where there are temporary shortages but at Tesco there is no shortage of food in overall terms.”

High street health and beauty shops Superdrug and Boots have both reported customers clamouring for hand santisers, prompting limits of two per person.

A spokesman for PZ Cussons, which manufactures hygiene product Carex, said: “We have significantly increased the production of Carex hand gel and hand wash products, with our manufacturing facilities working at full capacity in response to the exceptional demand being experienced.”

A Waitrose spokesman said: “We are seeing more demand for some products such as cleaning products and hand sanitisers.

“We are working closely with our suppliers to ensure that we have stock available.”

Mr Hancock sought to reassure the public during an appearance on BBC Question Time on Thursday when he said the government had “supplies of the key things that are needed” and urged people not to panic-buy.

Trade groups have said they are slowly starting to see the impact of coronavirus on businesses outside the retail sector. Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, said: “We’re hearing from increasing numbers of businesses. Companies of all sizes need to stay up to date with official guidance, consider potential impacts on their day-to-day operations and act where possible to mitigate risks.”