United Kingdom

Cost of fruit, vegetables and other groceries set to rise amid the coronavirus pandemic

The cost of food looks set to continue to rise as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, a leading retail expert has warned.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said the cost of groceries will rise amid surging demand and, the price of fresh produce like fruit and vegetables, will be driven up by higher farm labour costs.  

Panic-buying shoppers make an extra 42million trips to supermarkets in just four days towards the latter stages of last month, with supermarket sales rising over 20 per cent in a four week period, according to figures published by Kantar this week. 

Many supermarkets have axed multi-buys and other discounts, while also trimming their product lines to focus on the most in-demand items they can keep re-stocking.

On the up: The cost of food looks set to continue to rise as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, a leading retail expert has warned

But, with demand for many 'non-essential' products dwindling and shops forced to shut all around the country, the cost of non-food items is likely to fall over the next few weeks and months, the findings suggest.

With job losses and economic uncertainty gripping the nation, shoppers will also be driven to 'reconsider their spending patterns and to save more', Dickinson said. 

Across all sectors, shop prices slipped by 0.8 per cent year-on-year in the first week of March, marking the biggest drop since May 2018. Back in February, shop prices fell by 0.6 per cent year-on-year, the British Retail Consortium and research group Neilsen said. 

In the first week of March, food prices rose by 1.1 per cent year-on-year, which is lower than the rise seen in February. 

The cost of non-food products fell by 1.9 per cent in in early March, which is the same as the drop seen a months earlier. 

The price of ambient food, including tinned products and other store-cupboard essentials, rose by 2 per cent at the start of March, down from the 3 per cent growth seen in February.   

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, said: 'The weak demand for many goods and services means non-food retailers continued to battle hard for consumer spending by keeping prices down wherever possible.

'And across supermarkets, the recent upwards pressure on food prices slowed a little in March, with a slowdown in the rate of inflation in both ambient and fresh foods.'

In the last few weeks, supermarkets have seen a surge in demand amid the growing tide of Government restrictions on people's movements. 

On many High Streets up and down the country, the only shops open are supermarkets and pharmacies, both of which are attracting large queues and often adopting a one-in-one out policy.

Many shoppers have faced difficulty securing delivery slots for their online supermarket shops, and those still able to go in-store are still finding empty shelves for core products like pasta and rice.

Desperate: In many areas, supermarkets and pharmacies are the only shops open

Social distancing? People have been forced to shop in-store as online deliveries surge

Stocking matters: Many supermarkets have axed multi-buy promotions 

Easing: Some supermarkets like Waitrose have started to loosen some of their restrictions

But, some supermarkets have already started to loosen some of their restrictions on shopper purchases. 

Aldi, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda have relaxed restrictions on some of their products which were imposed in the wake of mass stockpiling earlier this month. 

Customers shopping at Aldi can now buy as many products as they want across most lines, with the exception of toilet roll, hand wash, certain canned foods and UHT milk, baby formula, two antibacterial hand gels and alcohol. 

Morrisons has increased the limits on some items from three to four per customer and axed some altogether to make it easier for people to donate to food banks. 

Waitrose has scrapped its cap on all fresh food, so meat, fish, poultry and other fresh goods can now be snapped up freely along with fruit and vegetables. Restrictions, do, however, still apply to certain popular products like toilet paper. 

Asda has also axed limits on fruit and vegetables and chilled products, while Tesco, Sainsbury's and Co-op have kept their sales restriction policies the same for the time being. 

Eighty-eight per cent of households in Britain visited a supermarket between 16 and 19 March, making 42million extra trips, figures from Kantar published earlier this week showed. 

Average household spend at supermarkets was over £60 higher than normal, while sales of alcohol rose by 22 per cent year-on-year after pubs and restaurants were forced to shut their doors.

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