How Shopper Stockpiling Behaviour is Evolving

“Stockpiling” has become a very loaded term in the last month - socially undesirable and conjuring up images of a trolley full of loo roll. Combine this with the restrictions placed on essential items and limited availability of many key lines and suddenly stockpiling masses of non-perishables isn’t so possible. Last week, just 18% of shoppers “had bought more than usual” of certain products, i.e. stockpiling.

Back at the start of March, we asked consumers to predict what they would stockpile “if there was a major Coronavirus outbreak”. Well, we can safely say that is now our reality and so we have compared this to our stockpiled list collected last week. It turns out that UK consumers were poor predictors of what they would and wouldn’t be stockpiling. Relative to what they thought they would be buying in greater quantities, consumers are less likely to be buying categories such as toiletries, household, and pet food. A large factor in this will be restrictions and availability, with 72% of consumers having to buy alternatives to the products that usually buy because they were unavailable.

The beneficiaries - the categories that shoppers were more likely to stockpile than predicted - were surprising. These “winning” categories were fruit and veg, chilled food and dairy. Arguably more perishable than you would expect to see on a “stockpiled” list, but certainly more available. I would put myself into this category, as more than once I found myself staring at empty shelves in my local Co-op and buying the last available ready meal, something I wouldn’t usually buy (it was delicious, no shade intended).

There is likely to be the attitude of “if you see it, buy it” because it might not be there for long. Equally, we have seen lots of evidence of consumers getting more adventurous in their home cooking. Forget peak stockpiling - we’ve reached peak banana bread. In fact, 45% are making more effort to cook at home more due to the coronavirus; 20% are having more meals as a family; and 17% have tried out a new recipe in the last week. This is all more conducive to fresh products that consumers can have more confidence they aren’t going to waste.

Self-isolation is at the forefront of shopper’s minds when they are storing these products, with 48% worried they will catch covid-19 and spend 14 days with what they have in the fridge. Another 52% agree that they “want to be prepared for any situation”. Consumers clearly have more time at home for preparing meals, but just because they are stockpiling this food doesn’t mean that their consumption patterns have changed.  

The categories stockpiled at first (for example toilet roll) aren't expandable. Just because you have more toilet roll at home you won't use more of it. Now we see purchase behaviour move into more expandable categories – such as milk, fruit and veg, confectionery and many more. If you have it at home, you are likely to consume more.

However, buying more doesn’t necessarily mean consuming more. In short, this line of thinking has committed a mortal sin: raising a question that it isn’t answering. Luckily, we are collecting this data as you read this. Stay tuned for next week, when we find out if increased stockpiling = increased consumption.


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