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18 Mar 2020 | 10:16

Sainbury's to ration key items, close food counters as panic buying soars

(Sharecast News) - Sainsbury's has introduced a dedicated elderly-only shopping hour and limited the number of key products shoppers can buy, as it became the latest supermarket to stem panic buying. Grocery shelves around the country have been stripped bare as shoppers, panicked by the coronavirus outbreak, stockpile items, and retailers have struggled to meet the unprecedented demand.

On 19 March, Sainsbury's will set aside the first hour in every supermarket for elderly and vulnerable customers only. "For all other customers, supermarkets will open one hour after the published opening time," chief executive Mike Coupe wrote in a letter to customers.

"I hope that you can respect this decision and will work with us as we try our best to help those that need it the most."

Online customers who are over 70 or have a disability will also have priority access to delivery slots from 23 March.

Products will also be rationed from Wednesday, with customers only able to buy a maximum of three of any grocery product, and a maximum of two on the most popular products, including toilet paper, soap and long-life milk. "We have enough food coming into the system, but are limiting sales so that it stays on shelves for longer and can be bought by a larger number of customers," Coupe wrote.

In-store cafes will be closed, along with all meat, fish and pizza counters. "This means we can free up our warehouse and lorry capacity for products that customers really need. It will also free up time for our store colleagues to focus on keeping the shelves as well stocked as possible," Coupe explained.

"We still have enough food for everyone - if we all just buy what we need for us and our families."

Sainsbury's is the latest UK grocer to try and dampen coronavirus-inspired panic buying. Also on Wednesday, Wm Morrison unveiled a series of measures aimed at tackling potential shortages, including expanding its online delivery service, as trading jumped following recent coronavirus stockpiling.

Waitrose - part of the John Lewis Partnership - wrote to customers on Tuesday evening explaining it was introducing temporary limits online for the "most in-demand" items and cutting instore services. "To help our partners focus on serving you and making sure our shelves are filled, we may sometime need to reduce the services available in your local shop," Berangere Michel, executive director of customer service, wrote, although she did not specify which ones.

Tesco, meanwhile, has suspended all-night opening at its biggest stores so shelves can be restocked and is rationing certain items, including toilet roll, pasta and tissues. Aldi has also introduced limits, while Iceland has also trialled elderly-only shopping periods.
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