Aldi is installing traffic lights at its entrances, only giving shoppers the green light to enter when a store has a safe number of customers inside.
Coloured lights at the front of Aldi’s outdoor queues will turn red when stores are full and green when there’s room for more customers. Safe customer numbers will be calculated based on each store’s size and the room shoppers require for social distancing.
The traffic light system was initially trialled at 10 branches and is being rolled out across all 874 UK stores this week. Tesco is bringing in a similar system in Ireland.
Meanwhile, in-store grocery sales have risen at the fastest rate since records began in 1994, and online supermarket shopping has grown its market share to 11.5%, according to Kantar.
In this article, Which? explains everything you need to know about grocery shopping during the coronavirus crisis, including each supermarket’s current product restrictions, and opening hours for NHS workers and elderly shoppers.
You can scroll down to read the whole story, or use the links to skip to particular sections:
- Current product restrictions and opening hours by supermarket
- Less rationing as demand eases
- Social distancing measures in supermarkets
- Online delivery situation by supermarket
- Vulnerable shoppers still struggling to book deliveries
- Essential food boxes: which stores sell them?
- Alternatives to supermarkets
- How shopping habits are changing
- Community groups offer help
To find out what COVID-19 means for your rights, travel, health and lifestyle, check out the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.
Product restrictions and special opening hours by supermarket
We’re updating this alphabetised list of supermarket product rationing, opening times and special slots for NHS workers and vulnerable shoppers every time we learn something new.
Some stores are imposing additional restrictions on a localised basis – this list only covers nationwide policies.
Links take you to the Which? review of each supermarket.
|Supermarket||Opening hours||Key workers||Elderly/vulnerable shoppers||Item restrictions|
|Aldi||Mon-Sat: closing at 10pm;
Sun (Scotland): closing at 6pm
|NHS workers, police and firefighters get priority in queues and also 30 mins early access before tills open on Sundays||Mon-Sat: access 30 mins before store opens||No restrictions currently in place|
|Asda||Mon-Sat: 8am to 10pm (including former 24hr stores)||NHS workers:
Mon, Wed, Fri from 8am-9am; browsing hour 9am-10am on Sun
|Restrictions lifted on most products|
|Co-op||Most stores open 7am-8pm Mon-Sat||‘Prioritised’ Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am||‘Prioritised’ Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am||Two of some items|
|Iceland||Most stores open 9am-6pm Mon-Sat||NHS workers: final hour of trading Mon-Sat||Only in stores with ‘sufficient local demand’||Some items restricted, including antibacterial soaps and wipes|
|Lidl||Varies by store – check Lidl’s store locator||No blanket restrictions in place; customers can buy ‘usual household’ quantities at managers’ discretion|
|Marks & Spencer||Varies by store – check M&S store locator||First hour of trading on Tue and Fri||First hour of trading on Mon and Thu||Two-item limit on frozen food, home products, groceries and eggs|
|Morrisons||Mon-Sat 6am-10pm; Sun 9am-4pm||Mon-Sat 6am-7am; Sun 9am-9.30am||Maximum of five of any item online|
|Ocado||No new customers accepted at the moment||Restrictions on ‘a small number of products’.|
no change on Sundays
|Mon-Sat 7.30am-8am||Mon, Wed, Fri 8am-9am||Three-item limit on the most popular items, including UHT milk, pasta and tinned tomatoes|
|Tesco (not Express stores)||Reduced opening hours in 24-hour stores||Tue and Thu 9am-10am; browsing hour before checkouts open on Sun; NHS and emergency services staff allowed to go to front of queue at all times||Mon, Wed, Fri 9am-10am||Three-item limit on high-demand items such as pasta, toilet roll and hand sanitiser. No multibuy offers except on Easter eggs. Max 80 items per online order.|
|Waitrose||Daily essentials kept aside; priority at checkouts||First hour of opening||Three-item limit on pasta, rice, UHT milk, toilet rolls, antibacterial and cleaning products, and some frozen food|
Shoppers are finding it much easier to find everything they want than at the start of the pandemic, with only a few items still proving tricky to buy.
As a result, the majority of supermarkets have now loosened restrictions or lifted them altogether.
At the height of the panic-buying spate at the end of March, 76% of people told us they’d experienced product shortages when shopping. This has now fallen to 34%, according to a survey we ran from 15 to 19 May.
Only 4% struggled to find pasta and rice, falling from 18% at the start of April. And just 2% couldn’t find toilet paper, down from 28% in March.
The products people are having the most trouble finding are flour (which 20% couldn’t find) and hand sanitiser (17%). To help ease the flour shortage, Asda and Morrisons have started selling flour from their own bakeries.
- Find out more: best and worst UK supermarkets
Supermarkets have introduced a wide range of social distancing measures and high-tech innovations to try and make shopping safer.
Many offer apps or handheld devices which enable you to scan your own shopping and avoid using the checkout, and every major supermarket has installed checkout screens, floor markings and enhanced cleaning measures.
It’s now perfectly normal to see people queuing to get into shops as retailers limit customer numbers to help people stay two metres apart from each other. And as social distancing looks set to be the norm for a long time to come, supermarkets are working to make the process safer and more efficient.
Aldi is installing traffic lights at stores to make it clear whether the next person in line can enter the store or not, and Asda is trialling a virtual queueing system which means you can wait in your car until it’s your turn.
Morrisons has rolled out ‘speedy shopping’ queues for customers who are planning to buy shopping that fits into a basket, as opposed to a trolley.
And throughout the UK, the contactless payment limit has been raised from £30 to £45, so more people can pay without having to touch the chip-and-Pin machine.
Despite the peak of demand having passed in many areas, online delivery slots can still be hard to come by. When we surveyed shoppers from 15-19 May, one in five were unable to get a delivery slot.
This was slightly worse for those aged 70 and over, who have been advised by the government to stay at home: 25% of people in this age group said they couldn’t book a delivery.
Retailers are trying to give priority to elderly and vulnerable customers for online delivery and most have asked customers to shop in store if they’re able to.
Current online shopping situation by supermarket (alphabetical list)
Aldi does not offer a full online grocery shopping service, but it has launched a £23.99 essentials box for vulnerable and elderly people which can be ordered online for delivery in 3-10 days.
You may also be able to order same-day deliveries of certain items from your local Aldi via Deliveroo for a £4.99 delivery fee, though the Sun has reported that some items may cost more than what you’d pay in store.
A limited number of Aldi stores are currently on Deliveroo, with others being added regularly.
Asda says those who are self-isolating or have additional needs should fill out the ‘Other information’ section when placing their orders to tell delivery drivers where they would like their groceries to be left.
Its delivery capacity has increased from 450,000 to 725,000 slots per week.
Booths, which operates in the north of England, is delivering emergency food packs to vulnerable customers living within three miles of its stores.
It has also launched a click-and-collect service for those wishing to avoid shopping in store. Though you can make your order online, payment will be taken over the phone.
Co-op online deliveries are available same-day in some areas. You can order a maximum of 25 items from a curated selection of products.
The convenience store chain does warn that demand for slots is high, but if you can’t get one you may also be able to order from your local Co-op via Deliveroo.
Iceland has increased its online delivery capacity by 250% by bringing over 100 of its larger Food Warehouse stores online. These outlets are typically two or three times larger than standard Iceland stores, and stock a wider range of goods.
M&S has teamed up with BP fuel stations and Deliveroo to offer an ‘Essentials by Deliveroo’ service. Similar to Aldi’s, this service will only be available for selected products from certain M&S stores and over 100 BP stations.
Morrisons has turned off its app and has warned customers that they must make final edits to their online shopping basket no less than 72 hours before their delivery slot, or they could risk losing their order altogether.
If you’re unable to get a Morrisons delivery slot through the website, check Deliveroo to see whether your area is covered for an essentials delivery – which could bring a limited selection of Morrisons groceries to your door within as little as half an hour of you placing the order.
Or, if you’re a city-dwelling Amazon Prime customer, you might be able to benefit from a same-day Morrisons delivery. This service – originally available from 17 stores when it launched in March – is expanding to cover 40 stores across the UK’s 10 biggest cities by population, including London, Bristol, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Many stores have already launched the offering.
Ocado is not accepting any new customers at present, and is prioritising vulnerable people. It has warned shoppers who do manage to book a delivery slot to complete their order in one session, as it is ‘likely to bring order cut-off times forward’.
It has stopped its reserve service, which allowed customers to book the same regular time slot.
Sainsbury’s is offering priority delivery slots to elderly and vulnerable customers identified by the government shielding list.
The supermarket says it has increased its capacity to 600,000 slots across home delivery and click and collect.
It is also rolling out its e-bike delivery service, called Chop Chop, to 50 stores across the UK, bringing it outside London for the first time. It has already launched in Brighton and Bristol, and will be active in 20 cities by mid-June.
Tesco has expanded its weekly delivery capacity to 1.3 million slots, an increase of 400,000 from before lockdown.
Waitrose has brought forward its cut-off time for online order changes to 12pm the day before your delivery is due, to help meet the high demand. It is prioritising vulnerable customers and has increased online orders to 120,000 a week – a 50% increase in recent weeks.
The supermarket is trebling its ‘Rapid Delivery’ service to offer 7,000 deliveries per week, which provides same-day delivery for up to 25 grocery items. This is only available from 28 stores in London and Hove, and 40% of slots are reserved for elderly and vulnerable shoppers.
- Find out more: why we’re spending more on groceries
The governments in all four UK nations are attempting to get food to clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) people who need help, but they’re not always succeeding.
When Which? asked people to share their experiences and problems with getting food deliveries on our social channels, we were inundated with comments from over 1,000 people.
We heard countless stories from people in terrible situations, including extremely vulnerable people who have had to go out to buy food because they’ve been unable to book a delivery from any supermarket and don’t have anyone else who can help.
Which? is calling on the government to take urgent action in order to help resolve the situation.
Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy at Which?, said: ‘It’s clear that the current system is not working for those who need it the most.
‘Without easily accessible and clearer information for these people, and stronger coordination between the UK’s central and devolved governments, the food industry, local authorities and local charities, there is a risk that many will go hungry during this pandemic.’
You can find out more with the following stories:
- Which? calls for urgent action to help clinically vulnerable people get the food they need
- Advice for vulnerable people across the UK on getting food delivered
A number of supermarkets have started selling boxes packed with pre-selected ‘essential’ items such as bread, milk and pasta to help those who are self-isolating and unable to get a regular online delivery slot.
Links take you to the relevant page on the supermarkets’ websites.
- Aldi: £23.99 inc delivery for 22 items
- Asda: £30 inc delivery for a box typically containing 31 items
- Marks & Spencer: £15-£40 for a range of boxes from basic veg to a selection of ready meals or meat
- Morrisons: £22-55 for a range of boxes from fruit and veg to a luxury meat selection
If you’re struggling to secure an online delivery slot and don’t want to queue at your local supermarket, it’s worth exploring whether there are alternatives in your area.
Many local independent shops, farm shops, community shops and wholesalers are innovating and expanding their services, with some launching delivery services for locals.
Until recently, online supermarkets had a market share of around 7-8%, but the coronavirus lockdown has meant demand for this form of grocery shopping has skyrocketed. According to Kantar, online now accounts for around 11.5% of all grocery sales.
And market research agency Mintel found that 37% of over-65s have increased the amount of online shopping they do since the outbreak started.
While supermarkets have struggled to build their online customer base in recent years, Mintel says many people who have been forced to start shopping online due to coronavirus may well continue to do so once the pandemic is over.
And it’s not just online that has been affected: in a Which? survey conducted between 24-28 April, 36% of respondents said they had shopped at independent and convenience stores more than usual since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, with 35% saying they’d shopped in supermarkets less than usual.
In April and May, people made fewer trips to the supermarket than they did in the same months last year, but they spent on average nearly 50% more each time, according to Kantar.
- Find out more: the truth behind coronavirus ‘stockpiling’
According to Mintel, 24% of people aged under 44 have been helping friends, family or neighbours with their shopping.
In many areas, residents have set up Facebook or WhatsApp groups to offer help to people who are vulnerable or running low on essentials – try searching for your local Mutual Aid group if you need help or want to get involved.
Some people have grouped together to place online orders, or added a few items for a neighbour, to save taking up extra delivery slots.
The neighbourhood hub Nextdoor is being used in a similar way, too, with users reaching out to offer help with shopping or even supporting those in self-isolation.
- Is someone doing your shopping for you? Find out the safest way to pay shopping volunteers.
Which? advice on coronavirus
Experts from across Which? have advice on everything from staying safe and keeping in touch with loved ones to travel insurance rights and saving money on your household bills.
Click to see all the latest coronavirus advice and news from Which?.
This story was originally published on 9 March and is being regularly updated with the latest developments. Additional reporting by Ian Aikman and Ellie Simmonds.